Carie Graves, Founder and Coach of Texas Rowing, Says Goodbye to UT


Last week, Carie Graves announced her retirement as the Texas rowing coach after 16 years. Graves paved the way for rowing at UT, which did not have a NCAA program, or even a boathouse, before she arrived in Austin. Texas Crew, the UT’s men’s club rowing team, has been around since 1969. Graves won two Olympic medals: bronze in 1976 and gold in 1984, and the ’84 eights team was the first U.S. female team to win the gold. Graves spoke with the Alcalde from Indianapolis, where she is attending her final NCAA meeting, about her time at UT and the future of women’s rowing in America.

What’s the most difficult part about rowing?

Putting blades in the water and rowing as fast and hard as you can at full press. It’s very demanding as an athlete. As a coach, it’s getting young women to experience that pain. It’s hard, and if it’s not hard you’re not doing it right, and you’re certainly not going to win. Rowing and cross-country skiing are the two hardest Olympic sports. Studies on cross-country skiers and rowers show that they are the two sets of athletes that have highest VO2 max. It burns but it’s also a challenge for athletes to see if they can push harder than they thought they could they have to.

How did you get into coaching?

My rowing experience was at a big state university [the University of Wisconsin], and even though I had a successful coaching career at Harvard, I was just 24 years old—just a few years older than some of the seniors. It was very challenging at first. I was there for 6 years, and I resigned because I wanted to train for my last Olympic team.

What inspired you to start the rowing program at UT?

[I had been coaching at Northeastern] for 10 years when I heard about the Texas job and I decided it was a great opportunity. [It was] a big state university that had a great number of young women with the potential to be good athletes who had never rowed before. That was my experience. My father and brother had rowed, but there wasn’t an opportunity for me as young woman until Title IX. I liked the idea of having a big student body and a lot of walk-ons. We of course recruit now, but I wanted that. I was happy in Boston and at Northeastern, but I wanted to be in an environment like the one I was in when I started rowing.

What are some benchmarks of the program during your tenure that you are proud of?

It really was a benchmark to get a boathouse. Also in our 4th year to get to NCAAs, then we went again the next year … and haven’t been back since.

Talk about your legacy in the sport. 

I’m always so busy that one doesn’t think about things like that. It’s not like I’m saying, “Oh hey, I’m the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic gold medal in rowing, what do you think about that?” Coaching is day-by-day. Rowing is a really hard sport, it’s really demanding, I don’t think a lot of us growing up in this position really thought much about what we did. We did what we had to do in order to get better as athletes and coaches. We’re always asking, “What can I do? What will make this work?”

How do you envision the future of the UT rowing program?

I know UT will hire someone who is very, very good. They have the know-how to do that. They’re gonna be here at the NCAAs—this is my last hurrah—we’re gonna have someone here talking to people, looking around, and that’s exactly what they need to be doing because these are the top coaches in country, here. They are sending someone out to research it—to take a good measure of what it is that Texas needs to do to keep up in the Big 12 and to make inroads on the national level.

Do you have any advice for the next coach?

Best wishes, and I would be available to answer questions if they had any. The hardest part now is the paperwork. The paperwork is extraordinary—there’s a lot of it, and more every year. It’s easy to get lost in the amount of work. It’s not just at UT, this is across the country—state universities have to [have paperwork]. But I would counsel them to put that second and really focus on student athletes.

Rowing seems to be a very northeastern, Ivy League sport traditionally. What advice would you give to a young woman in Texas looking to get into rowing?

It’s really easy now. There’s that British, old feel with rowing, but Title IX has opened it up. There are 20 full scholarships on all Division 1 teams, more than any other women’s sport. That’s exceptional—roughly 400 scholarships every year for young women to have college paid for. This country will be unbeatable in rowing in the Olympics. The feeder system in this country is huge. It’s really, really exciting. We won the gold medal in the last two Olympics, and that’s remarkable. My guess is at least half of Olympic eights did not row in high school; they rowed in college. If you’re tall, strong, and have an athletic background you can go to so many colleges and walk on to the rowing team. We’ve had women walk on at UT and become great. The world is your oyster. If you’re tall and ambitious and a fighter, you can do whatever you want. Good genetics also help.

What’s next for you?

I’m certainly retired from coaching. When I was younger it was easier—I’m not that old but it is pretty much 24/7. Any coach can tell you that. It’s being there for midnight phone calls, and when you go home, that’s when you think about lineups and where everyone is going to be in the boat. I can’t imagine being at a job that I’m not immersed in. I own a house in Wisconsin, where I’m from. I’ve always wanted to write. I’m interested in rowing machines. I’m going to start doing some training to help other people, maybe do some classes for the baby boomer population. I’d like to just go out and do something.

Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.


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