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SU Law student pulls his weight for a chance at Olympic gold
SU Law student pulls his weight for a chance at Olympic goldAugust 30, 2004Judy Holmesjlholmes@syr.edu
Syracuse University students, professors, staff and alumni have a special reason for tuning in to coverage of the Summer Olympics-they may see one of their own win gold. Chris Liwski, a 2002 SU graduate who completed his first year of law school at SU in 2003, took a leave of absence to train for the Olympics and is representing the United States in Athens as a member of the men’s rowing team.
“The support I’ve received from the College of Law has been fantastic,” Liwski says. “The friends you make during the first year of law school really stick with you. Professors have written me notes of encouragement and the students I met have kept in touch. They’ve been my cheering squad and they have been great friends.”
Liwski spent four years on the SU men’s rowing team while he completed coursework for a B.S. in information management and technology from the School of Information Studies. The summer after Commencement, he competed on the U.S. Nation’s Cup team and won a gold medal at the Nation’s Cup World Championships in Italy. Olympic gold weighed heavily on Liwski’s mind as he entered SU’s College of Law in the fall of 2002. He spent the next year attending classes, doing homework, training four hours a day and trying to get some sleep.
“It made the first year of law school pretty tough,” Liwski says. “Pretty much all I did was study, train, eat and sleep. My rule was to go to bed by midnight so my body wouldn’t shut down on me.”
Last summer, the hard work paid off. Liwski tried out for and made the U.S. Pan-American men’s rowing team and competed in the 2003 Pan-American games in the Dominican Republic, again winning a gold medal. “At that point, I decided I had a legitimate shot at making the U.S. Olympic Team,” Liwski says. “So, I requested a leave of absence from law school and, in September 2003, headed to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in New Jersey.” For the next several months, Liwski’s life revolved around training for a spot on the men’s sweep team, a subset of the U.S. men’s rowing team. In sweep rowing, each rower uses one oar. In sculling events, the rowers each use two oars.
Liwski was one of 28 men with their eyes on Olympic glory. Only 16 would make the final sweep team-14 to compete in eight-man, four-man and pairs events, and two alternates. Most of the men Liwski competed with are veteran rowers; some have wives and children. The oldest competitor was 31 years old; Liwski was one of the youngest and virtually a rookie in competing at this level.
“We ate, slept and trained for several months,” Liwski says. “We got a break on the Fourth of July-we only had to practice twice instead of three times that day. Actually, once a month, we got 48 hours off. Other than that, it was usually a scattered afternoon or morning. Competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team is basically a full-time job, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”
On July 7, the final roster was announced. Liwski was headed to Athens as an alternate. “It will be tough, training with the team all of this time and then having to watch from the sidelines,” Liwski says. “But it makes me want it that much more. It adds fuel to my desire to be in the boat for the 2008 Olympic games. My ultimate goal is to not only make the team, but to compete on the team.”
To help realize that goal, Liwski will be spending the 2004-05 academic year at Oxford University, where he will be competing for a spot on the university’s world-renowned rowing team and doing a one-year master’s program in environmental policy. His goal is to compete in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race-the European version of the Super Bowl. “It’s one of the largest races in the world,” Liwski says. “Last year, 8 million people watched it on television and 100,000 people lined the banks of the Thames River to watch the race.”
Law school has been put on hold for one more year. “I will be back to SU in 2005, and train on my own as I complete my law degree,” Liwski says. “There comes a point when you have to look beyond rowing.”