April 14, 2003

By Shannon McGonigle

While most Notre Dame freshmen look back on the physical education requirement with amusement or embarrassment, senior Ashlee Warren’s gym class led her down a path that would change her entire collegiate career. During class registration, a member of the supervising faculty asked Warren if she was an athlete. When she replied she was not, the teacher asked if she had ever tried rowing.

“No, I don’t think so! I’ve never even been in a boat,” Warren says as she laughs recalling the memory.

A few weeks later another gym teacher told her to call women’s rowing head coach Martin Stone. After visiting a practice or two, Warren knew that rowing was her sport.

“It took about a week, and that was it. I was hooked. I knew there was no going back at that point,” Warren says.

After being a three-sport star at Fostoria-St. Wendelin High School in Gibsonburg, Ohio, Warren had hoped to continue with athletics in college. Once she arrived at Notre Dame, she soon found out that the student athletic trainer program and interhall sports were not quite enough to fuel her competitive drive. The competitive, demanding nature of rowing attracted Warren.

“Just being back in a sport again was a big thing for me, and it just happened that a lot of the things I look for in a sport, like teamwork, were part of rowing,” Warren says.

“I’m lucky it is a sport you can pick up in college and do.”

Transitioning to college athletics proved to be no problem for Warren. Her biggest challenge came in the switch from the “ball sports” – volleyball, basketball, and softball – she had played in high school to a sport where she raced against the clock. Her physical talent, competitive edge and athlete’s mentality carried over to the river from these high school sports.

“I am pretty competitive, but I have also been lucky that am blessed with a good work ethic. Whatever I do, I go all out because I do not see any reason not to. I work as hard as I can, and so far I have been lucky, in that it has taken me where I have wanted to go,” Warren reflects.

In addition to learning the fundamentals of rowing, Warren had to mentally adjust to the demanding winter practice schedule. She was not alone. The novice program, which can be compared to the junior varsity level in high school sports, consisted of 70 or 80 women all learning to row. Going through the learning experience with the rest of the team helped form a bond they still share to this day in their senior year.

“When you look at the varsity team as a freshman, you think, ‘Oh my gosh, they are so cool,'” Warren recalls

“The girls have always been really nice and have gone out of their way to make sure everyone feels included. It was definitely the fact I started in the same boat as everyone else that I did not feel intimidated.”

Warren also recalls the upperclasswomen made her freshman class feel they could make an immediate contribution to the team. These shared goals made rowing something she looked forward to, despite the challenging practices. Biking across campus through winter’s bitter cold mornings to two-a-day practices and battling against the erg machines with the non-changing indoor scenery of the Loftus Sports Center, the team bonded. Practices, although difficult, became something she wanted to attend.

Her love of practicing has turned into something unimaginable for Warren as she has thrived at the collegiate rowing level. Warren became the first Irish rower to earn All-America honors last season as she was named to the second team. She also has been named to the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association All-Central Region team the last two seasons and was the first Notre Dame rower, along with former teammate Becky Luckett, to be named to the US Rowing Collegiate Honor Roll.

The team is now large enough and well established enough that it makes cuts even for novices. Its remarkable growth is due to the large numbers of experienced upperclassmen who have made their way through the program over the last three or four years, as well as more experienced rowers joining the team from high school.

“The addition of scholarships has played a key role in allowing us to be more competitive in the recruiting process and signing more experienced athletes,” says Stone, who knows he stumbled onto a gold mine when he found Warren.

“But rowers like Ashlee have laid the foundation for our program. She has been a true leader in every sense of the word and deserves all of the honors and accolades she has received.”

Warren’s rowing prowess and role as an experienced leader will still be needed in 2003 as Notre Dame faces its toughest schedule yet during Stone’s tenure as head coach.

“Ashlee and (junior) Natalie (Ladine) were the strongest pullers in the boat last season and we will see that again from them this year. Their experience is going to be critical as some of the younger athletes vie for spots in the boat. We are expecting a lot from both of them, but they will both be up to the challenge,” Stone predicts.

Warren can – and does – identify with the younger rowers just starting their career.

“It’s different now because there are so many upperclassmen,” Warren says.

“My sophomore year, there were only two people in the first boat who had rowed with the varsity. It was not like we were running the show, but there were very few people who could help us. We pretty much stepped into what leadership roles we could right away.

“Now there are so many people with varsity experience that we have been able to integrate the freshmen as quickly as possible to show them the ropes.”

Showing them the ropes includes more than just practices, team runs and erging sessions, as her co-captain role allows her to plan dinners and team-bonding time. The team, only in its fifth season of varsity status, has relied on this teamwork and bond as it creates a name for itself in the rowing world. The Irish varsity eight received an at-large bid to the 2002 NCAA Championships in Indianapolis, Ind. The team placed 16th and finished the season ranked No. 13, its highest end-of-the-year ranking in history.

“When you read the history of the team, you know all the people it is talking about as many of them are still on the team,” Warren says.

“It is nice to build from the beginning and have people 10 years from now look back and know we started it all. They will build on that and still do these great things because of what we have started.”

With Warren it is all about team as she talks about the 2003. Although qualifying for the NCAA regatta last season was great, the experience was somewhat incomplete without the entire team at the race. If the whole team were able to qualify this year, Notre Dame rowing would be one of the top 12 teams in the country, in what would be a great ending to Warren’s collegiate rowing career.

What comes next for Warren?

As graduation approaches, she focuses on the upcoming Notre Dame rowing regattas which will take her across the country from Massachusetts to Washington and in between, in addition to choosing a medical school. As a BIG EAST Academic All-Star team member the past two seasons and a CRCA National-Scholar Athlete honoree in 2001, Warren has the grades to choose between several schools in her home state of Ohio, where she hopes to specialize in sports medicine. She will graduate with a dual degree in pre-med and anthropology this May.

As for rowing?

“I’m probably too short to row in the Olympics,” she says, laughing, “so I’m probably going to have to retire. I can see myself rowing as I get older. There are many opportunities for Masters rowing, but I can see myself having my little single boat and rowing if there is water.”

Whatever the future holds for Warren, she has certainly made her impact on the Irish rowing program. From a freshman who had only planned on signing up for a physical eduation class to a rowing All-American to preparing for medical school.

That’s Dr. Warren, making her mark.