Quaker Valley senior commits to storied Brown University rowing program

Sunday, January 8, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Ellie Graham, a senior at Quaker Valley, has opted to extend her rowing career at Brown University of the Ivy League.

“I selected Brown because of its culture of academic rigor, but also for the fact that, while it is rigorous, it does not seem to be extremely cutthroat like other schools I have visited,” Graham said. “I like the ‘open major’ because it allows for flexibility. I think the ability to explore different topics and interests will be very beneficial for me. I don’t know what I’ll be majoring in yet. I anticipate going to law or business school, but I will be taking advantage of Brown’s open major and exploring what I enjoy.”

Brown’s women’s crew program is coached by John Murphy. Brown is an international program with team members from as far away as England, Scotland and the Bahamas.

“I was drawn to the rowing program because it has a history of excellence — it has won the most NCAA championships of any women’s rowing program — and the teammates I met all seemed really nice and supportive even though they are always working hard and competing. The team culture seemed really good,” Graham said. “The coaches seem very kind and want to help you grow as people and not just rowers.”

Graham will join Sewickley native Eliza Atwood in the Brown crew program. A junior who rowed in the bow seat of the B4 crew in 2021-22, Atwood attended Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts.

“Funny, I did not know Eliza before Brown,” Graham said. “I met her on a Zoom call last spring and also met her on my official visit to campus this September. She is really nice and welcoming and I’m excited to row with her.”

Graham’s other college finalists were Penn and Virginia.

“They are great schools for both academics and rowing,” Graham said, “so I felt very lucky to have these choices.”

The 5-foot-10, 150-pound Graham is a high honor student at Quaker Valley. She is a Sewickley resident who has completed eight AP classes and is taking five more in 2022-23. She recently was named to United States Rowing’s Class of 2023 Scholastic Honor Roll, and her weighted GPA is 4.71.

Rowing is a physical, demanding, year-round sport.

Graham began her career in eighth grade with Three Rivers Rowing, where the head coach was Matt Grau.

“I wanted to try rowing in middle school, so I started doing some learn-to-row classes and camps with Three Rivers,” Graham said. “I started rowing competitively in eighth grade. I wanted to try something new, and I wound up really enjoying the hard work and camaraderie.

“I love that rowing is a very demanding and beautiful sport, and that it is as much a team sport as it is an individual sport. What I enjoy most is the competition. I really like racing. I think it’s really gratifying because you can immediately feel when your hard work finally pays off, and when something finally clicks, it’s tangible.”

During the covid-19 pandemic in June 2020, Graham joined Sylvan Scullers, where she was coached by Dori Tompa. In November 2022, Graham switched back to TRR.

“I am really grateful for my family’s and coaches’ support,” Graham said, “and my teammates at Sylvan Scullers for supporting and pushing me. I also feel fortunate for the Quaker Valley High School teachers, administration and guidance department for allowing me to tailor my coursework to fit my needs.”

In 2020-21, Graham placed fourth in the under-17 women’s single sculls at the U.S. Rowing Nationals in Sarasota, Fla. In addition to performing well in sprint events, Graham also has been successful in the Head of the Ohio, Cuyahoga, Schuylkill and Charles regattas.

“I have been sweeping, both port and starboard, and sculling, but doing a bit more sweeping than sculling,” Graham said. “I hope to improve my sweeping to prepare for college, as colleges only really race sweep boats.”

This season, the 17-year-old senior with a wingspan of 70 inches was invited to the U.S. National team selection camp in Chula Vista, Calif. Selection camp is for those who in the running for the U.S. Junior National team.

“I had a chance to compete for a spot on the junior national team,” Graham said, “which raced in Varese, Italy, in July.”

Rowing consists of fall, winter, spring and summer seasons. In the fall months, Graham normally leaves for practice at 2:45 p.m. and returns home at 7.

Fall rowing has weekly two-, four- and six-day options and includes racing at the Head of the Cuyahoga, Ohio, Charles and Hooch.

“We have a weight training program that we follow in the winter,” Graham said.

High school rowers train six days a week during the spring season. Spring racing includes two scrimmages with Marietta and Parkersburg, the Midwest Junior Championships and Youth Nationals.

Summer rowing consists of two practices a day. Races include IDR, Summer Nationals and either Canadian Henley or Midwest Sprints.

“I don’t play other sports because rowing is year-round,” Graham said. “Fall races are long races, winter season is indoor training and races on rowing machines — and is essential if you want to have a good spring season — and spring racing, which is most important, consists of shorter sprint races.

“Summer racing is the same type of racing as spring, but we practice twice the amount — at least five hours a day.”

Rowing actually runs in the Graham family.

“My mom tried rowing novice crew her senior year at Princeton and did a bit afterward,” Graham said. “My dad participated in recreational rowing after college at the University Barge Club in Philadelphia and volunteered with the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta for a couple of years.”

At Quaker Valley, Graham is a member of the Key Club and Global Scholars and has participated in the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio summer program and Westinghouse Science Honors Institute Lecture series.


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