Trafnik Burns Candle On Both Ends

May 25, 2010

SEATTLE - There have been times this season where women's crew coach Bob Ernst felt Hanne Trafnik was running on fumes. She would arrive at Conibear Shellhouse at 5:45 a.m. for practice, carrying only a couple hours of sleep after another all-nighter in the design studio. Often, it seems there are not enough hours in the day to fit in her schedule

The junior is in the process of juggling one of the more demanding majors at the University of Washington (industrial design) with a sport that can almost feel like a full-time job - rowing. It's the type of challenge that can wear down even the most disciplined of student-athletes, yet this is the path the native of Wurzburg, Germany, has chosen. It allows her to moonlight as an internationally accomplished rower and also reside near the top of her class in a rigorous academic track.

'I've always liked art and sports; and I took art classes here and I got to see the design department here at UW,' Trafnik said. 'And I said, `Oh, that's really cool. I want to know more about that.' I'm still amazed about how good the people in my program are.'

Trafnik has been a mainstay in the Huskies varsity eight boat throughout the season. She'll continue to be an engine-room component for the No. 7-ranked UW at the NCAA Championships this week, which take place May 28-30 in Rancho Cordova, Calif. This summer, it's off to Germany to compete in the country's national rowing championships. Oh, and she needs to finish her portfolio and find an internship as well.

In order to accomplish all that she does, Trafnik leans on a remarkable amount of self-discipline. Her social calendar is bare-bones, mostly bereft of the parties and events that can clog up the weekend. Her time is essentially divided into two spots: the shellhouse and the design studio, where she said the top-shelf students are capable of logging 15 hours a day sometimes.

'Keeping up with those (students) is really hard,' Trafnik said. 'Before a big presentation, I wouldn't sleep. I was sacrificing.'

Industrial design seeks both function and form, which means its practitioners are constantly seeking ways to improve and streamline mainstream products. This is especially true with Apple. Trafnik loves how the Cupertino, Calif., company rejuvenated the personal computing market, and how their designs for the iPod, iPhone and iPad have revolutionized how the public looks at industrial design.

Another interest is interactive design, which seeks to maximize the user capability in a product.

'I don't want to do something that's a form; I don't want to design something that's cool just for the sake of looking cool,' Trafnik said. 'I want (the product) to have a purpose and a meaning to people.'

Trafnik drew a heavy amount of recruiting attention when she won the 2006 Junior World Championships in a four, a boat she shared with current teammate Marie Strohmayer. Her German National Championship record is stellar with a pair of gold medals to go along with a silver. The decision came down to Ohio State and Washington, with Trafnik picking the Seattle school based on rankings and recommendations she had found online. Her arrival helped grease the wheel for other Germans - Strohmayer and Nora von Gaertner, who strokes the second varsity eight as a freshman. Even though the trio is good friends, Trafnik's competitive nature has superseded their relationship on more than a few occasions. Trafnik is particularly ambitious when it comes to the fall pair races. This year, in a quest for more boat speed and a win she eventually captured, Trafnik dropped Strohmayer for other partners, a move that was hard for her fellow German to swallow at first.

'I had to switch partners. And it's not something you do in Germany,' Trafnik said. 'But it's not because we're friends; we're racing each other. It's all about that.'

It's similar to how Trafnik functions within her program, where she feels a need to remain on par with the select group of talented students in the industrial design path. She wished she had more hours in the day to devote to both groups, instead of feeling pulled in different directions by two different sets of friends.

Make no mistake, when it comes to rowing, Trafnik is all about boat speed. And she believes there's still plenty of magic to discover in the varsity eight. She noticed all the hard work her teammates put in over the summer months, and now is the time when she feels it will all coalesce.

'I personally think we have everything we need,' Trafnik said. 'I was so impressed by the ergs this year. It was a huge improvement. Our team is really, really strong ... This year we have the strength, but we haven't shown what we have.'

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