Deborah Hoffstaetter and Isabelle Zanen do not have your typical teenage summer.

Deborah Hoffstaetter and Isabelle Zanen do not have your typical teenage summer. 

 

It is no secret that teenagers like to “sleep in” during the summer, and Isabelle Zanen and Deborah Hoffstaetter, both rising seniors at Ithaca High School, are no exception. If one, however, were to ask most high school students if they would like to try Isabelle and Deborah’s “sleeping in” schedule, they would likely decline. 

On a typical morning, Isabelle gets up, takes in a significant number of calories, and hops on her bicycle to ride six miles to her morning rowing practice. That session starts at 8 a.m., and she and Deborah (her doubles partner) row for two hours, then climb back on their bikes and ride home. 

Isabelle said, “Last summer, we did double sessions, but this year we’re doing one per day and training on our own.” 

Both rowers started rowing for the Cascadilla Boat Club (CBC) as middle-schoolers, and Isabelle offered, “I started when I was 12, in seventh grade, and I recruited Deborah.” She added, “My dad rowed at a university in the Netherlands, and Deborah has several family members who are rowers.” 

As for the 8 a.m. practice time, it does feel like sleeping in to the pair, who are on the water at 6 a.m. during the spring and fall rowing seasons. The hard work is paying off, as evidenced by the fact that they just returned from the U.S. Rowing Youth Nationals (held in Sarasota, Florida), where they finished first in the B Division (equivalent to seventh in the nation). According the U.S. Rowing website, “The championships serve as the premier youth rowing event in the United States, with approximately 1,500 athletes competing in more than 350 crews, representing some 150 teams from across the country—all vying for national titles in 18 boat classes.”

The trip to Florida is a story on its own, as the pair woke up at 3 a.m. and were driven to Syracuse by Teresa Allessio, their coach. They chose an early flight so they could get on the water and practice, but when they took their boat (which had been driven down from Newark) off its trailer, they were amazed to observe that it bent in the middle in the 90-degree heat. The athletes had trained in coats and hats to prepare for the heat, but the boat was apparently unprepared. 

This unexpected twist necessitated that they rent a different boat (fortunately, a team had brought two and thus had an extra one), and they set about the task of changing the settings and trying to adjust to the unfamiliar vessel. The boat was also constructed from a different material, and all the extra adjusting and practicing resulted in a 13th-place finish in their first race. That dismal result landed them in the last (and most undesirable) lane for the semi-final heat, which was disappointing given their knowledge that a boat had never won from that lane. Isabelle and Deborah were determined to reverse that trend, given all they had been through to get into the semis, and they did so, winning both the semi-final and the final. 

That impressive showing on the big stage is a point of pride for the CBC, as the pair was the first from the club ever to go to Nationals. It also gives Isabelle and Deborah extra motivation as they train for another upcoming big event. 

“We are currently working toward competing in the Canadian Henley,” Isabelle said. “We hope to finish in the top three, but it’s a big international race, so we know what a challenge it will be.” 

Isabelle said the pair would like to continue in college, if presented the opportunity. When asked if she and Deborah would like to attend the same school, Isabelle said they would, but she added “In college rowing, the boats have either eight rowers, or four. There are no doubles in collegiate rowing, so we would not be able to row as a pair. That will have to wait until after college, maybe at the masters’ level.” 

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