By Jordan Ingram
Main Line Life Sportswriter
If hard work was an addiction, put Suzanne Van Fleet in rehab immediately. With her All-American career finished at Clemson University, Van Fleet is beginning her professional rowing campaign.
The Radnor native’s post-Tigers career has been highlighted with a gold medal finish in her second stint on the U.S. team in the Under-23 Championships. During the team’s run, the U.S. defeated Poland, Belarus, Russia, Canada, and Germany en route to the first-place finish. Van Fleet credits the experience with giving her the confidence to become a professional rower.
“I made up my mind completely after this summer,” Van Fleet said. “I almost didn’t apply to U-23’s but I made myself because I wanted to use the summer as an indicator of whether I should continue rowing. After I made the team and we won the gold medal, I knew I couldn’t stop there.”
The 6-foot Van Fleet came into tryouts with huge concerns about making the team but U-23 head coach Kevin Sauer alleviated her fears. Van Fleet said that the University of Virginia rowing coach’s strong attention to detail kept her at ease throughout her experience on U-23’s.
“Coach Sauer was one of the best coaches that I have ever had,” said Van Fleet. “He instilled such a confidence in our crews and really prepared us for all of our races. This year I really tried to not let the selection process control me, which is easy to do when all you’re doing is eating, sleeping, and rowing.”
Van Fleet came into U-23 tryouts with a great deal of momentum as a senior. A two-time All-ACC performer for the Tigers, she helped the team receive a bid to the NCAA Championships for the first time in the school’s history. The 2008 Tigers team captain also finished her career as a three-time National Scholar Athlete recipient.
The All-American rower says that she’s constantly motivated by her need to reach her full potential.
“I have a desire to test my limits and see what I’m capable of doing,” said Van Fleet. “I always feel like I would rather try and fail then not try at all.”
Willingness to always give a valiant effort is what prompted Van Fleet to begin rowing. The West Chester Henderson alum started rowing with the Wilmington Youth Rowing Association on a request from her friend and hasn’t looked back.
Van Fleet’s love for the sport has prompted her to make sacrifices in order to achieve early success in the pro ranks. The cordial Van Fleet is balancing her strenuous training schedule with spending her final college semester student teaching third graders at Clemson Elementary. The early childhood education major says that though working with children can be stressful at times, she’s learned a great deal.
“Working with the kids has taught me patience and how to go with the flow better because they like to test me since I’m only a student teacher,” said Van Fleet. “You can still see their individual quirks and personalities developing at that age as well.”
Standing up and working with small children for eight hours everyday is more demanding than simply going to class and working out. Van Fleet realizes that her schedule’s tough but she understands the price she has to pay in order to become a star.
“My schedule now makes me have to keep my goals in perspective everyday,” said Van Fleet. “When things get hard I just remind myself of the experience I had this past summer at the world championships and know that those extra two hours [at practice] will be well worth it come January.”
Van Fleet will truly be able to gage how well her training at Clemson has been going when 2009 begins. In January Van Fleet will be moving to Princeton, N.J. to train with the rest of her teammates on the U.S. team. Despite the adversity, Van Fleet is eager to be closer to her family and friends.
“I’m looking forward to being able to driving home to see friends on the weekends or being able to get home cooked meals from my family,” said Van Fleet. “It will be easier knowing that my biggest support system is only an hour away.”
All of Van Fleet’s teammates will have a leg up on her because they’ve been training at Princeton University since September. According to one of the members on the team’s boat, Van Fleet should have no problems catching up.
“Suzanne is one of my biggest motivators because she got such an incredible work ethic and loves a challenge,” said teammate Kady Glessner. “She shouldn’t have a problem because she doesn’t get intimidated by things but rather takes things head on and works through them.”
Van Fleet will receive considerable help in training from such rowing standouts as Elle Logan, who won gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Working with Logan, who took her sophomore year off at Stanford University to train with the team, keeps Van Fleet aware of her ultimate goal.
When the 2012 Olympics arrive, Van Fleet is hoping that she’s not left out of the boat. Van Fleet says that competing in London will fulfill a dream she started believing in at the World Championships.
“I’m giving everything I have everyday because I don’t want to be watching the 2012 Olympics and wondering what could’ve been,” said Van Fleet. “I’m just trying to take things one year at a time but I think I’ll be more anxious once it’s starts getting closer to 2012. It still seems like a dream at this point, but I’m ready for it to become a reality.”