Nov. 4, 2011
By Bill Bennett
As a three-sport star at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, MN, Britta Syverson had to make a major decision regarding her life and her collegiate career. What sport was she going to align herself with in college?
A talented all-around prep athlete, she had several options. The six-foot tall all-conference basketball player was also an All-City performer on the volleyball team and an elite rower for her age group at the club level. UCLA women's rowing head coach Amy Fuller Kearney was very pleased when Syverson selected rowing as her collegiate sport choice.
"During my visit, I really liked the UCLA team, and I felt like I fit in," Syverson recalled. "I loved Amy; she has somewhat the same coaching style as Jackie Richter, my high school club rowing and volleyball coach who I always liked. And I loved UCLA for its academics. It was the perfect big school that I was looking for."
As a true freshman in 2009-10, Syverson made an immediate impact, rowing in the four seat on the varsity eight crew all season long. She helped lead UCLA to the school's first ever NCAA Championship berth, with the Bruins placing 12th as a team and the varsity eight boat finishing third in the Petite Final. Syverson earned second-team All-West Region honors from the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA).
"My first year was a whirlwind," Syverson said. "Everything was put in place, our boat was set very early on and we were very in-tune with each other. Once the regular season was completed, we were 98 percent sure we were going to the NCAAs, whereas last season we were on the fence and didn't end up going."
As a sophomore in 2010-11, Syverson was UCLA's top rower, earning first-team CRCA All-West Region and All-Pac-10 honors and being named the team's Most Valuable Oars Woman at the end-of-the-year banquet. She began the season in the seven seat in the Bruin varsity eight boat, but as the year progressed she moved into the prestigious stroke position at the Virginia Invitational, the dual event against USC and at the Pac-10 Championships, where the Bruins placed sixth in both the team and varsity eight competition.
"My technique got better as a rower my second year," Syverson said. "There are two parts to rowing - there's power, then there's technique in the boat. My freshman year was kind of all about power, but my technique was not very good. In my second year, I matured more in my technique and was able to balance it out with my power. I had this fire after rowing in the NCAA at the end of my freshman year, and I was hungry for more."
Last summer, Syverson was selected to represent the U. S. at the 2011 World Rowing Under-23 Championships at Amsterdam, The Netherlands (July 21-24). Rowing in the 2x (double) boat, she and her partner, Princeton's Nicole Bielawski, won their event at the U. S. Rowing Under-23 National Team Selection Camp, qualifying them for the World Championships. In Amsterdam, Syverson and Bielawski placed third in the B Final.
"It was really an amazing experience with the U. S. Under-23 team, being with athletes who have the same mind-set as you, the same goal," she said. "It fueled me coming back and getting ready for this season. That's the main thing I took from my experience with the under-23 team, just being inspired by everyone around me every single day and the privilege and honor of representing the United States of America."
Now back at UCLA and once again training with the rowing team as the Bruins prepare for the coming season, Syverson is ready to face another demanding practice and competitive rowing campaign.
Syverson's day typically begins with a 5:20 am wake-up four days a week in order to leave campus for practice at 5:45 am. After busing to Marina del Rey, a 15-20 minute drive, the team does warm-ups on land and then are in the boats from 6:30-8:00 am. Additionally, three times a week, they have another hour and a half practice at 1 pm at Drake Stadium on the erg, plus Tuesday and Thursday morning runs on the track and weights and Saturday practices. On top of that, Syverson juggles classes and studying between practices.
"It's a very challenging schedule," Syverson said. "I'm usually always tired, always taking naps and trying to balance everything with doing homework while you are exhausted."
Despite the long hours, Syverson and her Bruin teammates are ready for the upcoming season. On Oct. 6, UCLA hosted the Marina Challenge and will host the Head of the Marina on Nov. 5 before traveling to Newport Beach on Nov. 6 for the Newport Rowing Festival. UCLA will open its 2012 schedule on March 3, hosting Loyola Marymount at the UCLA Boathouse in Marina del Rey.
"I think our team is refueled again after the disappointment from last season," she said. "I think we are really fired up. We just recently had a test on the water, and it went very well. We want to go to the NCAA Championships this year and hopefully place better than we did my freshman year. We want to win more races this year. Last year, we lost a lot of races by just a couple of seconds."
Fuller Kearney looks upon Syverson as a team leader.
"Britta is just an outstanding competitor," Fuller Kearney said. "After competing in the U23 World Championship last summer, she returns to the team in the best mental and physical condition of her rowing career. She was voted a team captain this season by her peers, and she embodies exactly the kind of character and work ethic that everyone on the team finds inspiring."
When Syverson returned to Los Angeles last summer following the World Rowing Under-23 Championships, she served as a student assistant in the UCLA Sports Information office. There was one particular assignment that she remembers well.
"What I enjoyed the most about working in the sports information office was when I was assigned a task to collect the photos of all our Olympic athletes who have graduated from UCLA," she said. "It took me three days to pull all the photos because there were so many UCLA Olympians. That inspired me because one of my goals is to compete in the Olympics."