She played soccer as a kid until she fractured a growth plate in her hip. Devastated that she could no longer play, she switched to a lower impact sport: rowing. In high school, she suddenly fell in love with every stroke and every race that the sport soon became a big part of her life.
On The Bluff, years later, Megan Del Pozzi, a junior social work major on UP’s rowing team, was thrilled to learn that she had been selected as the female representative for the West Coast Conference (WCC) and will attend the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum in Washington D.C. from Nov. 16 thru 19.
Some members of the athletic department can’t seem to remember the last time the University of Portland had a student-athlete representative for the WCC — which is a big deal for them. There are 10 schools in the WCC, including Gonzaga University, Loyola Marymount University and Santa Clara University. The male WCC representative is from Brigham Young University.
“Rowing opened a lot of doors that I haven’t really considered before,” Del Pozzi said. “Looking back now, I’m much happier rowing than I could’ve been playing soccer and I apparently needed an injury to figure that out.”
The student-athlete life
Del Pozzi is from Shoreline, Wash., a suburb north of downtown Seattle. Unlike some of her teammates, she began rowing during high school. Each semester since her freshman year in college, she juggles 15 to 18 credits on top of six days of practices a week.
“Megan has really grown a lot in the past year,” rowing team captain Alyssa Soete said. “She’s really good at advocating for our team and I think this particular role she’s chosen for really plays to her strengths.”
Del Pozzi believes rowing has always been underrepresented on The Bluff, because not that many students attend their races.
“It can be really tough when you have to practice six days a week every morning,” Soete said. “There’s been a constant fight with the school because we’re so new and people don’t always think of rowing, so I think it’s good that (Del Pozzi) has that leadership role that keeps her engaged and pushes her to keep growing as an athlete.”
Soete said that if there was one word to describe Del Pozzi, it would be passionate.
“She not only really cares about the sport, but also her team,” Soete said. “It’s fun to watch her talk about the team and what we do. She’s basically our voice on campus and she works really hard to reach our goals.”
Team building and dedication
Del Pozzi has a myriad of memories with her teammates. One, in particular, are their team workouts.
“We usually have giant sweat stains on our shirts,” Del Pozzi said. “It’s a good day of practice when everyone’s leaving with a sweaty shirt. It sounds disgusting, but it’s everybody working hard together to reach this common goal of kicking butt.”
But they also have terrifying moments.
At one practice, a strong gust of wind blew towards their boat at the Willamette River. While two boats got back safely, one boat got stuck in the middle of the river for almost an hour. Del Pozzi and a few of her other teammates were in that boat.
After what seemed to be hours of struggle, Del Pozzi and her teammates, although freezing, finally rowed safely back to the shore.
“It’s funny when I look back at it, but it was definitely scary,” Del Pozzi said. “It was a good team-building exercise because we all learned to help each other during a crisis situation. But it was really stressful.”
At that moment, Del Pozzi developed some team-building skills that she soon applied to the rest of the student-athlete community.
Being a voice and a leader
Six days a week before dawn, the rowing team has to carve out an extra 45 minutes of travel time to get to Vancouver, Wash. for practices. As students, according to Del Pozzi, looks forward to get that extra minutes of sleep and knowing that the dock is nearby will make their lives easier.
“It’s also important to have an on campus presence, so that people can see what we’re doing and what rowing is,” Del Pozzi said. “Everybody gets to see the soccer team practicing but nobody really sees the rowing team, so at the moment it’s difficult to have that on campus presence.”
Glenna Andrews, athletics coordinator of student-athlete leadership and development, played a vital role in fostering Del Pozzi’s leadership skills. Andrews was also the one who recommended Del Pozzi for the NCAA Leadership Forum.
“She’s been somebody who’s been incredibly dedicated in trying to be involved in as many things as possible to give her team and student athletes a voice both in the (athletic) department and on campus,” Andrews said.
When Del Pozzi was nominated by UP’s athletic department to be the WCC student-athlete representative, she had to fill out a brief application explaining how the position might help her as a student and how it might benefit the team and her school.
“Megan applied as an individual but she was able to recognize and convey that by her attending, it’s going to be much broader than her individual experience,” Andrews said. “She is looking forward to and dedicated to bringing back everything that she will learn both to the University and the WCC.”
The NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum will include student-athletes, coaches, faculty and administrators across the nation. The attendees will build relationships, learn leadership skills, core beliefs and behavioral styles as well as an understanding of the NCAA as a whole.
“I’m really excited to see all the student-athletes and see how some universities run their athletic department,” Del Pozzi said. “I think it would be really fun and it’s a chance to learn and meet with 250 other student athletes.”
Andrews also said that Del Pozzi’s dedication goes above and beyond in terms of her willingness to jump into as many things as she can commit herself to. Not only is Del Pozzi a part of the student-athlete advisory committee (SAAC), but she was also recently appointed by University President Fr. Mark Poorman to serve for the Presidential Advisory Committee for Athletics.
Support, careers and beyond
As a social work and psychology major, Del Pozzi wants to work in a hospital setting. She said that she wishes to improve and educate people about America’s healthcare system.
“There’s always a need for people who have a good understanding of social work and can help others with the benefits that are out there,” Del Pozzi said. “I want to make sure that someone can be there to advocate for them in times of stress and anxiety when they’re in need of medical help.”
Del Pozzi’s parents are her number one supporters. They come to every race wearing their purple Pilot gear. They even followed her to their recent regatta in San Diego.
Besides her parents, Del Pozzi said that her teammates are her motivation to get up at dawn every morning from Mondays to Saturdays. As a college student, it’s not easy staying up late to do homework and getting up early for practices.
“I know I’m never gonna have to do anything alone because my team always has my back,” Del Pozzi said. “They’re always going to be there for me through thick and thin. We have a common goal of wanting to do well and the bond we have is just different than other teams.”
And this week, Del Pozzi will be traveling across the country to Washington, D.C. to learn more about being a student-athlete leader.
“I’m really excited to bring back a lot of what we talk about to UP, especially because I think it will really strengthen the university and our athletic department as a whole,” Del Pozzi said.