Upton sculls her way to Berkley

Rachel Upton has developed into one of the top rowers in the area. A graduate of Staples in June and a former member of the Saugatuck Rowing Club (SRC), she has recently led the New Canaan Rowing Club (NCRC) to success and will be rowing for the University of California at Berkeley, a premier Division I rowing program.

"It comes from the love of the sport I do and being a part of a great team that supports each other," Upton said.

In the fall of 2007, the quad she raced in for SRC placed third at the Head of the Charles Regatta. Last summer at the US Rowing National championships, her boat for NCRC finished fourth.

"It's definitely exciting because you put in the hard work and achieving the accomplishments makes it worth it," Upton said.

Before switching over to New Canaan during the fall of her junior year, she rowed at SRC for three years. Upton credits SRC for teaching her the sport and developing her into a rower. When she switched clubs, she felt it was time for a change.

"A coach that I had left and the ones I rowed with, graduated, so it was a good transition period," she said.

The 6-foot, 160-pound Upton is strong and muscular, which played a role in her development as a rower. Her talent and work ethic was an even bigger factor in her becoming a success in the boat. She and her teammates did strength training in the winter, lifting two to three times a week and do endurance training during the season.

"We try to have a strong core and lay a foundation in the boat," Upton said.

Being a calm individual also helps her succeed. She does well in maintaining her poise and doesn't let anything bother her.

"Mostly by staying focused and being prepared for the moment you are in," Upton said. "You go in prepared for the race and try not to get flustered."

During the summer of 2007 and 2008, she attended the Junior National Team camp.

"You train hard but it's a lot of fun," Upton said.

Upton enjoyed it because she met a lot of rowers and learned from them. One thing she found out was that rowers in the east coast and west coast had different rowing styles and she became knowledgeable in working with them in harmony.

"Before I went to them, I only rowed with people from my club so I had no problem with styles, but at Berkley, I'll be rowing with people with different styles and it will help me adapt at Berkley," she said.

Once she learned the need to make changes to her repertoire, she did it and mastered the new way. Her ability to absorb what was taught to her made it easy for her to make the necessary adjustments.

"It's important to listen to your coach's directions so you can make the changes," Upton said. "The best way to make the changes is to constantly think about them because the more you think about it, the easier it is to make a permanent change."

From the time she first entered a boat, she became more seasoned and grew as a rower. Being motivated to the best she can be and a good listener contribute to her improvement.

Life as a rower began for her in eighth grade. Upton first chose the sport because SRC was located near her residence at the time.

"My height helped a lot," she said.

Growing up, she played basketball, starting in second grade, which appeared natural for her because of her built. Ironically, she didn't stick with it and quit after seventh grade.

"I didn't have a passion for basketball, I developed a passion for rowing," Upton said.

Freshman year, she ran sprints in indoor track but gave it up because she wanted to focus on rowing.

Because she rows for NCRC but didn't attend New Canaan High School, she wasn't eligible to serve as captain of her team. Although she's a strong leader and would make an outstanding captain, that didn't faze her.

"It was good rowing with girls from other schools because it brought me closer to different people," Upton said.

Participating in sport that isn't based in the high school didn't produce notoriety for her during the day. If she experienced any success, it wasn't announced on the school speaker. This didn't faze her.

"Rowing doesn't get me publicity and it's not a sport that gets you in the newspaper," she said. "It doesn't bother me. I don't do a sport for publicity but for myself."

Academically, Upton took eight AP courses. Science is her favorite subject and AP chemistry during her junior year was her favorite class.

"Being in season makes me do better," she said. "It forces you to have good time management skills and it makes me do better in school."

At Berkeley, she's majoring in integrated biology and minoring in African American studies. Upton hopes to attend medical school after college and her career goal is to become a doctor. For now, her focus is to row for the Golden Bears but isn't thinking about the Olympics or becoming a rowing professional. She does hope to row on a smaller scale after graduating from Berkeley.

"I'm excited to row in college and be on a competitive team," she said. "I want rowing to be a part of my life but I don't want it to be my life."

In order to master rowing at the collegiate level, she knows she'll have to raise her skills to the next level because she'll face tougher competition.

"I have to stay focused, motivate myself and have the support of the team," Upton said. "You have to have a good coach and make sure it will be one of your top priorities."