Julie Lewczyk bought into the belief that college is the time to expand one's horizons. Lewczyk began pushing the envelope at Troy High, so she was ready for something especially fulfilling at Palo Alto.
Lewczyk had hoped to join the powerful Stanford soccer team as a freshman, but that didn't work out. An athlete without a sport for the first time she could remember, Lewczyk, quite naturally, turned to . . . crew?
"I know, it's not exactly the first sport people think of," she said. "I was a runner and soccer player for so many years, and all of a sudden I was presented with a new sport at 18 years old. It was exciting to learn something new."
Lewczyk, 21, learned quickly and well. Now a junior, she rows for the varsity. She will be in the fourth seat when Stanford, second in the Pacific 10 Conference, competes for the national championship Saturday in Cincinnati.
"It's not something I'm going to be nervous about, it's more just an exciting opportunity," Lewczyk said. "Crew is such a great team sport, you don't get as nervous. And it helps to share your nervousness with eight other people."
The sport found Lewczyk rather than the other way around.
She played soccer and was a member of the cross-country and track teams at Troy, and she realized that playing soccer at Stanford would be a long shot.
"I wasn't expecting to make it," she said. "I wasn't recruited, so I just wanted to see if I could do it. That's my personality. If I never try I'll never know."
Kathy Lewczyk has often witnessed this determination. It's one of the things she admires most about her daughter.
"She gave up a trip to Cancun, Mexico, to try out for the soccer team, but she wasn't angry when she didn't make it," Kathy Lewczyk said. "She just has such a wonderful, positive attitude. Really, she's a kid who makes lemonade out of lemons."
This time, though, the lemonade was like never before.
After missing the cut in soccer, Lewczyk was recruited to the crew program because of her strength.
"I knew somewhat about it because people talk about it a lot during freshman year," she said. "A lot of people do it once but they don't continue.
"They're always looking for strong women because it's a full-body sport. You're using both your legs and arms at the same time."
As a freshman, Lewczyk rowed in the novice boat. She enjoyed it so much that she decided to involve the whole family.
"I sent my parents a list of all the terms I was learning and I told them they had better know it when I came home for Thanksgiving," she said.
Lewczyk moved into the varsity boat as a sophomore. Her knowledge of the sport has increased dramatically in two seasons.
"I learned a lot last year because all the girls were older than me," she said. "Now, I feel more confident about my technique and I'm one of the older girls."
Some of her friends don't completely understand her commitment to crew. For instance, practice begins at 5:30 a.m.
"Yeah, college life is basically [11 p.m. to 2 a.m.], but I have to go to bed by 10 p.m. to be up at practice," she said. "I'm used to spending a lot of my time working out, it doesn't matter if it's in the morning. Besides, it's really beautiful in the morning. It's worth it."
Lewczyk maintains a 3.7 grade-point average in biology. And she has a part-time job in the Stanford Medical School.
"Basically, I spend the majority of my time on the water, in the library or in the lab," she said. "But I manage to have fun too. I'm not totally deprived."