Clara Sutka’s day begins with a 5 a.m. alarm.
Then it’s to the vans outside by 5:45 a.m. The team needs to be out in the water by 6 a.m.
And that’s just the start for Sutka, a junior rower for the Michigan State University team. After morning practice, she’s back to campus before 8 a.m so she can make it to her first lecture of the day. Class continues until 2:30 p.m. Then it’s on the weight room for an hour before 2.5 hours more of rowing practice and a lift session.
“I think Clare is the epitome of a student-athlete, she’s incredibly hard working and comes to practice ready to go every day even with a busy schedule,” said Samantha Sarff, an assistant coach on MSU’s rowing staff. “She’s able to balance performing at a high level on a daily basis with performing academically as well.”
At 6:30 p.m. Sutka is finally done. Sort of. Sutka and her teammates often head to the Clara Bell Smith Center to do homework and study.
The routine starts again at 5 the next morning.
Sutka hasn’t always been a rower. She picked it up in her teens while attending Roosevelt High School in Wyandotte, Michigan, a southern suburb of Detroit.
“My grandpa rowed his entire life and I’ve always looked up to him,” Sutka said. “It seemed like a really cool sport, I fell in love with it and now we’re here.”
Sutka is also a 2017 Academic All-Big Ten selection. This summer, she plans to go to Japan to teach in a rural town before going to Tokyo for more community service. She’ll be doing all of that while maintaining a workout schedule so she can be ready for next year’s season on the rowing team.
“She’s one of the most optimistic people you could talk to,” said Matt Weise, the head coach of Michigan State rowing. “When you do that, you can deal with adversity, you can deal with challenges because you’re always looking for the positives, which is exactly what I see out of Clare every day.
“Does she work hard? Of course, because it’s fun to work hard. It’s challenging, but she’ll do it with a positive attitude and that’s what I really appreciate about her.”
There’s more to rowing for Sutka than the sport itself. She’s met a group of teammates who members have become some of her best friends.
“The bond of the girls is so unbelievable, were all such close friends and tightly knit. It’s just a really awesome atmosphere and we would do anything for each other,” Sutka said. “I think that’s my favorite part about this sport and this team.”
The Michigan State women’s rowing team is ranked 15th in the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Poll after a good showing in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against Duke and Notre Dame on April 21. The Spartans defeated the Irish but fell to Duke in the morning session by just under a half length (less than 2 seconds). The team will compete in the Big Ten championships on May 12 and 13 in Indianapolis.
“These girls are tough, they’re out here every day on the water until it freezes over,” said Chelsey Stoa, athletic communication assistant for the rowing team.
The team hosts their races and practices at Grand River Park in Lansing on Old Lansing Road.
“They’re fantastic,” Weise said when asked about his team. “It’s a challenging, physical sport. Most people that like this sport are usually optimistic people, because the pessimists don’t think it’s any fun. It kind of breeds that personality.”