Sophie Claus was looking for a new sport to pursue four years ago when she was a freshman at Bates College. She decided to join the crew team and it wound up being the best decision the Beverly High graduate could have made.
Four years later Claus celebrated her third national title as a Bobcat and discovered a new passion that suited her more than she could ever have imagined. Claus had played soccer and tennis for the Panthers, but rowing was completely different from anything she had previously experienced.
“When I joined as a freshman I just knew I wanted to play a sport in college and be part of a team so I decided to try crew,” said Claus, who graduated last month. “Honestly, I knew nothing about it; a complete novice. I didn’t even know where to sit in the boat so I had to learn everything.
“I did miss tennis and soccer especially since rowing is completely different from those sports. It didn’t take long before it took over my life; I love everything about it. Part of the reason is being outdoors and on the water. You can shut everything else out, and it provided a break from the pressure of classes. You are also part of a team, and everyone has to be together in harmony with their strokes.”
Claus may not have been familiar with the ins and outs of the sport or known what a dynasty the Bobcats were building, but she quickly learned she was part of a winning tradition. Bates has won three straight national titles and four in the past five years. None were as dominant as this last one.
“It’s been wonderful, and now my teammates are my best friends,” said Claus. “You’re out there all working hard together and moving faster than you thought you could.”
Claus has moved around in the boat, sitting in various seats. She started in the one seat which is farthest from the coxswain, and was in the novice boat.
“I’m pretty short so they put me in back with another girl my height,” said Claus. “I moved to the seven seat, and this past season was in four seat. I’ve rowed in every possible position in the boat, even coxswain a few times in practice. I think seven seat is really fun because it’s closer to the people following you, and it’s more a leadership role.”
There are eight people in a boat, and all three sections contribute to a winning formula with everyone rowing together directed by the coxswain. Bates won it’s fifth NESCAC title at the National Invitational Rowing Championship in Worcester and earned an automatic bid to the Division 3 NCAA’s for the 13th straight time.
The Bobcats captured three gold medals there and sent their first and second varsity eight boats to the NCAA championships in Indianapolis May 31. Claus rowed in the No. 2 boat.
Senior year is one Claus will always remember because the tri-captain had to work so hard in rehabilitation to get back in the boat after back surgery.
“In the spring of my junior year I began having problems with a disc and tried to finish the season,” she said. “I had to have surgery three days before Christmas because the pain was unbearable. I worked hard to be able to come back.
“I was determined to row my last season and to be competitive. That’s why this one will always have a special place in my heart. My surgery was successful and eliminated most of my problem.”
While Claus is going to miss rowing, she thinks it’s something she will pick up recreationally and continue to do her own workouts.
Spring comes late to Lewiston, Maine and the mighty Androscoggin River where the team practices and competes.
“It’s a huge open space with not a lot of boats on the water so a lot of times when we row our best competition is each other. We usually can’t get out on the water until mid April because the river is frozen. Even then there’s huge amounts of debris, and we’re apt to hit icebergs that stick out of the water. There are booby traps, and you never know where they come from until you’re really close to them, but by the end of spring we have a lot of beautiful days on the open water. You forget all about what you had to put up with.”
Claus praised coach Peter Steenstra for getting the team prepared. Bates was ranked No. 1 in the nation all along, but races are not won on paper. The Bobcats won the grand finals in both first and second boats. It marked the sixth gold medal in a row for the second boat, beating second place WPI by almost seven seconds. Bates collected the maximum 46 points in the national regatta.
“We tried not to let it go to our heads, and coach did a great job helping up focus on having the best race possible. Winning the national championship was unbelievable, and it’s all because of everyone on the team.”
Claus was a double major in French and political science. She was an NESCAC spring All-Academic selection the last three years, and received the Senior Scholar Award. Next on her agenda is traveling to France in the fall to work as a teaching assistant.
“Graduate school was’t right for me at this point, and I wanted to do some traveling,” she said. “It’s a one year commitment, but I may be able to apply again. While I’m there I want to see as many places as I possibly can.”