Cornell Coxswain Is Ready To Take On Any Challenge, Even Men’s Heavyweight Rowing
By Caroline Kleiner
“When I heard, ‘Oh you’re taking on this challenge of going to a new school but also at the same time figuring out if you can be on the rowing team?’ I thought, ‘Oh, why not? Why not take on a new challenge?’” Yuva Raju told GoodSport.
To her delight, the coaches were enthusiastic about Yuva Raju’s interest in the team and invited her aboard as a coxswain, the team’s lead strategist and head of the boat. Her first practice was at 6 a.m. When she walked into the room, more than 50 athletes were pulling as hard as they could on the erg machines to achieve their best times.
“The amount of strength, the power they had, the endurance,” she recounted. “I could sense that the room was a very strong one and powerful in terms of the guys knowing what they were doing.”
Despite the trepidation one might assume this experience may produce, Yuva Raju was just focused on one thing.
“My biggest challenge wasn’t fitting in. It was figuring out how to get to know everyone’s names and how to not mix them up!” she admitted.
Yuva Raju refers to her teammates as her “older brothers.” Their subsequent bond helped Yuva Raju ease into her role as a coxswain, which she describes as a position heavily reliant on one’s self-determination and trust.
“There’s a common misconception that all coxswains do is yell ‘Row!’” Yuva Raju said. “We’re calling out the proper improvements for each of our rowers… [and we’re] their biggest motivator on the water and strategist.”
Though Yuva Raju had never been on a crew team before, her athletic resume was replete with sports that honed her teamwork skills and prepared her for this opportunity, including basketball, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and synchronized swimming. However, the most influential activity from her past may have been speech and debate.
“The skills that I took away from that were perseverance, motivation, courage, and analytical skills,” Yuva Raju said. “Debate made me unafraid to walk into a room full of completely different people who look nothing like me, but know they’re going to be able to value what I say.”
The lessons Yuva Raju learned from her past experiences on a team as a woman of color have allowed her to view her position on the men’s heavyweight rowing team at Cornell as an opportunity to increase diversity in the sport across the country.
Through conversations with her coaches, Yuva Raju has begun to brainstorm solutions such as shuttle buses and scholarship funds to break down the systematic barriers preventing more people of color from joining crew.
“Minorities are historically underrepresented in rowing. It’s a very ‘elite’ sport,” Yuva Raju stated. “We’ve got to be able to go into communities and start shifting things there so that when [those athletes] grow older, my coaches can pick from a diverse class of recruits, rather than just a class of recruits that all looks the same.”
This isn’t the first time Yuva Raju has taken the problems she observes into her own hands. Yuva Raju witnessed the widespread droughts and wildfires in California in 2015 and noticed that farmers were having trouble supplying enough water to their crops in order to keep them alive. She sprang into action, researching soil properties on farms and in museum exhibits, then mimicking the drought conditions on more than 50 tomato plants in her own backyard.
Though only in high school, Yuva Raju emailed 100 scientists to help her with her research and received only one response from UC Davis. With their help, Yuva Raju created an award-winning computational system called AgCure, which advises farmers on the correct soil components to utilize in order to cut their water consumption.
Yuva Raju needs not one, but three planners to keep up with her incredibly busy life. It may seem extreme to plan out athletics, academics, which are her first priority, and freetime separately, but Yuva Raju takes nothing for granted.
“My motto is, ‘it’s a grind,’” she said.. “I wouldn’t have these opportunities if I was back in Malaysia.”
Yuva Raju’s family immigrated from Malaysia to the U.S. when she was a young girl. Citing the systematic barriers that would have prevented her from achieving success in Malaysia, Yuva Raju credits her parents, especially her mother, for moving to America to help provide her with the best opportunities she could have.
“My mom has always highlighted independence, and she’s my hero.” Yuva Raju said. “She left her job to come to the United States to raise me and she knew no one but my father… We had no community here, no support. That experience teaches you to chase after the American Dream and that’s why I’m getting the opportunities I am now. It’s just about that one door that opens, you have to be shamelessly persistent.”
Persistence, perseverance, and courage all landed Yuva Raju a spot on the men’s heavyweight rowing team at Cornell. Drawing on all her past experiences, Yuva Raju cites confidence and her belief in herself as the most important factors driving her success.
“Just because people are scared of your voice, or they think you’re too bossy does not mean that you are,” she said. “Believe in yourself because once you do, others will believe in you. If you really believe in yourself and you have your strong message and a voice, begin putting those words into actions; you will be successful.”
Read more about Teevyah’s journey in this exclusive Q&A.