A year ago, Hailey's Hannah Ward was finishing up her athletic career on the girls' varsity basketball team at Wood River High School. She was a star in volleyball as well.
The sport of rowing was the furthest thing from her mind.
She was clueless about the meanings of "Torero" or "erg." The terms "coxswain" and "starboard" were foreign to her. San Diego's Mission Bay might have well been on the other side of the moon.
"I didn't even know what rowing was," said Ward, 18, daughter of Tom and Karol Ward.
Hannah, a 2008 Wood River graduate, was best known in local athletic circles for being the co-Most Valuable Player of the Great Basin Conference West in volleyball as a senior in 2007. She shared a team award as Best All-Around Player, leading Wood River to its 20th district volleyball title.
Many observers thought Ward came into her own as an athlete during that senior volleyball season. She never seemed a hard-driving "Type A" competitor but she had some fine moments and enjoyed team sports.
Few knew Hannah Ward was just scratching the surface of what it takes to be a dedicated athlete.
Six months after enrolling as a freshman at the University of San Diego and answering the call of about 70 young women on the Toreros novice rowing walk-on squad, the 5-11, 160-pound Ward was elevated to the varsity crew team.
Based on her times and amazing progress, she has achieved the status of #3 or #4 seat in the middle-of-the-boat power pulling group of the varsity "B" boat of eight women.
She officially became a Division 1 college athlete Jan. 30 when Toreros head coach Kim Cupini promoted Ward to the varsity after San Diego's two-week winter training camp, held in beautiful mid-January weather on the warm waters around San Diego.
And her goal is to make the varsity "A" boat of San Diego's best eight rowers by the time the Toreros finish their 2009 spring season at the Dad Vail Regatta on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, Pa. May 8-9.
"I was in shock," said Ward about her reaction to being told by Cupini about her varsity status—a move that could make the Wood River Valley native eligible for an athletic scholarship next year, she added.
Ward said, "I had been practicing with the varsity and I live in a suite with two other rowers. But I really started rowing only five months ago, so it's pretty good for a freshman.
"I was serious about sports in high school and found adrenalin in both volleyball and basketball, but I never found the adrenalin that I discovered in rowing. It's pain you'll never feel in any other sport. It hurt so bad that I loved it," Ward said.
She added, "It's individual. It's really mental. I just liked the workout and the pressure of doing it."
Her height of 5-11, much desired by rowing coaches as well as basketball and volleyball coaches, caught the eye of two local men last year as Ward got ready to attend college.
Ward said high school teacher Joel Zellers encouraged her to try rowing at the college level. Family friend Tom Bowman, a former collegiate rower and coach, started training with Ward last summer on stationary rowing machines at Hailey's Blaine County Fitness Center.
"Even though I was new to rowing and had zero experience, that training put me a small but important step ahead of the other 70 girls when we had walk-ons for the novice squad in September," she said.
Ward learned from novice coach Andria Shook that college women's crew often attracts high school athletes with solid work ethics and a love of sports who want to continue their athletic careers as NCAA Division 1 student-athletes.
The part about "no experience necessary" was desirable to Ward—even though the early morning training was less than desirable.
In the initial September practices, she got up at 4:55 a.m. Practices lasted from 5:15-7:30 a.m. The women started weight and circuit training. They started "erging," or training for time on indoor stationary rowing machines—ergometrics, that is, measuring work performed.
Ward did well in the testing. It wasn't long before her training times were comparable to varsity rowers.
She became faster and stronger. Ward said, "We joke that I gained the 'freshman 15,' only it was in muscle. I've gotten slimmer. I guess you could say I have rower thighs. Our quads become very strong."
With the competitive season fast approaching, the Toreros women are practicing six days a week. Often they're in the boat four out of the six days. Their study hours are closely monitored as student-athletes. And Ward feels comfortable hanging around with the older Torero rowers.
"I'm just so glad for the opportunity," said Ward, who plans to major in marketing and/or sports medicine.
San Diego's Toreros open their season with a March 7 scrimmage at San Pedro against the University of Southern California and San Diego State University. The Berg Cup Pac-10 Challenge is March 28 at Newport Beach. And the San Diego Crew Classic in Mission Bay is April 4-5.