March 9, 2018
Ski-U-Mah Life highlights some of the more than 700 Minnesota student-athletes outside of their athletic accomplishments. This week, senior Rachel Rowland’s important work outside the gym and the classroom is featured.
Ski-U-Mah Life Archive
Rachel Rowland thought she knew pressure.
Many times, the Parker, Colo., native found herself ready to compete with the outcome of her gymnastics meet on the line. A teammate before her may have fallen, or a high score needed to secure the win.
Then, she entered the work force.
Rowland has spent the last two years performing her most impressive balancing act yet – she has been a Scholastic All-American in the classroom, athlete for the Gopher women’s gymnastics squad, and employee at ACR Homes, a local company that provides residential support services for people with physical and developmental disabilities, as well as care for the elderly.
The opportunity, which she found through the Gophers’ Pro Day during her sophomore year, afforded her the chance to gain valuable direct care hours as she moved towards her career goal of becoming a physician’s assistant. Although the field can cover the broad spectrum of medicine, Rowland was purposeful in seeking an opportunity to work with special needs patients.
“It is challenging but I am glad that I am doing it because if I can handle this, it gives me confidence that I can handle other things,” she explained. “It is really something I have never dealt with before, so I kind-of dove right into a realm I’m not familiar with – but I’m really glad I did.”
Her interest in medicine is partially rooted in her gymnastics youth career.
“I’ve had a lot of injuries and I’ve seen a lot of doctors, PAs, and nurses–I’ve seen really good ones and I’ve seen really bad ones,” Rowland said. “When I had a bad knee injury in high school is when I was determined to become one of the good ones.”
Rowland was quickly thrown into the fire in her career, including an experience at a group home with very medically fragile residents.
“The quality of care is super important because their health is dependent on it, so it was almost scary at times, but you just have learn and be confident in yourself and your abilities that you can provide adequate care,” she explained.
Part of the reason she has been successful is an ability to find time and energy for all three phases of her life – schoolwork, athletics and her professional pursuits.
“I’m not going to say it is easy, but I’ve really gotten good at compartmentalizing my life and when I am in school I’m in school, when I’m in gym I’m focused on gymnastics and when I’m at work I’m focused that my residents have my full attention,” Rowland said. “When you do that, nothing seems too overwhelming because you take things as they come and just focus on what needs to be done in that moment.”
Gophers head coach Jenny Hansen says Rowland’s drive is unique among athletes she has worked with.
“She’s kind of exceeded all expectations and demands,” said Hansen, a former Gopher student-athlete herself. “We had to come in at some point and say, ‘Rachel, you’re working too much.’ Because she was giving everything she had to all three aspects of her life, and it’s pretty amazing.”
“Jenny has been super great about letting me work,” Rowland explained. “She lets me leave early sometimes or come in early or come in late, but she’s been so flexible with me. I don’t think any other coach in the country would be as flexible, and she’s super supportive of my working and helping me figure out my schedule. So, I’m really grateful for her.”
Beyond her individual efforts, Rowland has used some of the team concepts learned through sports and applied them to the working world.
“I can see if someone else is really busy or if someone is needing extra attention that day I make sure I’m quick to pick up the extra tasks they may be responsible for,” she said. “It definitely goes both ways. The ladies I work with are really great teammates, if you want to call it that, and they really take charge and give care if anybody asks so that is really nice.”
Rowland has certainly heard her share of questions. After all, why not enjoy the best years of her life as a college student and high-level athlete?
“People always ask me why I’m doing this,” she said. “You know, it’s super hard, I’m always stressed out, but the reality is that my goals are so important to me that I’m willing to do anything to achieve them.”
She has the support of those around her, even when they recognize she may need to go in an entirely different direction. Her boyfriend, former Gopher All-America wrestler Brett Pfarr, all but insisted that the two spend the summer in Europe, where they’ll travel the continent for two and a half months.
“He’s seen my hard work and he’s been really supportive these last couple of years,” Rowland said. “He’s been a really big influence in my life. He’s letting me know, we should do something else, give yourself a break, experience something new. I’ve really piled a lot on my plate and to dump it, it’s going to be a little weird for me but, I’m going to get right back to it in the fall.”
Rowland’s got one more class and a full-time job waiting when she gets back, and the process of applying to graduate schools. She admits she’s one of many student-athletes who balance sports and academics – although the five days per week, four-hour practices of gymnasts make her a rare exception in her sport as far as adding a job on top. Her athletic experience has certainly helped in the working world.
“In gymnastics you’re expected to always be cool, composed and collected and that really transfers well to my job, especially when there is behaviors and people are riled up or something important is happening and you need to act immediately,” she said. “Through this I’ve found I am really able to stay calm and prioritize what needs to be done. You don’t let it affect you emotionally and you especially don’t display it because sometimes your own display of emotion can trigger other behaviors.”
Hansen believes that Rowland’s practice and training in gymnastics will certainly pay off down the road.
“I just think she will be ready for anything,” Hansen said. “When these athletes compete in this environment, they have to learn to love the opportunity in front of them, love the experience and realize they are pretty special in what they get to do. Even though it’s pressure filled, it’s pretty awesome. I think it prepares them for the next part of their life – they can handle anything thrown at them.”
Dan Reisig is an associate director of athletic communications at the University of Minnesota, and a contributing writer to GopherSports.com and Ski-U-Mah Magazine.