Last year, Hallie Jensen barely knew what crew was. But she did know — as did her family, friends and coaches — that she was a natural athlete who liked to push herself physically and mentally. She was a cross-country, track and basketball star and senior class president at Lakeside High School near Spokane; when it came time to think about college, the University of Washington was not on her radar.
“I just expected that I was going to play basketball or run track at a small school,” she says.
Then she discovered Hometown Huskies.
Keeping it local
UW Women’s Rowing recruits top talent from around the world. But, says Josh Gautreau, assistant coach and lead recruiter, much of the team’s historic success stems from walk-ons from Washington state. Like Jensen, many have proven themselves in a range of other sports.
They have what Gautreau calls “engines,” and those engines have powered success: “At each of the last four Olympics, someone who walked on at the UW has medaled,” he says.
Gautreau helped launch Hometown Huskies to broaden the walk-on talent pipeline even more. The program offers a one-year, full-tuition scholarship to a promising student-athlete from Washington state who has never rowed before. If she excels, she may earn additional rowing scholarships. But first she has to prove herself.
When Jensen heard about the scholarship, she decided to apply—and when she visited the UW, she knew it was where she wanted to be. She loved the Seattle campus and the high academic standards, and she especially liked the challenge of competing at the Division I level.
“I remember the moment I walked into Conibear Shellhouse and saw everyone working out,” she says. “I heard someone say that rowing is like cross-country on steroids. It’s endurance and strength—everything about it just locked me in.”
On and off the water
Jensen was among several promising finalists for the inaugural Hometown Huskies scholarship, and Gautreau cites her physical ability, work ethic and resiliency as the factors that pushed her over the top.
These qualities helped Jensen transition to a fulfilling first year, in class and on the water.
“I really like the atmosphere of my classes and studying things I’m interested in,” Jensen says, citing courses she took in English, women’s studies and the history of classical music. Though her schedule was packed, Jensen adjusted quickly to the independence of university life.
Ackerley Academic Center. With group and private study space, computers and tutors, the center has been crucial in helping her stay on top of her schoolwork.
“Excellence should be a habit in both the classroom and the boathouse,” says Jensen, who hopes to become a coach and a high school English teacher. “Ultimately, I know I’m here to get an education.”
Shaping potential into reality
Especially in the dark hours of fall and early winter, the qualities of patience, commitment and positivity can be as important as talent. Jensen had the added motivation—and pressure—of her Hometown Husky scholarship. “They put a lot of trust in me by selecting me,” she says. “It was my duty to prove that they made the right choice.”
Once the race season arrived, Jensen’s hard work began to pay off.
On a bluebird morning in March, Jensen and the novice eight boat launched into the first race of their college careers. Minutes later, they had clinched their first victory. It wouldn’t be their last.
“I could barely hold myself up, but I was very proud of our performance,” said Jensen later in the day. But she was already looking ahead to the next race. And the next. As the season flew by, she’d have plenty to be proud of—especially her novice eight boat’s victory at the Pac-12 championships in Gold River, California, in May.
“We had the perfect race,” she says of that day. “It was our fastest time by far, and the boat felt amazing. I couldn’t have ended my freshman season any better!”
“Hallie is blossoming,” says Head Coach Yasmin Farooq. “She’s just started to realize what she’s capable of doing, which is pretty awesome.”
Beyond the finish line
Jensen has a lot to look forward to in the next three years. She hopes to keep challenging herself and her teammates and contributing to the UW’s winning legacy, which grew even more impressive this year: The varsity boats swept all three grand finals in the NCAA championship in June, clinching their fifth national rowing title.
“I could have played it safe and pursued collegiate running or basketball,” Jensen says. “But since the first day of training, I’ve felt that this is where I should be. I love this program and feel so blessed that I get to live out this dream.”
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