Students Enjoy Serenity, Challenge of Rowing Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers
By Michael Henninger
The spray of the Allegheny River ensures that Vinay Mitta is wide awake well before the average student’s head has left the pillow. At 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, Mitta and his Carnegie Mellon University Rowing Club cohorts launch their boats for practice from the 3 Rivers Rowing Association’s facility on Washington’s Landing.
Complete darkness hangs over the crew as they clear the back channel of the Allegheny created by the island. The light from Pittsburgh’s skyscrapers pierces the darkness, shooting up into the night sky and reflecting onto the water’s black surface. Mitta and crew propel themselves toward Pittsburgh’s Point, where the Allegheny meets the Monongahela and creates the Ohio River, settling into a cadence.
“When I’m out on the water, I have to be 100% focused on that,” Mitta said. “Once we start rowing, I have to be so locked in mentally. Early in the morning, the water is perfectly smooth, perfectly calm, and the sunrise is coming up. I don’t think about the work I have due later that day. It doesn’t even cross my mind.”
Vinay Mitta, in green, rows with his teammates.
Mitta, a senior studying mechanical engineering with a minor in robotics, is the president and men’s varsity captain of the rowing club. He had never rowed before coming to CMU, but tried it out after attending a recruiting session with a friend. Now he has the hands of a seasoned rower, calloused by constant contact with the oar.
The student-run organization has existed for 32 years. The Rowing Club has about 30 varsity members and 40 novice members, and holds six optional practice sessions weekly, weather permitting. The team has boats, or shells, for single occupants, doubles and teams of four or eight.
The club practices year-round, and when winter takes hold of the city, they move indoors onto a set of erg machines in Skibo Gymnasium.
The team competes wherever it can, racing locally against the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University, and racing dozens of other teams while traveling around the east coast.
Marissa Engle, a Ph.D. student studying chemical engineering, is the women’s varsity team captain. She’s been on the team for four years. Engle played basketball, volleyball, and pole vaulted before injuries caused her to seek an alternative sport. She found rowing to be physically challenging and extremely competitive.
“It’s usually a love-hate relationship with this sport. It’s painful to go fast. And all you want to do is go fast,” Engle said. “If you’re trying to get into it, start slow and build up. If you prove to yourself you can do it in smaller pieces, you can do a lot more.”
Engle encourages CMU students to give rowing a try.
“It’s a really inclusive team, and everyone’s very positive about trying to go faster,” Engle said. “In my undergrad, I never left campus. Now every day I’m out on the water, working out before anyone else gets up. It’s a nice, proactive way to start the day.”