Audra Lawler’s fellow classmates at Turlock High School are used to seeing her in the pool, but she’ll soon be gliding across Mission Bay as a member of the University of California, San Diego’s women’s rowing team.
Lawler will graduate this spring and head down south to join the Tritons, who compete in the Big West Conference as a Division I program, after signing her letter of intent in December 2020. She’s excelled in swimming and water polo throughout her life, and in middle school a family friend who rowed in college suggested the sport to her since she was not only tall and athletic, but also enjoyed being in the water.
It wasn’t until her sophomore year of high school that Lawler took up the sport, traveling to Stockton to train in a single boat on the delta with her coach. She moved on up to a larger racing boat seating eight people during her junior year of high school, and that’s when she truly fell in love with the sport — right before the pandemic hit.
“Before COVID, I got to feel what it was like to have other people in the boat with me. I thought it was really cool and enjoyed it, obviously, since I’m going to be doing it for a long time in college,” Lawler laughed.
When the pandemic kept her out of the water last summer, Lawler began fervently emailing college coaches to ask about their rowing programs. She kept in shape by using a friend’s rowing machine, known as an erg, and was soon in contact with UCSD coaches who had taken a liking to her.
While she had considered playing water polo in college, it would have led her to a smaller school. Both the rowing program and the larger university’s offerings played a role in her decision to switch sports, Lawler said, and her skills have transitioned nicely.
“Rowing is actually a leg-dominant sport because the majority of your power rowing comes from sliding in a shell...you’re using your legs and core, which are really developed in water polo because of the way we have to tread water and keep balanced,” she said. “It seamlessly translates into rowing, and a lot of people that row in college that haven’t rowed before are water polo or swimming athletes.”
Lawler’s first college race will be her first competition ever, thanks to the pandemic. She plans on majoring in biology at UCSD and one day entering the medical field. Until then, she’s looking forward to being a part of the Tritons.
“I’m really looking forward to practices with the team and going on morning rows,” Lawler said. “It will be nice to just row a couple thousand meters in the morning, watch the sunrise over the bay and have that sense of community in such a big place.”