From the net to the boat

Courtesy of Deborah Ochsner

Claire Ochsner, second from front with white headband, was selected to the All-Freshman team by the American Collegiate Rowing Association after her first year competing in the sport for the University of Colorado. The Durango High School graduate was a standout volleyball player in high school.

By Ryan Owens Herald staff writer

Folks around Durango know the name Claire Ochsner from the volleyball court.

Folks in Boulder know her for something far different.

As a high school senior in 2011-12, she helped Durango High School to another in a current streak of state tournament appearances and a Southwestern League title, earned first-team All-SWL honors and played in the all-state game as a middle hitter, earning a few Division II college offers along the way.

After choosing academics over athletics by attending the University of Colorado, Ochsner left her volleyball days behind but still needed something competitive, something to keep her active.

Enter rowing.

Ochsner’s father, Fred, was on crew at the University of California-Santa Barbara in his college days, so she had been exposed to the sport somewhat through her father’s love of it. So after landing in Boulder, daughter made like father and gave it a whirl.

“I knew I needed to be active, knew I needed a new team. ... I’d already been planning on checking it out,” Ochsner said. “My dad was a rower at UC-Santa Barbara, so I knew the sport already. I had never done it before, so I figured why not try it.”

If the results are any indication, Ochsner took to rowing like a fish to, well, water. Her work as a member of Colorado’s novice women’s eight crew landed her a selection to the American Collegiate Rowing Association’s All-Freshman team – an honor she found out about not by phone or email or text, but from the Colorado Crew page on Facebook.

“I didn’t even think about the awards involved. I was just over the moon to get that recognition,” Ochsner said.

To elaborate, novice is the term used for a crew consisting only of first-year collegiate rowers, and Ochsner was in that category and rowed in an eight-person boat. Next year, she’ll make the move to a varsity boat.

With little experience, however, the former DHS volleyball standout said she was happy to be on a squad of rowers of a similar experience level.

“I started in the fall, and it’s kind of unique in a way that we didn’t have a lot of experience rowing, so I joined with a lot of people who never rowed before,” Ochsner said. “So I felt fine being totally out of my element because everyone else was, too. ... It’s a steep learning curve, but I picked it up.”

It helped that the same physical gifts that helped Ochsner become a dominant force at the net for Durango also translated well to rowing. Her 6-foot-1-inch frame and long arms that helped her block so many shots now helps her gain leverage. The leg strength that propelled her above the net now helps propel her boat through the water.

Not to mention that strength helped her carry long, heavy boats and last through races and practices that take more than enough out of any athlete.

“It’s very high adrenaline,” Ochsner said. “By the time you finish the race, you want to collapse, and you don’t want to do anything. ... People throw up all the time after races on the water and pulling tests on the erg machines.”

But for someone so enamored with competition, the effort is worth it.

“It’s very challenging. It forces you to push yourself,” Ochsner said.

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