When the Reelick sisters are sitting in the women’s open varsity eight, it’s hard to tell the two apart. Standing on the shoreline you can see two redheaded blurs rowing starboard in the stern of the boat, gliding across Lake Carnegie.
Kelsey and Erin, a senior and a sophomore, respectively, have a lot more in common than their appearance. Both sisters rowed in last year’s varsity-eight boat that won the Ivy League title and the NCAA silver medal. Erin was the only freshman in that boat, while Kelsey was the only rookie in the 2011 varsity eight that won the NCAA championship.
Crew is an intricate sport. Teammates are pitted against each other on indoor rowers known as ergometers and in seat races, each vying to be the fastest. The competition is individual until the rowers get out on the water, and eight athletes competing against each other for a spot in the lineup transform into one boat competing together for a spot on the medal stand.
That kind of competition is tough for anyone, but especially for sisters who row on the same side and are always competing for one of four seats in the varsity eight.
“I feel like the times that we have seat raced, if you win or if you lose, you never really lose or win,” Kelsey said. “I think that’s what it comes down to. She’s a teammate, but then she’s also my sister.”
Head coach Lori Dauphiny recalled that when she directly switched the two last year, they handled it well. “It was more of a pat each other on the back and go — there was no bitterness,” Dauphiny said. “It’s just part of being on the team, and I think they accept that.”
Erin said that rowing with Kelsey has been an incentive to improve: “Try to beat your sister. She’s two years older than you. You’re getting faster, you’re getting faster.”
While the age gap pushes the younger Reelick to row faster, Dauphiny said that Erin’s “glass-half-full” attitude puts technical perfectionist Kelsey in her place sometimes. “I think both benefit from each other, in different ways,” the coach said.
Princeton won the Ivy League varsity-eight title for the third time in four years May 18, defeating top-ranked Brown by more than 4 seconds. The Tigers earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships May 30–June 1.