The Colgate Scene
July 2001
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Pulling through

by John D. Hubbard
"I'm learning about myself," says Gosia Wawrzak '01, and there have been lessons aplenty for the international relations and economics double major and captain of the women's crew team.

     The native of Poland, who came to this country as a 12-year-old, surveys her Colgate experience and says, "It has been rewarding; challenging at times, but rewarding."

     Among the rewards were two tangible prizes Wawrzak picked up at the awards convocation in May. She won the John T. Mitchell Memorial Award, presented to the graduating student-athlete with the highest grade point average, and the Harvey Picker Award for international relations, given to the most outstanding senior concentrator.

     No less an honor was being elected captain of the women's crew.

     "I was happy my teammates had confidence in me," says Wawrzak, who, aside from a year of track and a little water polo, hadn't been active in athletics at her high school outside Philadelphia.

     "I came to Colgate wanting to be on a sports team," says Wawrzak. "In Poland there was no tradition of joining sports teams at an early age, actually at any age. When I moved to the U.S., I felt that everyone was already ahead of the game, having gone to soccer practice since the age of six. College gave me an opportunity to fill what I had missed, and crew was the perfect match since most of our athletes were new to the sport as well. On the first day of school my coach, Fred Cressman, encouraged me to join the team and said that I walked like a rower.

     "Crew is addicting in a way. The starts are quite a thrill. Of course, winning is fun, too."

     In the six to eight minutes between the referee's countdown from five and the shout of "ready, go" to the finish line lies the agony of effort.

     "What it takes to be an excellent rower is the ability to push yourself further physically, and mentally, than you thought you ever could. And you have to be in synch."

     Wawrzak is two seat in the varsity boat, the second rower from the bow. The crew members there have a bit more responsibility for the set, or stability, of the boat and the stroke, in the eighth spot, sets the rhythm while the coxswain barks orders, but in essence every woman with an oar does the same thing -- row hard and follow each other.

     Through the slide, where the oars come out of the water, to the crouch, to the drive -- with legs pushing and back and arms pulling -- the pieces have to function as a whole.

     "Crew is a peculiar sport. It is individual, but requires teamwork as well," says Wawrzak. "Your brain says you can't do it and you have to convince yourself you can."

     The power of concentration is nearly as important as personal persuasion. Typically, six boats line up at the start with the attending commotion of coxswains yelling, oars dipping into the water only inches apart and the tension to be off.

     Finding inspiration in her grandparents, Danuta and Henryk Gorni, who withstood the tribulations of World War II and communism to live accomplished lives, Wawrzak has managed to achieve at the highest levels of athletics and academics. She has taken a consulting job outside Washington D.C., but is still deciding what the future may hold.

     "I haven't figured out exactly where I'm going," says Gosia Wawrzak, "but I'm on my way."

     It should be an exciting race.

Making a contribution
Sara Kaufman '01 was certain she didn't want to attend Colgate.

     It was her father Steve's (Class of 1972) college, after all.

     "No way I'm going there," she would insist.

     "Colgate is a wonderful school; you have to look at it," pater would counter.

     As it turns out, Sara did come to campus on an admission trip, but with her mother, so as to get an unbiased view. While sitting in the chapel during April Visit Days, the acorn realized she hadn't fallen far from the tree.

     "My father couldn't have been happier," says Sara during a break in finals week. Turns out she has been pretty happy herself.

     "It's been an amazing experience. The people here have made the experience and contributed so much to my personal growth. I love the opportunities Colgate presents you." Be it academics or athletics, Sara Kaufman has made the most of what she has found.

     A high school field hockey player, she switched to crew as a first-year coxswain for the novice men's team.

     "It killed me not to compete myself," says Kaufman, who was also inspired by the level of commitment of her roommate, who was playing soccer.

     "I like to run," she reasoned and tried out for the cross-country team as a sophomore. "The first preseason was absolute hell." It wasn't just the workouts but the whole lingo of training, with numbers rushing at her and intervals flying by.

     "I wanted to be a varsity athlete. I wanted to represent my school in places beyond Colgate," says Kaufman, who is a first-class ambassador.

     "People were supportive and coach Art McKinnon was just great." Along with her high energy and good humor, there is a resolve about Kaufman, and she persevered.

     "Over the course of the season I began to understand the philosophy of running and began to catch up. By the end of my senior year I was able to contribute athletically."

     Though she dismisses her running as "mediocre," Kaufman was nonetheless one of the team's tri-captains and hopes she set a good example with her work ethic.

     "Sara did an awesome job as captain," says McKinnon. "We want our team to have a positive experience and she did an enormous job in accomplishing that goal."

     The captains organized seven a.m. practices and not a single woman missed one all year. The leaders also planned team dinners and decorated the locker room before big meets.

     "Sara had the finesse and a way about her to lead without being one of the top runners," says McKinnon. "She really made an effort to be a communicator between me and the team. She was the big cheerleader and complemented my more engineering-type personality."

     Kaufman is modest about her academics, too, but she was awarded the Roy Burnett Prize in chemistry and is headed for medical school at Case Western Reserve in her hometown of Cleveland.

     "I broke four fingers when I was in fourth grade and I was in awe of the x-ray. I was nine years old and I made up my mind I wanted to be a doctor.

     "I want to make a contribution and have the ability to make a difference." Sara Kaufman has a track record of that already. JDH

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