Trafnik balances crew, design

June 8, 2009

Trafnik balances crew, design

By Scott Eisen
June 4, 2009

For UW women's varsity crew member Hanne Trafnik, balancing the load of work as a design major with rowing hasn't always been easy. But the sophomore from Wuerzburg, Germany has drawn a brilliant blueprint for success.

Coming from a medium-sized city with a river flowing through its center, Trafnik picked up rowing at the age of 12. It wasn't long before she saw how her height and natural athletic ability could allow her to become something special in the sport.

She saw success early, winning two German national championships in high school before helping guide her four boat to a gold medal at the Junior World Championships. This victory came as a pleasant surprise to Trafnik, who recalls the experience fondly.

'It's just something that you don't expect to happen, and then it happens and you're like, `Oh wow, I just won a gold medal,'' she said. 'It was definitely one of the best moments in my life.'

With such an accomplished résumé, American colleges expressed interest in the young German, who narrowed her choices down to Ohio State and Washington. The UW women's crew, which was in a bit of a struggle at the time, was able to land Trafnik, who turned out to be the only high-profile recruit for the Huskies that year.

Having never been to the United States before, Trafnik came in with preconceived notions about her new home that she needed to initially overcome.

'Germans really think Americans are really cliché ... just, well, I don't want to say dumb, but I guess that's what they think in a whole environmental and political respect,' she said.

Although she began learning English in the fifth grade, Trafnik struggled initially to fully grasp the language in its entirety and some of the differences in the way the crew program was run.

These early hurdles made for an up-and-down kind of start, but now, two years later, she feels very comfortable.

'I'm not really homesick,' Trafnik said. 'At the beginning, for me, I felt like I was on a vacation. I didn't even know I had been gone for so long. Then, like, halfway into the year, I wanted to go back just because there was so much pressure here with school and the season starting and making the boat. But in general, I really feel like this is my home.'

Dealing with her new setting, Trafnik turned her attention to crew and school, excelling at both. As a freshman, she quickly climbed the ranks past the novice boat to the junior varsity eight and is now the six seat of the first varsity boat.

'She's just a really skilled rower, and she's used to performing at a high level,' said women's head coach Bob Ernst.

While her performance on the water has impressed her coach, her noticeable dedication to school is what Ernst feels is most special about her.

'I think she's doing a really remarkable job of, first of all, going to school in her second or third language,' he said. 'And at the same time, doing a really arduous major and keeping up with a [Division]-1 sport. I think it's incredible.'

Catching just about five to six hours of sleep per night, Trafnik hopes to see her hard work thus far pay off both in crew and in design. She hopes to eventually become an industrial engineer after college, but as for her near future, she'll be returning to Germany for the summer to try out for the country's Olympic national team.

Reach reporter Scott Eisen at

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