Conestoga’s trip to USRowing Nationals made possible by Helena Laursen

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There was a time, years ago, when Helena Laursen, now an exceptional senior on the Conestoga crew team, sat nervously in her mother’s car, wondering if she could even take her first steps into a world that would ultimately take her life. change.

“She said, ‘I don’t know if I can go, Mom,’” Amy Laursen recalled in a telephone interview. “I don’t know if I can go.”

At the time, Laursen was a quiet, graceful freshman who resembled a ballerina.

On Thursday, Laursen will lead the Conestoga Crew Club to the USRowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota, Florida.

“My child is a different child than she was on her way to the Conestoga crew,” Amy Laursen said. “I think the crew can help children channel what was already there naturally, but not yet tapped into.

“I had a dancer who loved being on stage… and these coaches transformed her into an athlete who, typical of any crew athlete, is known for her grit and perseverance.”

This season, Laursen, now a team captain, used those traits to overcome a nagging injury that threatened to derail her senior season. She will be calling on them again for a three-month wilderness excursion in New Zealand during her gap year before university.

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First steps

Laursen and her mother were standing in the parking lot of Wilson Farm Park in Wayne, Pennsylvania, when the sight of other children who already seemed familiar with each other nearly paralyzed her with fear.

It probably didn’t help that the COVID-19 pandemic had limited Laursen’s socialization to just her two younger sisters for years.

Still, Amy Laursen encouraged her daughter to choose an extracurricular activity that would help “find her people” in what was Conestoga’s largest class in history.

Laursen had grown up as a dancer and studied jazz, contemporary, ballet and hip-hop styles, but considered it more of a hobby.

“She was really small, probably 100 pounds, and she looked like a little ballerina,” said Conestoga coach Goldia Kiteck, a member of the 2018 University of California women’s national championship rowing team.

“It was amazing to see her transform from this little squeak to this force on the water.”

Today, Laursen stands out for her skills as a “bow,” the position closest to the front of the boat.

“She’s probably the best rower on the team technically,” Kiteck said.

That, in addition to her “boat sense,” which Kiteck explained as the ability to “understand the water, how it works with the boat and how you can use it to increase boat speed,” makes Laursen special.

“Seat racing” is an inexact science, Kiteck explained, but changing a single rower’s position during multiple practice races across multiple boats can provide an indication of a rower’s value.

It didn’t take long for Laursen to be a standout as a sophomore.

“She was still little, but we did chair races and she won them all,” Kiteck said.

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Course plotters

Laursen credits leaders at Conestoga like Savanna Jacovini, now a junior on the Boston University rowing team, for creating an environment that helped her thrive.

“It definitely helped me with leadership,” Laursen said. “I really had no experience as a leader before the crew. It gives people the space to grow within themselves.”

It looks like she made something similar. Kiteck explained that poor team morale can be just as difficult to row against as a strong current.

By her junior season, teammates had labeled Laursen a “team mom,” which, combined with her “boat sense,” made her boats a force.

For example, Laursen’s skills have helped Conestoga boats enter turns even when the competition was only ahead, because Laursen judged angles more efficiently and got the most out of her teammates.

“I’m the oldest daughter, so I feel like I was definitely a little bit bossy in the first place,” Laursen joked.

However, her senior season left little to laugh at after a muscle strain in her shoulder threatened to end her high school career.

Laursen missed several months on the water while doing physical therapy in the mornings before school. Yet she never missed a workout, even when she wasn’t allowed on the water.

“This year is a testament to what the crew has taught her,” said Amy Laursen. “The crew is difficult. Your hands are raw and calloused all the time. And you get up early while everyone else stays outside to party. This year the injury was very tough, but I think the resilience she has built up over the last three years has helped her get through it.”

Next chapter

After four years of hard work on the water, Laursen opted for a gap year rather than accept the two academic scholarships offered to her.

Her father and mother, Steen, who is from Denmark, encouraged her to take time off before college.

“I feel like I’m a hard worker,” Laursen said, “and I’ve been working really hard for the last four years, and I feel like I need a break.”

As you may have guessed, a “break” for someone who enjoys the grueling, callous nature of the crew is no ordinary reprieve.

Laursen was accepted into the National Outdoor Leadership School, where she will spend three months in New Zealand. There she hopes to continue her development as a leader and then perhaps study abroad.

And to think that years ago she almost didn’t get out of the car.

“That feels like so long ago…” Amy Laursen said. “Fast forward, and Helena is taking a gap year and going to New Zealand. That’s something I never imagined my Helena would have done for the crew.

“For me, the most important thing is that the Conestoga crew is about the team. She just loves all the people who gave her this amazing experience and gave her such a wonderful gift.”