Chartiers Valley senior Maclain Zajicek makes quick rise as rower

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Friday, November 22, 2019 | 12:28 PM


That Maclain Zajicek chose to pursue athletics came as no surprise. As the youngest of six siblings, she watched her brothers and sister excel at Chartiers Valley:

• Madison played soccer;

• Mitchell played football and wrestled;

• Noah played soccer and lacrosse;

• Caleb played soccer, basketball and lacrosse;

• Elias ran cross country and track.

Maclain, a senior, also played sports such as basketball and track and field as she came through the ranks at Chartiers Valley. But less than a year ago, a different sport grabbed her attention. It isn’t as well known, but it will be her path to college: rowing.

She picked it up almost by accident.

As Zajicek told the story, she accompanied her father, John, to her Uncle Graham Turnbull’s house to hang out with her cousins while the men were working on a project in the basement. Among the items in the basement was an ergometer, or erg, the technical term for a type of indoor rowing machine.

Zajicek hopped on, and her uncle noticed she seemed to have a natural flair for the technique. He put her in touch with a friend who is a high school rowing coach so her aptitude could be evaluated further.

Before she knew it, she got set up with Three Rivers Rowing Association and was competing in high-profile events.

“I went in blind,” she said. “I love to work out, and I worked out every day before … so I was already in shape for it. The third day I went, I didn’t know if it was for me, but I stuck it out longer.

“As the year progressed and we got out on the water, I got the hang of things.”

At Head of The Ohio in October, she and partner Cate Sauer-Cook placed fourth in the women’s youth pairs. She was part of the women’s youth fours team that placed first and the eights that were runner-up at Head of the Hooch in Tennessee.

Her biggest accomplishment to date, she said, was being part of the women’s youth fours team that placed fourth of 85 entries at Head of the Charles in Boston. Her teammates were Audrey Lyda, Lauren Jochims, Savannah Wilson and Anam Burns.

Suddenly, she is getting attention from college coaches. Zajicek said she has spoken to, among others, Robert Morris, Duquesne, Villanova and Mercyhurst. The coaches at TRRA, she said, also are trying to get her name out to various schools.

The college prospects are nice, but Zajicek also sees rowing as a way to carve her niche.

“It was unique. Nobody really hears about it,” she said. “So it’s interesting when people come up to me and ask about it. It’s my own sport to grade myself on.”

Fall rowing season is over, so Zajicek will turn her attention to winter season, which begins in December. The winter is mostly for training, but there is a series of indoor “races” on erg machines.

That will ramp up her and her TRRA teammates for the spring season, when there are several more big races.

The world of rowing was foreign to Zajicek just a few months ago, but she quickly became hooked. She might have gotten a few sideways looks from friends and classmates who knew nothing about the sport, but she said she wouldn’t trade it.

Except for maybe the blisters and calluses.

“If someone asked me about rowing, I would say it’s the hidden gem of sports,” Zajicek said. “It’s a small community, but when you go (to events), it’s huge. There are no favorites. It actually takes a team.

“So if someone was looking for a team sport, that’s what I would say. It’s tough, but it’s worth it.”

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