Olympian Teaches Rowing

by Steve Charles

October 20, 2014

Caught up in singing sirens, one-eyed giants, six-headed monsters, and surly suitors, readers of Homer’s Odyssey may overlook the fact that Odysseus and his men do a lot of rowing.

Not a problem for students in Professor Bronwen Wickkiser’s freshman tutorial, Homer’s Odyssey: Hero & Homecoming.

The Classics professor took her students to Eagle Creek Reservoir “to enrich their intellectual exploration of Homer’s epic by learning how to row.” And their teacher? An Olympic rower!

Indianapolis Rowing Center (IRC) Executive Director and 2008 Olympian Jennifer Kaido taught Wabash students the basics of rowing on ergometers in the IRC boathouse, then instructed them as they rowed “barges” on the lake.

Professor Wickkiser expected the students “to gain a sense of the skill, manpower, and precise teamwork necessary to propel ancient ships, and a deeper appreciation of seafaring in Homer and other ancient texts.”

The rowing session may have exceeded her expectations.

“I was surprised by how much the students picked up in just over an hour,” said Wickkiser, who trains and competes in national regattas with the IRC. “Rowing requires discipline and technique, not just brute strength. It is also the consummate team sport: the boat will not move well unless everyone in the boat is working together as a synchronous whole. It was gratifying for me to see the students encouraging each other to do their best, especially in the erg relays. And they really seemed to enjoy it!”

Joining the group was Professor of History Stephen Morillo, who competed in rowing while a student at Oxford University.

The rowing immersion experience fits well into Classics department efforts to “make the ancient world more accessible and more interesting” to students. Last spring the department sponsored a reenactment of a suovetaurilia, a feast that allowed the campus to experience that ancient world through sound, smell, and taste. The rowing experience put an aspect of that world right into the students’ muscle memory.

“When we experience these other senses, we can experience the emotions they may have triggered,” Wickkiser said. “That understanding can prompt us to ask important questions that shed light not only on the past, but the present.”



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