May 10, 2012
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, July 28, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2011-12 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- It took a chance meeting after a long bike ride across France for Annemarie Bernhard to end up on the University of Iowa rowing team.
Bernhard, now a sophomore at Iowa, is a native of the Netherlands. She had finished competing at a junior European rowing championship event in France when some friends decided to bike across the country to watch the rowing world championships.
That's when Bernhard bumped into UI head coach Mandi Kowal.
"I was watching an international rowing event in high school," Bernhard said. "Coach Kowal approached me at the event and asked if I spoke English. She then asked if I was interested in going to America, and I had no idea about the process. Once we talked, it sounded really interesting."
Kowal remembers spotting Bernhard out of the crowd and striking up a conversation.
"I saw a cluster of athletes standing around, and she wasn't even racing," Kowal said. "I asked her if she was interested in rowing. She looked like a great athlete."
Bernhard's long bike ride came up in the conversation. That was a selling point for Kowal.
"I was impressed when she said that she had biked to the world championships," Kowal said. "Not a lot of athletes can bike somewhere of that distance to watch an event. That was telling of her, as a person, for me."
The two talked for a while, discussing the opportunity to row in the United States at a major academic institution. Bernhard had dreams of becoming an elite rower, along with a doctor, so the opportunity was intriguing.
In Europe, athletics and academics don't go hand-in-hand at universities like they do in the United States. You either attend a university for academics or join a club for athletics.
The thought of being able to do both at the same place caught Bernhard's attention.
"I had to think about it for a while," Bernhard said of her decision to come to the United States. "I never thought about coming to America to row. It took a while to understand the system. Before I could make the decision, I had to understand the sport and education system. I kept going back and forth. I wanted to go, but it was scary. After a couple months, I made the decision to go."
It didn't take long for Bernhard to impress her head coach once she arrived on campus two years ago.
"She has a lot of qualities that show her athleticism," Kowal said. "Her poise in the boat and her approach at practice. The other thing that was obvious was her teamwork. She is a very team-oriented person. It didn't matter who you had with her in the boat, she was going to do everything possible to make that row a good one."
Bernhard's first fall was successful, but her next challenge approached as the leaves fell from the trees and the bodies of water in Iowa froze.
"In the Netherlands you can row all year around," Bernhard said. "In Iowa, you have three months of no rowing. I was used to rowing the whole year."
Bernhard grew up training on the water. The concept of "winter training" wasn't something that Bernhard understood. Instead of rowing on the water, Bernhard found other ways to prepare for the spring season.
She believes the change in training made her a better athlete.
"I had to get used to winter training," Bernhard said. "That means rowing machines, weights and running. That was a big change, mainly a mental change. I had to get mentally prepared to get through that but it made me a lot stronger."
Bernhard still has the same dreams she did when coming to Iowa. She is a health and human physiology major and has aspirations of becoming a doctor. But she has also decided to keep pursuing the dream of making the Netherlands Senior National Team.
That decision has bumped her training to a new level, according to Kowal.
"She came in as a strong athlete," Kowal said. "What's separating her this year is the decision to go beyond college rowing. That has sparked a motivation within her, and that's been impressive. She has continued to take strides to put herself in that position."
It wasn't an easy decision to come across the world to attend a university in the middle of America. Now that she's here, Bernhard has been able to pursue two dreams. But the lessons learned along the way will be what Bernhard takes back with her to the Netherlands.
"If there is anything that I will always remember when I think about Iowa, it will be the constant improvement," Bernhard said. "The constant drive to improve."
That constant drive has made Bernhard a team leader on Kowal's squad and the Hawkeye head coach doesn't see that stopping.
"If she has a jump next year like she did this year, I wouldn't be surprised if she is on that senior national team," Kowal said.
When the next world championships rolls around, Bernhard won't have to bike to the competition. Her drive and dedication will likely get her a spot on the water, instead of in the crowd.