FSP: Olympic hopeful sets sights on conference dominance

Rarely does an athlete have realistic Olympic aspirations after competing for only three years in her sport. But senior Molly Hueller, who never picked up an oar before her freshman year at GW, is now setting her sights on the Olympics – with good reason.

While most college seniors are stressed out about GREs and graduate school, Hueller has decided to put her career plans on hold to concentrate on rowing.

“I don’t want to have any backups to the Olympics,” she said.

Hueller spent the past summer training in Augusta, Ga. at a camp run by Igor Grinko, a former U.S. National Team coach. Hueller was one of three collegiate rowers at the camp, among mostly former collegiate rowers and those trying to make the Olympics. Hueller said the training was rigorous.

“Basically everyday we got our butts kicked,” she said.

Making the U.S. National Rowing Team normally takes five years. For rowers under the age of 23, the process starts by participating in pre-elite rowing camps in Princeton, N.J. If a rower impresses the coaches enough, he and she will be invited to train with the National Team and possibly compete for a seat in one of the Olympic boats.

Skilled as she is, Hueller faces a timing disadvantage. With the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece quickly approaching, the National Team may not invite any new rowers. Though Hueller said she would like to compete in Athens, she said she would not be devastated if she did not make the team because she will have the chance to try again in 2008.

Whether she makes the team or not, the fact that she is a contender is incredible, considering that four years ago Hueller had never picked up an oar. Hueller was a five-year varsity swimmer but never rowed at her high school in Stillwater, Minn. She said that while she was a contributor to the team, she was not a standout outside her high school. Hueller attributes her strong work ethic and cardiovascular endurance to her years as a swimmer.

“I thought I knew a lot about rowing because I was a good canoer,” she said. “It was something I have wanted to do since I was young.”

While the majority of crew walk-ons row on the novice team, GW crew director Steve Peterson placed Molly on the varsity team.

Hueller quickly excelled. In only three years of collegiate rowing she garnered numerous awards – team MVP sophomore and junior years, team captain junior year, and Division I All Region First Team junior year.

Hueller credits much of her success to the guidance of Peterson. Without him, Hueller said, she would not be where she is today.

“He has been amazing and (has) done everything,” she said. “Unlike other coaches I have had, he does not see my aspirations as detracting from the program here.”

Hueller is as dedicated to her collegiate team, which is looking to rebound from a disappointing third place finish at last year’s Atlantic 10 championships, as she is to her Olympic dream. She said her ultimate goal is to make the spring NCAA tournament by performing well in fall races, and then winning at A-10 Championships.

“I will be crushed if I graduate without going to NCAAs,” she said. “For me, it’s bigger than going to the Olympics.”

Peterson said he sees this dedication as motivation for the other rowers.

“Sure she was a captain and a two-time MVP of our team,” Peterson said. “But it is her work ethic which other team members learn from.”

Senior year will be a challenging one for Hueller, even without the GREs and graduate school. In order to make the National Team she said she must become a more mature rower.

“I am young in this sport,” she said. “I think the physiology is in me, but I need to just put in the time and also I need to develop my race confidence.”

So for now Hueller spends her days practicing with the team and then doing an extra workout, in addition to the supplemental workouts Peterson gives the team. It is this drive and determination that could put Hueller in Athens, Greece, very far from where she was four years ago.

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