Owning the Dream

SoE Honors Student Invited to U.S. Rowing National Team Selection Camp

World-class rower and rowing coach Jim Dietz famously said, “Rowing is a sport for dreamers. As long as you put in the work, you can own the dream.”

Christina Pender, a School of Engineering Honors Academy student on the Rutgers University women’s rowing team who attended the U.S. Rowing Under 23 (U23) National Team Selection Camp in June, would agree. “It feels so good to know that my hard work paid off.”

Yet rising junior Pender did not expect to be invited to the highly prestigious team selection camp. “It was a really big deal for me and really exciting to be able to go. It was a great opportunity and learning experience – rowing with those on a high level makes it easier to learn new things.”

The Manchester, New Jersey native had been a competitive swimmer in high school and was encouraged by her brother, who is a year ahead of her at Rutgers, to try out for crew, even though she had never rowed before. “Some people say swimmers make good rowers. There was a two-week tryout. I figured I’d try out and if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to do it – but I wanted to be on a team,” she explains.

image0 (1).jpeg“I was one of the fastest novice walk-ons,” she remembers. “We were taught how to row on rowing machines before we ever went out on a boat. The first day out was so scary – I was so worried we’d flip the boat. Now I’m so confident. When we were sent home in March 2020 because of COVID-19, I rowed on a rowing machine in our garage. I think that helped me get a lot stronger.”

The pandemic, however, meant that she was unable to race competitively until this past season.

An Historic Season

As it turned out, for Pender this was a landmark season. She was one of ten Rutgers College Rowing Coaches of America (CRCA) scholar-athletes, as well as a Big Ten Spring 2021 Academic All-Conference Student Athlete.

“Christina has been a model Honors Academy scholar,” reports assistant dean and director of the SoE Honors Academy Jean Patrick Antoine. “Since her arrival at the School of Engineering, she has exemplified what it truly means to be a scholar-athlete.”

She also competed during a history-making season for Rutgers rowing. At the NCAA Championships, Pender rowed in Rutgers’ Second Varsity 8, which finished in 10th place and helped boost a 7th place finish for the Rutgers team. And in the Big Ten Championships, the Second Varsity 8 earned a bronze medal – the first podium finish for that boat since the team joined the elite Big Ten Conference. “It was awesome this year. I’d never raced before and was able to be in all these big events,” she says.

“It has been a lot of fun to work with Tina and watch her growth and improvement,” says Rutgers Women’s Rowing head coach Justin Price. “She is a joy to coach. Despite having just one season of collegiate racing under her belt, and just two years in the sport, she has quickly risen to a high level to compete with the best athletes in the country.” 

An Engineering Mindset

Pender, who hopes to eventually pursue a master’s degree in chemical engineering, says that at times her engineering mind can be an asset in her sport. “I some cases it definitely helps,” she admits. “To row at such a high level, it’s important to be able to figure out what’s wrong and try and fix it. There’s always something that can be improved.”

Naturally, she plans to continue to row with the team and even hopes to be invited to attend the national team selection camp again next summer. Price, too, looks forward to coaching her in the coming academic year. “I’m excited to watch her continue to grow and improve,” he says.

Photo: Pender, second from right, rowing for Rutgers Varsity 8 boat. (credit Rob Pungello)