Western Washington University’s Emily Little couldn’t last more than a year without some type of competitive element in her life.
Little, a senior by academic standing but a sophomore based on NCAA eligibility, three years ago came to Bellingham for school and left behind five years of training and dedication geared toward mogul skiing.
Little began skiing at age 13 when her parents bought a cabin at Apex Mountain Resort just west of Penticton, BC. Little went to Port Angeles High School, but took online classes each winter when her parents would make the trip north.
She was enrolled in a freestyle skiing program and reached Canada’s Provincial team, which Little described as one notch below the national team level.
“It was awesome,” Little said in a phone interview,” but it was very time consuming. I didn’t have anything else going on, so I put all my energy into skiing. I took a year off between high school and college to focus on skiing, but there was too much mental pressure on myself. I needed a change of pace.”
Little developed more than skiing talent at the Apex Mountain Resort. She learned the value of hard work and gained similar traits that would later pay off during her next athletic venture.
“Skiing taught me a lot about work ethic and determination and positive self thoughts,” Little said.
And WWU’s renowned rowing team is reaping the benefits this spring.
Little hadn’t heard about Western’s rowing team or its past decade of success until her second year at Western when a friend told her about the team. That same friend told Little leg strength is imperative for rowing success.
Little’s lower half was plenty strong after years of skiing over mogul bumps.
“She came to us with a really athletic physique,” WWU rowing coach John Fuchs said in a phone interview, “and she just works really hard and has been able to transform that into rowing. I remember at tryouts, she just impressed us with her athletic ability. That’s one of the reasons we took her on the team. There were few athletes she couldn’t outrow.”
Little spent last year, her first season on the team, learning rowing basics and was a spare at last year’s nationals. She’s offered a leading role this spring, though, sitting in the Vikings’ varsity eight bow seat.
She went from properly learning how to put her blade in the water and pulling throw the lake to taking ownership of one of the boat’s key responsibilities.
“It’s been my goal since the end of last season to be on the varsity eight boat,” Little said. “I spent all last summer trying to be in that boat. I really focused everyday at practice. It’s been amazing. I worked really hard for it, and my hard work has paid off.”
Bowmen are typically more technical and are more responsible for maintaining the stability and direction of the boat than any other rower.
Little has thrived in the bow seat and has displayed her love for competition on the water as well, Fuchs said.
“She likes to be in the thick of it,” said the WWU rowing coach. “Her job is to press as hard as she can, but her job is very visual. She can see everybody in front of her and also she is kind of the eyes and ears for the coxswain.”
WWU’s rowing team placed second in 2012 and third last year during nationals after winning seven straight national titles. The Vikings have the opportunity to qualify for nationals during the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships Saturday-Sunday, April 26-27, at Lake Natoma near Rancho Cordova, Calif.
The Vikings are ranked No. 2 in this week’s Division II poll and will face two other top-five D-II schools at the WIRA Championships Regatta. Western has competed in three races this spring, earning first place once and two runner-up finishes. Both defeats were to Division-I Portland State, and one of the losses was by .24 seconds.
“So far we are looking good,” Little said. “We have a great varsity eight boat right now. The girls have earned their spots and are hard workers. It’s really fun to see.”
Based off pedigree alone, the Vikings figure to be in the mix to compete for another national title, but what may set this group apart from the last two seasons, both Little and Fuchs said, is the group’s tight chemistry.
“First they have got to trust each other, and they have to trust the system and the race plan,” Fuchs said. “I think this year they feel better about how things are going and are more committed than the last few years. I think this year they have really good chemistry.”
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.