Inner fire fuels rower's desire
By Evans Erilus
When she wakes up at 4:50 every morning to attend crew practice, Jennifer Carter does so with an attitude.
As she enters the boathouse with her layered training gear and enters her position as the second seat in the varsity eight boat for the Northeastern University women's crew team, she does it with a sense of arrogance, and often dominates teammates while in practice.
Her demeanor against the opposition is no different either; in fact, she is even more irritable when she faces opponents. If they pass ahead of her boat in competition (which is a rarity), she channels that frustration into aggressive, concentrated oar stokes. Her cocksure energy allows her to row through pain; she is willing to sacrifice her body to the point of harm for the sake of herself and her team.
"I'm a girl on the crew team with a cocky, snotty, stuck-up attitude," Carter said. "That describes me pretty well."
If it has not become obvious yet, Carter can be a very disagreeable person. Now the question arises, why? Why does Carter carry herself the way she does when she enters the varsity boat, and why is she able to race the way she does? From where does this edge originate?
The answer, not surprisingly, is somewhat multifaceted.
The daughter of Susan Carter, a registered nurse, Carter was born June 27, 1981, and spent much of her life in St. Catherines, Ontario. Estranged from her father since he and Susan separated when she was four, Jen uses her mother's last name as her own. Jennifer and her mom moved in with Susan's mother, Lucy Carter, shortly thereafter. Sadly, Lucy was a heavy smoker, and died of lung cancer when Carter was 14. This had a startling effect on Carter.
"My grandmother's death was the hardest thing I've ever had to go through," she said. "Because of the divorce, she was like a second parent to me. She wanted to die at home, and it was really hard, and made me really upset.
"I changed a lot after that. I used to be sweet and innocent; [after the death] I stopped caring about a lot of things. I put a lot of frustrations into rowing. I got mad, rowed harder and lifted harder."
Did she ever. Carter began rowing around the time of her grandmother's death, and dominated her peers from the onset. When her high school coach at St. Francis, Brian Moukperian, noticed that she was "beating everyone really bad," as she described it, he suggested that she started rowing in single skull competition.
"I always thought it looked fun," Carter said, noting the popularity of the sport throughout the city. St. Catherines is the home of excellent crew coaches, and Martindale Pond, near Henley Island off Lake Ontario, is considered by many to be the best racing course in North America. The area hosted the 1999 World Championships, further backing the claim.
She had always dabbled in sports, participating in gymnastics and swimming in her early years. She also became an adept skater, but playing her country's most popular sport was never a real consideration.
"It was either hockey or crew in high school, and my mom wouldn't let me do hockey, because she wanted me to keep all of my teeth," she said.
After entering singles competition, Carter began to win everything. At 16 years old, she won the Junior B (16 and under) and Junior A (18 and under) national championships. That same year, she won the Canadian Schoolboy, American Schoolboy, and Stotesbury Cup regatta. Her success simultaneously earned her acclaim and ire from her peers.
"I got a lot more sociable in high school. Part of my family was gone, so I sought a replacement in the social life. I was pretty popular in high school because of rowing.
"But I also made a lot of enemies. No matter how hard other girls tried, they couldn't beat me," Carter said. In fact, girls would cry after being cut by the same coaches whose overtures Carter rejected.
It was then that she received her first recruiting letter, from Yale University. Feeling her marks were not high enough for the Ivy League power at the time, she eventually entered Northeastern University. It was at NU that an unlikely opponent would put her confidence to the test.
"In February, I got a really bad virus. It was a combination of homework, crew, classes, winter and the cold," she said. "I recovered from the virus, but never felt strong."
Carter went through spring break and felt fine, but came back with a severely sore throat that made her fatigued. Nevertheless, she continued rowing. It was not until she noticed an increase in her heart rate that she sought medical attention. A nurse practitioner at Lane Health Center misdiagnosed the situation, offering Jennifer anti-inflammatory medication for her Thyroid symptoms.
"[Head coach Joe Wilhelm] was unconvinced, so I still rowed, even though my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest," she said.
She would eventually call up her mother crying, as her heart was racing at over 200 beats per minute. Susan called Wilhelm, who took her out of the boat. The doctors said her Thyroid case was hyperactive, and ordered her to rest. Carter went home to do her co-op, and came back for the Eastern Sprints.
Unfortunately, Carter returned out of shape after being ill for so long, and went from the five seat of the varsity eight boat to the bow seat of the varsity four. According to Carter, "If my mom didn't interfere, and I continued to row, the doctors said I could have had a heart attack."
Carter takes medication daily, and must get her blood tested every month. This has done nothing, however, to deter her spirits.
"I feel good, and I feel strong," she said. "Rowing has been doing good, so it is working."
With her recovery has come reaffirmed confidence. With that poise, however, comes impatience and self-reflection.
"Even at Northeastern, I am pulling the fastest time. I'm frustrated that they [my teammates] are not making the effort, then I realize that that's not me; that's them. Everyone does what they can do.
"I know I need to be more humble. I need to stop walking around like I'm the best, because when I get beat, I'll know I wasn't the best on that day."
Still, don't count on the rowing standout to tone it down too much.
"I think [my approach] pushes other people to want to be faster," she said. "Sometimes it's not good and people don't appreciate it, but it works."
That explains why Carter views herself in this way:
"I'm a hard worker, dedicated, disciplined and tough. I don't think my attitude bothers [my coaches], but I don't really care."