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Rags to Riches

Aug 21, 2014

STANFORD, Calif. – Stanford rowing alum Joline Esparza returned to the bay area and sat down with for a Q&A about her time at Stanford, what led her to being one of the leading clothing manufacturers for rowing apparel and how her Stanford experience carried on after she graduated.

Esparza embodies what Stanford is all about. She came to the university and took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves along the way. These opportunities helped her take her passions and turn them into a career. She has gone on to become the founder/CEO of one of the top racing apparel companies in the World, JL Racing. sat down with Esparza for a Q&A about how she went from rags to riches, the impact rowing at Stanford has had on her life and what she hopes to pass on to current and future Stanford student-athletes. How did you get your start with Stanford Rowing?

Joline Esparza: “I started out as a volleyball player at Stanford. I wrecked my shoulder and during my recovery I saw the rowing team running the stadium and told myself ‘that looks fun’. I followed some of them to the boathouse and saw the shells lining the A-frame building. It was a great sight and after going out on the water I was hooked. How unique is the sport of rowing in that you don’t have to have prior experience to join a college team?

Esparza: “From a very young age kids are pigeon-holed into one sport. There are high level sports with traveling teams and clubs that parents spend a lot of money on. I had never stepped foot in a boat before Stanford. Across the country I see this all the time that people with no rowing experience are welcomed to a crew team. If you are in any way athletic and have a sense of focus you can apply it and learn rowing from day one. You don’t have to have years of high level coaching to get into it at the college level.” How did you turn your passion for rowing into a career?

Esparza: “I wasn’t given a car for graduation. I was given a sewing machine. I loved to sew. I took it with me to national training camps. We raced in baggy t-shirts and shorts, so I wanted to make something more comfortable. It was just finding the right materials and trying different things out and that is how JL Racing got its start.” Where did the JL in JL racing come from?

Esparza: “JL is my first and middle initial. Just like when people doodle on napkins, that is how the logo came about. I was just drawing What did you study at Stanford?

Esparza: “I was graduated with a degree in human biology. I loved how we could create your own major. I liked the policy part of human biology.” How has rowing at Stanford shaped your life today?

Esparza: “On a personal level I am still in touch with 90-95 percent of the people I rowed with at Stanford. My best friend then is still my best friend. I am still close with my coach. I look for that experience in all aspects of my life. I look for that commitment and focus that I found with the crew team in my employees and people I associate with.” How did Stanford prepare you for business success?

Esparza: “I feel so fortunate to combine rowing with something I am really good at. Who can do that? You can be passionate about so many things. You can be passionate about research, communication or numbers. As long as you hold on to that passion that is what matters. When you have a passion it doesn’t seem like work. For me sewing was something that wasn’t a passion but something I did. I needed to make something and it worked. The fact that I was able to turn that into a business was where Stanford really helped me. At Stanford I learned how to communicate, the importance of being able to write and ask questions and stand up for myself. That is what I took out of my Stanford experience that turned into my business success.” How great is it for you to stay connected to rowing through your work?

Esparza: “One coach one time said that what I did was create clothing that allows you to do what you do without being distracted, for women especially. Another coach told me he didn’t like my clothing, but it made his women go faster because they felt like they had to train harder to look good in it. Really though, it is just staying involved with the community of rowing. Seeing kids and people in their middle ages find out what the feeling of rowing grabbing you by the throat and what that is like. They are there because they enjoy it, not because they have to be. I do support a lot of athletes and teams. I do what I can to support the sport of rowing as a business.” What advice would you give to the current Stanford rowers about life after Stanford?

Esparza: “Earning the trust of your teammates. Whether they are looking for employment or to start their own business, you need to give it your all. In rowing you leave your ego on the dock, you step in the boat and give it all to every person in that boat. You are bleeding into the water and it is joyful to do it for your team. In business you need to give your best. If I see someone who just punches a card and leaves your team can tell that it is just a job. If you don’t like what you are doing you shouldn’t do it. It won’t happen all the time, but you should try to find something you are passionate about. When you start your first job you are going to get used. They will get all they can out of you. I understand your business is family run, do your children work for you as well?

Esparza: “I have two daughters who are both in business with me and my husband. Neither of them turned into rowers. They were both soccer players and now my younger daughter is a cyclist. They both are very athletic and found their passion in a sport that touched them.