Student-athlete profile: Helen Higgins '13

Helen Higgins '13
Helen Higgins '13

Helen Higgins '13 leads nationally ranked No. 10 Hamilton College women's crew into races at Union College for the Gilman Plate and Cup on Saturday, April 6. The women have topped Union for the Gilman Plate for seven straight years. On Sunday, the team travels to Tufts University for more races. Helen is a team captain and three-year letter winner. She rowed in the varsity eight and varsity four races at Stetson University in Florida during spring break.

Q: Tell us a little bit about where you grew up.

A: I grew up in Mission Hills, Kan., which borders Kansas City, Missouri. Yes, it is a rather confusing setup because while I am a Kansan at heart, I identify with the city of Kansas City. For most people at Hamilton, I am one of the only (if not the only) person they know from Kansas. This exotic status has been rather entertaining over the years and I've dealt with my fair share of stereotypical questions: "Did you grow up on a farm?", "But, is Kansas City like a real city?", "So, that's on the prairie, right?"

Q: How did you get involved in rowing?

A: I had never seen a rowing shell when I came to Hamilton. I remember sitting outside Alumni Gym and talking to my mom on the phone before the interest meeting for walk-ons. I was worried about over-committing myself to activities during my freshman year, and in all her wisdom, my mom suggested that it can't hurt to keep my options open. I went to the meeting, began erging (rowing on indoor machines) a few days later, and in two weeks I was sitting in a 60-foot hull taking my first strokes on the water. I'll be the first to admit that these were absolutely awful strokes, but my favorite thing about beginning an entirely new sport in college was how much better I got every day.

Q: Did you participate in any other sports before arriving on the Hamilton campus?

A: My family instilled in me a love of sports. I grew up swimming, playing tennis and skiing, and narrowed my focus to soccer and volleyball in high school.

Q: What attracted you to Hamilton College and the women's rowing program?

A: I was in 8th grade when I first visited Hamilton. Since I was tagging along on my sister's college tour, I didn't really care about the school's academics. I focused on things like the Cider Mill, the Glens, the rock-swing and how our bed and breakfast in Clinton gave us free cookies. I visited again in high school and was very excited about the intellectual community on campus and the incredibly devoted student body. Once on campus, the work ethic and intensity of the women's rowing program impressed me enough to join the team.

Q: The team spent nearly two weeks training in Tampa during spring break. Talk about the time away from campus and how training went.

A: Our spring training trip is always important for the team. Though we had an exciting fall season, the team really became one unit during our 12 days in Tampa. I think of our Florida trip as time away from school to mentally prepare for the racing season. We performed very well in our first 2-kilometer races against Tufts University and Stetson University, and got a lot of work done on the water. "Row-Eat-Sleep" is our mentality down there, and on top of all the work, the team always finds ways to have fun!

Q: The women’s rowing team is nationally ranked No. 10 in the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association/USRowing Coaches poll. What does this national recognition mean to the team?

A: Rankings are very important on our road to the NCAAs. We have finished the past two seasons ranked in the top 10, and the team sees this as a base to build upon. I don't think any of us is ever content with where we sit, which makes us push even harder in the boats to prove ourselves. Now that racing has begun, we get excited each week to check our status. At the same time, a great race is a great race and no one can take that away from us.

Q: Hamilton is gearing up to take on Union College for the Gilman Plate and Cup on Saturday, April 6. What is the importance of this race to you and to the team?

A: Our rivalry with Union goes back a long time, and the amount of hardware on the line accentuates the competition. The Gilman Cup is always an exciting season opener. We have no idea how their boats are going to look, so we are preparing to lay it all on the line to keep the Gilman Cup, Plate, Bowl and Goblet at Hamilton in 2013.

Q: What has been your favorite memory from all of your seasons with the rowing team?

A: Favorite memories of rowing are often accompanied by an excessive amount of pain. But while looking back at these moments, I remember feeling accomplished and proud, not exhausted. One of the highlights of my rowing career came during last year's Eastern College Athletic Conference championship races. We found ourselves in the most competitive heat and after rowing out of our minds, we posted the fifth-fastest time of all 19 entries and qualified for the petite finals. We had to get help carrying our boat back to the trailer. A couple of us had asthma attacks and we were all too exhausted to speak. About four hours after this feat, we found ourselves back at the starting line.

This final race of the season was one of the most extraordinary moments of my life. We began the 7-minute race already spent from our first heat. All six boats were overlapping at the half-way point, and we easily could have finished the season with a solid race and a solid time. But we never settled. We sprinted and found something, somewhere within us to get through the last 500 meters. Every single boat was jockeying for seats. We were up on St. Lawrence University and then down a couple seats, and it was the same with Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Wesleyan University and the University of New Hampshire. None of us were thinking of our own limitations; only of what was required to win. We all collapsed at the finish line and our coxswain, who could hardly speak, had no idea where we finished because the boats were all too close. None of us carried the boat to the trailer because most of us could hardly walk off the dock. Our crew was lying near the docks trying to get our breath back before we walked back to the trailer when we got the results. We finished second with a time of 7:03.255, followed by Wesleyan at 7:03.315, and St. Lawrence at 7:03.506. That race had nothing to do with talent. It was won entirely by grit.
Q: You are a team captain this year. In your opinion, what skills must a captain bring to the team?

A: Humility is one of the most important characteristics of a leader. My priorities as a captain are being approachable for the whole team, and not letting any previous success get in the way of humbly approaching each individual race.

Q: What has been your favorite class at Hamilton?

A: My math senior seminar on the Philosophical Foundations of Mathematics taught by Professor Sally Cockburn. This introduction to advanced set theory was the most intellectually challenging and stimulating course I have ever taken. We drafted a textbook during the first half of the semester and analyzed mathematical theorists in the second half.

Q: What will Helen Higgins be doing five years from now?

A: This question is becoming more and more important in my life as graduation approaches. For the near future, I plan to head out west to work in experiential education and pursue my master's degree in math education. In five years, I could be in a Utah classroom teaching Calculus, or leading trips into the Colorado wilderness.

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