Walking Tall

May 2, 2008

Walking onto a collegiate varsity sports team at any level is never an easy task. At the Division I level, it is even more difficult. For USC seniors co-captains Nichole Fischbach and Robin Hextrum, it was a challenge they were willing to take.

Both Fischbach and Hextrum grew up incredibly active in sports, but neither thought that they would become Division I athletes. Fischbach played volleyball throughout high school and thought that she may play a club sport in college but never a varsity one.

However, one day during her junior year, while getting money out of an on-campus ATM, an assistant rowing coach approached her to ask if she had ever considered rowing. At 6-foot-1 she had the size to row, but Fischbach says that she did not really know what rowing was all about, but decided to learn more. She began to attend USC practices, which she found very challenging.

'I just kept going to practice everyday and working hard,' she said, 'and I ended up falling in love with the sport.'

Robin Hextrum also walked onto the rowing team the same year as Fischbach. Hextrum ran track and cross country for all four years of high school, so athletics had always been a part of her life.

But she never thought about rowing until her junior year of high school when her sister walked onto the team at Cal. She got to meet her sister's teammates, who left a good impression.

'I liked the rowers and thought they were good people,' Hextrum said. 'However, I actually thought that I was too small physically to do it. So I was a little hesitant.'

Nevertheless, that did not stop the 5-foot-8 Hextrum, who walked onto the USC team her freshman year. At the time she was also a member of the marching band. Hextrum decided to make rowing her priority.

'I really just felt at home on the team and with student-athletes,' Hextrum said. 'There is a certain mentality with female athletes and rowers that I identify with.'

Both Fischbach and Hextrum came up through the ranks together, from novice to being members of the varsity, to finally being named captains of the USC varsity squad.'Novice year, it's all about hanging on to being a part of the team,' Hextrum said. 'You are asking everyone for advice and some of the older girls take maternal roles. As you make your way up to varsity; you fill in the ranks, and begin to see eye to eye with the other girls. There is constant pressure, to work hard to gain their respect. Everyone on our team is so highly accomplished.'

As captains with leadership roles, Fischbach and Hextrum have had to adjust their mentalities.

'Getting the respect of these girls is not always easy' Fischbach said. 'A lot of them are world champions and a couple of them are Olympic quality athletes. So coming in from our positions as walk-ons, it shows in this sport that it is what you bring to practice every day. It is the attitude and work ethic which really makes you stand out.'

The fact that they began as walk-ons and have risen to their high leadership positions on the team gives new novice rowers coming in role models and a goal to strive for.

Hextrum feels that both she and Fischbach can serve as inspirations to women that are now walking on.

'It helps them to see that you can be a walk-on and make a big impact and I think that is very important for the future of this team,' says Hextrum.

For now both Fischbach and Hextrum are looking forward to the dual meet against UCLA on Saturday (May 3), the Pac-10 Tournament and hopefully a trip to the NCAA Championships at the end of May.

'We are just pumped for the rest of the season,' Fischbach said, 'and are excited about our chances. We have been working so hard for so long and we are ready to put it all together.'

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