The way Adrienne Martelli describes a turning-point moment in her career, it sounds suspiciously like an outing in a crab boat on the Bering Sea.
“It was in the predawn in the middle of February and it was so cold and rainy that I couldn’t feel my face,” she said.
So, in a small boat in stormy weather, she felt all the typical human responses: the need to seek shelter and fear for her survival. Right?
“Actually, I absolutely loved it,” she said.
It was her first experience with the sport of rowing. She was riding in a small launch watching the University of Washington team on a morning workout. She was considering going to UW and giving rowing a try.
Sorry, Adrienne, did you say that you loved it?
Martelli laughed in response, but didn’t actually reject the notion.
The 24-year-old from University Place is on her way to the London Olympics to represent USA Rowing in the women’s quad sculls event. That’s four women in the shell, each with two oars.
A cross-country and basketball competitor at Curtis High, the 6-foot-1 Martelli was sitting in her anatomy class as a junior when she received a package from UW. Since she wanted to attend the university, she hoped it was a recruiting pitch for running or hoops.
“It was actually an information packet about rowing,” she said. “It looked interesting, with a media guide with pictures of past national championship teams, so I started thinking it was pretty cool.”
That opened the way for the frigid morning on Lake Washington, which led to her decision to walk on with the UW novice rowers.
From the start, Martelli bought into the Huskies’ rowing legacy, which will only grow after the London Games, considering there are more UW alums on the USA team (six) than from any other university. Martelli adds that four more former Huskies are on the Canadian Olympic team.
“So, we’re all over the place,” she said.
She even has a fellow former UW athletes on her boat, Megan Kalmoe (Class of 2006). The other UW alum on the women’s Olympic roster is Mary Whipple (’02), who will be the coxswain for the women’s eight for the third time, having won gold in ’08 and silver in ’04.
“Honestly, it’s awesome,” Martelli said. “There’s something really special about having gone through the University of Washington program.”
Martelli cited tradition and history, but added a special sense of “team bonding it’s such a great rowing community,” she said. “They take so much pride in it, it’s hard to describe.”
Martelli has earned a spot in the stroke seat, which is responsible for setting the rhythm for the boat and also steering. The job is crucial since the quad sculls don’t include a coxswain to steer or call pace.
Since the U.S. team is loaded with graduates of Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and UW, the question was put to Martelli: Do you have to be particularly intelligent to row?
“No there’s a certain level of understanding how to row, to adapt and learn, but I don’t think you have to have a high IQ for it,” she said. “I think there are a lot of people from those schools because they have longer traditions of rowing, and rowing is traditionally an upper-crust sport because it’s expensive.”
Martelli has been very much a working girl on her way to the Olympics, employed at a running-shoe store as well as working in the membership office of the USA Rowing headquarters in Princeton N.J.
And last winter, she took the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
“At some point, I will have to apply to go to medical school and become a doctor,” she said. “I did pre-med at UW – the physiology major.”
She’s so focused on the London Games, she has tried not to think much beyond them. She said she’ll wait until afterward to decide whether she’ll stick with it through another Olympic cycle and try to make it to the 2016 Games in Brazil – all while trying to make it through medical school.
“That would be a lot on my plate,” the 2010 UW graduate said.
But she’s already shown she won’t back away from challenges that would frighten off most others.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440