Once out on the water, she has the last word
Moorestown coxswain lands a Div. I scholarship.
On the surface, the job requirements of a coxswain read like the definition of a Napoleon complex: aggressive; ambitious; commanding; and, perhaps most essentially, small in stature.
The coxswain sits at the stern of a boat, barking orders and directions. Moorestown Rowing Club coach Rich Henderson jokingly notes that it's a job sometimes associated with a crew's "small loud mouth," not with one who garners college scholarships for his or her services.
But perhaps more than anyone in the South Jersey high school rowing scene, Henderson is witness to just how misguided that view is.
Two seniors on the Moorestown Rowing Club's girls' varsity eight rowing team recently inked scholarships with Division I schools. The first, 5-foot-11 Claire Wixted, who signed with UCLA, has the build, strength, and work ethic to fit the bill of the ideal rower. The second, at 5-foot-2, hardly has the build, and probably not the physical strength, either.
Instead, you might have to talk to Wixted to figure out what coxswain Sarah Tenenbaum brings to the table, and why she recently accepted a partial scholarship to the University of Delaware to be the rowing team's "small loud mouth."
"One of the biggest reasons why we've been able to have success is because we all understand that Sarah is the coxswain," Wixted said. "She makes the calls. We pour our trust into her.
"She's the only one who talks in the boat. We have such trust in her that it helps us remain focused on rowing. She's our leader. That was a big thing for us."
As the stroke, Wixted sits eye-to-eye with Tenenbaum in the boat. Tenenbaum described her chemistry with Wixted as being so intuitive that they often know what each is thinking on the water without having to speak.
"I notice different things than she does," Tenenbaum said. "So it really helps that we are comfortable enough with each other that we can communicate without talking. I've been her coxswain for four years. So I can tell when she needs something to be changed in the boat."
That chemistry translated into success for the Moorestown girls' rowing team.
Last season, the varsity eight made it to the semifinals of the Stotesbury Cup, won the Garden State Scholastic Regatta, and finished sixth in the C final of the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships in Oak Ridge, Tenn., which was an experience Tenenbaum and Wixted described as one of the highlights of their high school career.
"With Claire as stroke and Sarah as coxswain, the boat just took off," Henderson said. "And we've been lucky to have other great rowers to complement those two. They both work very hard.
"And they're both so competitive and driven, which you wouldn't even be able to pick up if you just knew them away from crew - because they're both so down to earth."
The supremely talented Wixted signed with UCLA because of the school's atmosphere and year-round warm weather. She had plenty of other offers from around the country.
The same could not be said of Tenenbaum, who, as she often does in the boat, had to take it upon herself to get attention.
"I reached out to some schools, and you basically have to brag about yourself," Tenenbaum said.
Tenenbaum was drawn to Delaware, a school close to home with a strong rowing program. And conversely: "The school took a liking to her," Henderson said. "And they gave her some scholarship money, which is rare. But she just has a great personality. She's like a coach on the water, and they recognized that."
Like so many sports, rowing has the tendency to take on something of a cult mentality among its enthusiasts - one in which its participants eat, sleep, and breathe the sport almost around the clock.
It's essential to have dedication and commitment to succeed in the sport, Wixted said. It requires a similar type of commitment to the one she previously made to swimming, a sport she excelled in before taking up rowing her freshman year in high school.
But spending countless long hours with anything can wear you out, Wixted said. And by the time she got to high school, she was burned out from swimming.
"I just didn't enjoy it anymore," she said.
So when Wixted found rowing, a sport that complements the movements and conditioning needed in swimming, when she was a freshman in high school, she fell in love with it. But she sticks with it with one caveat: It has to be fun.
"The best part about crew is that I never get tired of going to practice. I enjoy it," said Wixted, who practices six days a week for about two hours during rowing season, and follows a similar schedule during the fall season from September to November. "You have to work hard and sacrifice, but it's important to have a well-balanced life that doesn't just involve crew."
That's where Tenenbaum and the rest of her teammates come in. The team, Wixted said, has the type of mentality that is dedicated but essentially anti-burnout.
"For girls, especially, everything is easier when you get along," said Tenenbaum, who also started rowing her freshman year. "We do a lot of team bonding, we eat breakfast together before every race. We all get along so well, even outside of crew, we have a lot in common. And we want to win for each other."
Henderson sees that as one of the team's greatest assets.
"The fact that rowing is not all-consuming to them relaxes them on some level," he said. "They are actually able to have fun, whereas some kids just get so wrapped up in it that they're just so tense all the time. On some level they enjoy it more than some other kids."
That's one of the biggest reasons both are so excited to have opportunities to row at the next level: because they both truly love the sport.
"It's really awesome that we were both able to get scholarships," Tenenbaum said. "I feel great for Claire, because she's so talented and deserved it. And it's great knowing that I have a future in rowing."