<p>Freshman balances crew, school
By Abby DeBruine </p>
<p>Leif Bergquist's back hurts. Maybe that's because he's been sitting in class for two hours straight, the back of an unyielding, plastic desk digging into his spine. Or maybe it's because the hour-long ergometer workout he did in crew practice the evening before is catching up with him. For Leif, it's difficult to tell anymore.
Not even a year ago, Leif was a senior at Brookfield East High School in Brookfield, Wis., playing defensive end and offensive guard for the school's football team. He was accustomed to the aches and pains that come with playing arguably the most physical sport of all. But like all dedicated athletes, Leif fought through injuries and continued to play with the passion and skill that couldn't help but raise the eyebrows of several college recruiters.
So why would Leif, Brookfield East High School's career sack leader, turn down football scholarships to schools like the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Valparaiso and North Dakota to come to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to become the six port rower on a school's crew team that could offer him neither the scholarship nor the roar of the football stadium crowd?
Leif admits that at first it seemed like a joke. Midway into his senior year, he began receiving letters and e-mails asking him to consider becoming a collegiate crew athlete. One of those letters came from UW crew Head Coach Chris Clark, inviting him to Madison to observe practice. Leif decided to make the trip from Brookfield early one morning, arriving before the sun came up over Lake Mendota. By the time it did, however, Leif had decided that this is what he wanted to do.
"I went out on the boat that morning and it was so peaceful out there, so serene," he says. "I knew at that moment that this was my sport, and I thought to myself, 'I'm putting my mind to it; I'm going to do this.'"
The transition from high school to college is difficult for every new freshman. They're on their own for the first time and have to learn how to manage their time without the help of parents and school counselors. But for a freshman athlete such as Leif, the transition can be even more onerous. He has practice six days a week (sometimes twice a day, the first practice beginning at 6 a.m.) that eat up his time and his physical and mental energy, and somewhere in between, he has to fit in studying. This requires him to diligently adhere to the most stringent of schedules.
Wednesday Leif woke up at 5:15 a.m. and biked down to the crew house for early morning practice where he rowed until 8 a.m. Fortunately, he remembered to bring his change of clothes with him because there is no way he could have made it all the way back to his dorm to shower and change before his 8:50 a.m. calculus class. From calculus he went straight to English and at noon he took advantage of some downtime, eating a full meal and catching up on homework. At 2:30 p.m. he was sitting in Spanish and by 4 p.m., he was on his way back to the crew house for the day's second practice. After practice he went back to his dorm where he finally had enough time to take a shower. He studied from about 8 p.m. to midnight and was in bed by his self-imposed curfew of 12:30 a.m.
But if he manages to catch a nap in between kickoff and Anthony Davis' last touchdown run, you can expect to see him out that night.
"Sunday's the only day there's no practice, so on Saturday night, you gotta hit it hard," he confides.
Leif is one of the remaining 40 freshmen on a crew team that started out with more than 150.
"The time commitment, the workouts and school eventually takes its toll on people," he explains.
Not for Leif. He somehow has been able to make the transition from high school senior to freshman collegiate athlete seem easier than it really is. He is doing well in every class, "aced all of my exams so far," and is working on a 4.0 that seems to be less than an oar's length away.
Leif attributes his success with crew and academics to extreme diligence.
"[It's] a lot of late nights, early mornings, time budgeting, list-making and ultimately, the routine," he says.
Although the strict routine he forces himself to follow may get monotonous at times, Leif admits that it keeps him in check.
"The routine helps me out. If I don't vary from it, I'll be able to stick to the same schedule and not let other things distract me that could get in my way of doing what I want to do," he asserts. "And my number one priority is getting the degree I want."
Leif has been able to show his dedication to his individual and team goals by keeping his grades and his attitude up.
"He's a model of everything we're looking for. I wish we had 10 more guys like him," coach of the freshman crew team Eric Mueller says as he points toward a photograph hanging on the wall of what is serving as an office before construction is completed on the new crew house.
The photo is of Beau Hoopman, a 2003 Madison graduate who was seven seat for the U.S. men's eight rowing team that took the gold medal at this summer's Olympics.
Can Leif Bergquist be the next Hoopman?
Mueller says that for a freshman, Leif certainly has great talent and potential.
But if not, at least he'll have that 4.0 to fall back on.</p>