Who says summer is a slow time for college athletics? In the past week, three women tied to the Penn golf program qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Penn lacrosse assistant coach Brian Dougherty led the U.S. national team to a gold medal in the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship and a pair of rising Penn seniors, twin sisters, Elizabeth and Rebecca Donald, won bronze in the women’s double sculls the World Rowing Under-23 Championships.
I got a chance to speak to the Donalds over the phone from their Massachusetts home, just a few days after they returned from Brest, Belarus, where they represented their country on the world’s stage. Here’s the interview with the wizards of the water:
PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Can you guys just talk about what the whole experience was like in Belarus.
LIZ DONALD: It was pretty incredible. The venue that we were rowing at was the largest venue I’ve ever been at. It was a 10-lane course with a large warm-up area and a huge training facility for the Belarus national team. We didn’t see much of the city but it was a great experience. It was really great traveling with such great athletes on the United States team, and we were lucky because we were traveling with five other guys from Craftsbury (Small Boat Training Center), where we’ve been training. In that sense, it felt pretty familiar getting up in the morning and hopping on bus with them. It was quite the experience practicing and then racing alongside all these different countries.
PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: And the immediate feeling after knowing you won a medal – just talk about what that was like.
LIZ DONALD: I did a write-up for Penn Athletics. It was pretty crazy. We finished the race and Germany and Belarus were extremely fast, so they crossed and their times immediately went up on the big scoreboard. And then there was a pause and the entire stands were quiet. And we just waited and everyone was just staring at the board and I just stared up there. And then United States flashed across the screen and it honestly took me a second to realize United stood for the team I was rowing for. As soon as we just realized what had happened, my hands flew up into the air.
PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: In some sense, do you feel like you won this medal for Penn, too?
REBECCA DONALD: Yeah I mean we’re representing Penn and we’re representing Craftsbury and we also feel like we’re representing all the coaches we’ve raced for. They’ve really kind of shaped the athletes we are now, and we feel like we owe them a great deal of our success.
PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Was your family out in Belarus supporting you?
LIZ DONALD: Our family has been great supporters. Our parents [Malcolm and MaryEllen] have barely missed a race through high school and Penn. Our dad is known for making chicken salad at the Penn races, so everyone knows he’s here when they look at the table and see that. Both parents came out to Belarus and we’re so happy they did. Although we didn’t see much of them because of our tight schedule going to and from course, it was great seeing them when getting our medals. Our one brother [Peter] didn’t make it over but he was very present in emails and on Facebook letting everyone know how we’re doing. He’s our little media guru.
PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: I’m sure you get this a lot but this really does seem like the perfect sport for twins, right?
REBECCA DONALD: Yeah it’s in our advantage. The hardest part for any smaller boat is finding your pair partner. We definitely have an advantage because we know we’re pretty much have the same size and weight. And it’s really nice as far as we know how to communicate really well with each other. On the racecourse, I can say one word and we’re off and running. We also make really good training buddies. We push each other really well and we know how to get each other motivated – and on the negative side we also know how to push each others buttons. But for the most part, it’s been great.
PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: In general, are you guys always on the same team or are there some instances where a sibling rivalry exists?
REBECCA DONALD: As far as rowing goes, we’ve always been on the same team. Liz started rowing before I did but we’ve always been on the same boat competing. We did different sports throughout high school but ultimately found rowing.
PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: How are you similar and how are you different?
LIZ DONALD: With rowing, Rebecca is definitely stronger than I am so she pushes me. I’m just a little more in tune with technique. So I think we really balance each other out because it can’t be all power or all technique. Away from rowing, we have different majors. Rebecca was always better at math than I was and then I was always better at English. Our high school coach always said Rebecca’s a little crazy and I’m a little more focused and reserved.
PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Have you guys always been close?
LIZ DONALD: We don’t always get along in the boat when we’re training together but we’re always friends when we ultimately leave the boathouse. We’ve always been really close. Fighting usually ends in fits of laughter, so that’s pretty unique. We’re always sisters at the end of the day. For other training partners, that isn’t the case.
PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Are you guys excited for your senior years at Penn, both in rowing and away from the water?
REBECCA DONALD: We’re both really excited. We have a lot of goals for ourselves, both on the water and off the water. Off the water, we’re really excited to finish up our majors [Liz is majoring in Communications and Public Service, while Rebecca is studying graphic design and marketing.] With the crew team, there’s a phenomenal class coming in so we’re really looking forward to getting to know them and having their speed impact the team. And then we’re also excited – hang on, I’m going to put Liz on because she’s really excited about answering this question…
LIZ DONALD: (laughs) I can be a little better at articulating. But Rebecca and I have talked about carrying this momentum back to Penn and we both feel there are goals for Penn crew as a whole that we have yet to help the team achieve. Our senior class is awesome and we’re really excited to get back and see our friends and hopefully push the team with the help of our teammates to the next level. Fifth at Sprints is good but we want to push it a little harder and a little further before we graduate.
PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: How long will you keep rowing after graduation? And what are some other things you want to do in future?
REBECCA DONALD: Our goals have always been is just to see how far we can take (rowing) and see how fast we can go. We’ll continue rowing for sure after school. We were racing for the U-23 team this summer, but now we’re aged out so it’s onto the senior level, where things will get a lot more competitive.
PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: So do you guys recommend that all the twins out there take up a sport together and them become the best world at it?
LIZ DONALD: (laughs) It’s definitely fun sharing it with someone. There’s definitely a history in the sport of rowing that twins, sisters and brothers, have had success together. You have to have a pretty good relationship to get along day in and day out because we see a lot of each other. We have to learn when to give each other space but sometimes that’s tough to do when you’re training so many hours a day.