Five young women at North Carolina’s Saint Augustine’s University are making history. They will compete as the first historically Black university women’s crew team, ever. “We are trailblazers. We are literally Black history,” sophomore Breanna Dorway said. “I’m just really excited for what’s in store for us.” Saint Augustine’s is a small liberal arts university established in 1867 by the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.
Rowing first came to Saint Augustine’s as a virtual sports program in the School of Business, Management & Technology. There, Professor Mark Janas has introduced students to golf, motorsports and cycling that may have otherwise been unavailable at the school with an enrollment of nearly 1,000 students.
Rowing is not a cheap sport to participate in, which is why it’s more common at Ivy League institutions like Harvard and Yale. That is until the Howard University men’s crew team made history as the first HBCU crew team in the mid-1960s. Saint Augustine’s women do not pay to participate in the sport and will rely on fundraising to obtain the money they need to compete.
When it comes to training, the team’s sessions are mostly indoors, where they’ve had to turn a dorm room into a training facility, complete with rowing machines connected to Bluetooth so coaches can track their movements. North Carolina State University’s club rowing team outfitted the Saint Augustine’s women with boats, rowing equipment and coaches to prepare them for competition. The team takes their practice to the water on weekends.
Kees Koupman is the team’s volunteer coach.“It is the opportunity to build something, to build a culture and teach new rowers,” Koupman said. “And this is really about accessibility to the sport.” Competition starts for the team in the fall, where they will compete in regattas through the American Collegiate Rowing Association.
The women of the Saint Augustine’s crew team got into the sport with no previous rowing experience. But they hope that by being trailblazers, they will inspire other women of color to get into the sport. “Maybe we can try this and introduce more people that look like us into a sport that’s not made for us,” junior Mikhaya Hill said. “I wanted to be a part of that.”