Owls don’t just fly. Some of them row, too!
Gemma Wollenschlaeger, a junior accounting student at the Fox School, has earned a spot on the U.S. Para Rowing Team for the 2023 World Championships, where she will compete in the PR3 mixed double scull alongside Todd Vogt of the Portland Boat Club.
This nomination marks the first time Wollenschlaeger has been chosen as a USA national team member.
“It is a privilege to race for the USA,” Wollenschlaeger said. “I used to always dream of being on a national team when I was younger, but [I thought] my club foot would hold me back. Never did I think that I would be where I am today.”
As a child, Wollenschlaeger recalls participating in many sports and experiencing extreme foot pain and discomfort as a result. Basketball, in particular, was a large part of her identity as a child until an unpleasant experience made her feel like she had to give up sports entirely.
“When I tried out for the state team, I was cut because I was not able to technically make a left layup correctly due to not being able to jump off my left foot,” Wollenschlaeger recalled. “It was heartbreaking, you play something for so long, your life revolves around it, and you prove that you are just as good as the other girls and they send you home for something that you can’t change.”
It wasn’t until the end of her sophomore year of high school that she discovered rowing and decided to give the sport a try.
“I had given up on sports,” Wollenschlaeger recalls. “I figured my time with them was done, and I would just swim occasionally. My parents put a stop to that rather quickly, and with the help of my sister, they found Annapolis Junior Rowing in April 2019.”
Wollenschlaeger met the sport with skepticism: “I said, ‘I’ll go for one day, but if I don’t like it, you can’t make me do it.’
“Now look where we are!”
As a member of Temple’s Women’s Rowing Team over the last two years, Wollenschlaeger has finished in third place racing as part of the Owls' Varsity 8 and earned a spot on the AAC First-Team All-Conference lineup.
“The team culture is very motivating, with a lot of strong women. Everyone is very supportive and puts the team first,” Wollenschlaeger said.
According to Wollenschlaeger, Dr. Jimmy Miller, an associate professor of practice at Fox, has helped her become a better teammate through the skills she learned in his business communications course.
“Being an athlete and being in business school have a lot of similarities,” Wollenschlaeger explained. “You work hard every day putting in the work and the extra hours, you have to work in groups just like how you have to work in a team and with each other in order to move the boat effectively.”
In July, Wollenschlaeger traveled to Vaires-sur-Marne, France, where she and the other PR3 crews competed at the 2023 Para Rowing Regatta to Paris. Come early September, she’ll set sail to compete in the 2023 World Rowing Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.
“We just won gold in the PR3 Mixed 2x at the Para Row to Paris Regatta, so going into World Rowing Championships in the beginning of September will be a great indicator of how much speed we can gain in the rest of the summer,” Wollenschlaeger said.