Quaker Valley senior makes waves on national rowing scene

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Sunday, September 25, 2022 | 11:01 AM


There was little if any doubt she’d be chosen.

Quaker Vally senior Ellie Graham recently was named to the United States Rowing’s Class of 2023 Scholastic Honor Roll.

It’s a prestigious honor. Each year, USRowing selects 100 students throughout the country who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievements and success on the water.

Graham, a Sewickley resident who plans to row in college, has completed eight AP classes (in grades nine, 10, 11) and is taking four more in her senior year.

Her unweighted GPA is 3.98 and her weighted GPA is 4.70, which does not include two online AP classes.

“I feel really lucky that I’ve seen some good results from my hard work in school and on the water,” said the 17-year-old Graham, “but I know there is always more to be done. 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. Even when you are in a single, you’re never really alone because your entire team is behind you.

“Right now, I mainly scull, but I can sweep too. I have more experience as a port, but I am a competent starboard.”

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 the sprint events, Graham also has been successful in the Head of the Ohio, Cuyahoga, Schuylkill and Charles regattas.

This season, she was invited to the U.S. National team selection camp in Chula Vista, Calif.

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

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.

The stellar scholar-athlete said she has received invaluable encouragement from a myriad of sources in her rowing and academic careers.

“I am really grateful for my family’s support and for my coach, Dori Tompa,” she said, “and my teammates at Sylvan Scullers for supporting and pushing me. I also feel very fortunate for the Quaker Valley High School teachers, administration and guidance department for allowing me to tailor my coursework to fit my needs, such as allowing me to skip a grade of Spanish and to begin AP classes in ninth grade.

“In July 2020, as a result of covid-19 restrictions, I switched to a smaller club, Sylvan Scullers. Dori Tompa was able to give me much more time on the water.”

Rowing is a physical, demanding, year-round sport. Graham began rowing in eighth grade with Three Rivers Rowing in 2018-19.

“I wanted to try rowing in middle school, so I started doing some learn-to-row classes and camps with Three Rivers when I was in sixth and seventh grade,” Graham said. “I started rowing competitively in eighth grade with Three Rivers.

“I was drawn to rowing because I wanted to try something new, and I wound up really enjoying the hard work and camaraderie. What I enjoy most about rowing is the competition. I really like racing. I think it’s a really gratifying sport because you can immediately feel when your hard work finally pays off, and when something finally clicks, it’s tangible.”

She stands 5-foot-10 and has a wingspan of 70 inches.

“Wingspan is important in rowing because it gives you a longer arc, which means a longer stroke,” she said, “which translates to moving the boat more efficiently. So the longer the wingspan, the longer the stroke.”

Graham’s rugged rowing schedule consists of fall, winter, spring and summer seasons. In the fall months, she normally leaves for practice at 2:45 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.

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, six to seven days a week,” she 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). Because the rowing season never ends, there’s not a lot of time for other sports, not that I’d want to play any others.”

During the pandemic year, Graham joined Sylvan Scullers, where she initially was coached by Matt Grau. In her 2018-2019 novice season, Graham was coached by Billy Colbert. Graham’s varsity coach in 2019-20 was Tim Desrosiers.

Ladislau (Laci) and Dori Tompa co-founded Sylvan Scullers in 2017 and coach from their back yard in Verona on the Allegheny River. The club’s mission is to provide international level coaching and racing opportunities to athletes of all ages and backgrounds.

Laci Tompa is rowing director and boatman. Dori Tompa is head coach and program director. Laci coached Dori at the 1996 Olympic Trials. After the trials, they joined forces as a coaching team and co-founded Steel City Rowing Club.

At SCRC, the Tompas were 10-time USA USRowing National team coaches and coached dozens of athletes to youth national championships, Summer Nationals and Canadian Henley podium finishes.

Laci rowed and raced on the Romanian National team for two years. Dori learned to row at her alma mater, Carnegie Mellon, and is a registered architect.

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