Sophomore finds home on the water: a look inside UNC women’s crew

By Ivy Young

An alarm goes off. Sophomore Chloe Schneider rolls over in bed. Her twinkle lights come on, and she forces herself to put her feet on the floor. Above her, in the top bunk, her roommate, Lydia, groans. It is 5:30 in the morning. 

After scarfing down a granola bar and changing into navy spandex, Schneider is out the door and heading to Carmichael Gymnasium. She checks her watch, only to realize that she’s running a few minutes behind. If she doesn’t run, she won’t make it.

An hour later, she is in the middle of the boat with eight other girls watching the sun rise over Jordan Lake. 

Six days a week, Chloe Schneider is up at 5:30 a.m. to practice with the University of North Carolina women’s crew team. Starting at 7 a.m., the team rows for more than an hour before returning to campus. And, after a day’s worth of classes, she will have practice again, this time lifting weights in the basement of Carmichael Gym. 

Beginning her athletics journey 

A year ago, she was an ordinary college first-year. Now, she is a Division 1 athlete at one of the top public schools in the country. 

Last fall, Schneider was walking back from a campus ministry event when she started talking to the girl walking beside her. The girl told her that the women’s crew team took walk-on athletes, and that tryouts were the week after Christmas break. 

“I said that she should let me know if she heard anything else,” Schneider said. “But I never saw that girl again.”

Prompted by the exchange, she emailed the new coach, who sent her a recruiting questionnaire and told her how to prepare for tryouts. 

Although walk-ons usually try out in the fall, the team had just gotten a new coach, Erin Neppel, the former assistant coach at the University of Virginia. Because of the change in leadership, the team’s schedule was thrown off and tryouts were held in the spring. 

Walking onto a college sports team is no small feat, but Schneider felt that she had a good chance. Because she was tall and muscular, people were always asking her if she was a rower or a swimmer. 

“I just thought it would be so cool if I could finesse my way into becoming a D1 athlete,” she said, laughing. 

Seeking community

But beyond the glamour of becoming a college athlete, Schneider was looking for something on the crew team that she was having a hard time finding anywhere else: a real community.

Her sister, Emma Schneider, graduated from North Carolina State University last year and loved every second of college. Although she lived in the same dorm as a number of her close high school friends, Schneider was having a hard time getting that same experience. 

She said that because UNC is so big, it does not always feel supportive. It seemed like students were being pitted against one another and forced to compete for limited resources and opportunities. Her mother, Lynn Schneider, said something similar. 

“N.C. State is very collaborative, but it feels like Chapel Hill is more fragmented,” said Lynn Schneider.

One benefit of being a student athlete is that UNC pays special attention. Student athletes have access to tutors, advisors and academic coaches, often without the student having to seek them out.   

There are also all the side benefits of playing a sport. Athletes walk around wearing special gear and navy backpacks, instantly recognizable. Schneider does not have to go to Lenoir Hall anymore, because she can get food from Loudermilk Hall, the dining hall specifically for student athletes. 

“I think being able to go to the Fueling Station is my favorite perk,” she said. “I get like four points a day, and every snack is a point.” 

Sitting at a picnic table outside the Student Union, Isabel Inman, one of Schneider’s best friends, said that she wishes Chloe still ate at the regular dining hall but understands why she made the change. “I’ve heard the ham sandwiches from Loudermilk are to die for,” Inman said.  

‘Courage doesn’t mean not being afraid’

Before Schneider tried out for the crew team, Inman didn’t even know that it existed. After all, women’s rowing has only been an official UNC sport for about 20 years. Before Title IX, both the men’s and women’s teams were club. Now only the men’s team is. 

The UNC women’s rowing team is one of the only D1 rowing teams that does not have its own facility. Typically, the team will practice on erg machines on the basketball courts in Woollen Gymnasium, where there is no air conditioning. Recently during practice, two girls passed out from heat exhaustion. 

The team also cannot host regattas, or rowing competitions, because it lacks the capacity to host them. Kathyrn Cummings, a sophomore on the team, said that this is one of the reasons people assume women’s rowing is just a club team. 

“There’s kind of a stigma against us, because people think that it’s not a real sport,” Cummings said. 

Lynn Schneider remembers her daughter’s high school fear of public speaking and recalls how the thought of a presentation would keep her up at night. She said that Chloe chose to pursue student government, a position that would force her to speak in public and represent her high school class. 

“She refused to let it defeat her,” Lynn Schneider said. “She’s always made me think of the saying that says courage doesn’t mean not being afraid but being afraid and doing it anyway.” 

Despite all these difficulties, Chloe Schneider has earned a spot on the team and is respected as a strong rower. Cummings said that Schneider typically sits in the middle of the boat, a place reserved for the more powerful rowers. 

And even though the other students in her ECON 410 class might not know she is on the team, Chloe likes it that way. Sitting on a bench in white tennis shoes and patterned shorts, she said that her experience in college athletics has never been about the glamour. 

“I like that I do hard things and no one else has to know that,” said Schneider.

Editing by Brooke Dougherty and Hannah Collett