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Not Your Oar-dinary Senior

French signs NLI to row at the University of Notre Dame

Senior Courtney French signs NLI to row at the University of Notre Dame after seed of an idea is planted by her Holy Family mentor

Arm muscles burning and staring straight ahead, her oar slices through the water as her gaze is transfixed on the teammate in front of her. Not allowed so much as a glance at the blades in the water, shoulder blades are the ones she must focus on. 

Though not very common in Minnesota, rowing is quite the grueling sport. Unique in that it is both a team and an individual sport, one must have the mental toughness and physical stamina to endure the race while also keeping in sync with their teammates to work together as one. 

French rowing with the Twin Cities Youth Rowing Club

Courtney French, senior at Holy Family Catholic School (HFCHS) and rower for Twin Cities Youth Rowing Club, describes the sport like this to an outsider:

 “It’s not like soccer or hockey where if you have a bad shift, then you can go back out and re-do it,” Courtney explains. “In rowing, you really only have one chance.” 

Though French speaks with such knowledge of the sport, she only started rowing about a year and a half ago. In search of AP classes and more rigorous academics, she transferred to Holy Family her sophomore year. Upon arrival, she was paired with (then) senior Jillian Oncay as part of the student ambassador program to help ease the transition of new students. 

More than a friendly face in the school hallways and weekly check-ins, Oncay’s mentorship changed the trajectory of French’s future college career. Oncay is the one who first introduced French to the sport of rowing, educating her on the ins and outs of the sport and the club in which she rowed: Twin Cities Youth Rowing Club in Eden Prairie. The timing was perfect, as French was looking for a spring sport to add to her existing rotation of swimming and hockey. French cites how effectual it was to have a peer in which to ask questions and provide insight about rowing, especially someone as skilled as Jillian Oncay. At the time, Oncay had just signed a National Letter of Intent (NLI) to row at the United States Naval Academy. 

Less than two years later, French signed her own NLI to row at the University of Notre Dame.

French in her Notre Dame rowing gearĀ 

“I really think the Ambassador program is important in helping newer students adjust to Holy Family,” French says. “It’s a totally different experience than I've had in other schools. Having people your age to ask questions can be helpful. I think the program helps new students make friends and really enjoy their time at Holy Family.” 

Along with excelling in a new sport in such a short time span, French transcends expectations academically. She recently earned a spot on the HFCS highest honor roll, the President’s List, which credits students with a 3.80 to a 4.33 GPA. 

This honor is the result of French’s meticulous organization and time management. From before-school student council meetings to all day academics followed by rowing practice, French isn’t done with her day until most people are eating dinner—around 6:30 p.m. She explains how she plans out her assignments and works ahead so that nothing is late. Like rowing, schoolwork takes time and dedication, but it is very much worth the satisfaction with the end result.

And, the results continue to pile up. In February, Courtney competed as an individual in the US Rowing Indoor National Championships in Atlantic City, NJ, and earned a silver medal in the U19 race against 48 competitors with a time of 7:16.6 in the 2000 meter event (2K meters is the standard distance in rowing.) Watch Courtney's full event HERE

This fall as French heads off to the  University of Notre Dame with aspirations of medical school and a career as a pediatric surgeon. She will undoubtedly use skills learned in the classroom and on the water to continue to accomplish extra-"oar"dinary things.

“It’s not heavy metal or what people would normally think of as hype music,” French explains, laughter in her voice. “The slow speed helps me get in the zone and calms me down a bit.”


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