Something that started as a joke for Ali Peters has turned into her passion.

Something that started as a joke for Ali Peters has turned into her passion.

Peters, a 2007 Blue Springs High School graduate, saw a flier from Kansas State University at Allen County Community College in Iola, Kan. where her sister, Jessica, coaches volleyball.

The flier was targeted at high school athletes who weren’t receiving Division I scholarships but wanted to compete on the Division I level. It was an advertisement for the Kansas State rowing team.

Peters responded to the flier on a whim, saying she did it kind of as a joke.

The joke soon turned serious when Peters was contacted and went on a college visit. After the first time she saw the boats cutting through the water like a surgical knife, Peters was hooked.

“It’s a whole new experience,” she said. “It gives you an opportunity you wouldn’t find anywhere else unless you lived on the East Coast.”

There was still a problem. Peters was a multi-sport athlete in high school but had never rowed before. A two-time letter winner in swimming at Blue Springs, Peters had more experience in the water than on top of it.

Kansas State rowing coach Patrick Sweeney said that’s the way most of his rowers start their careers.

It’s his responsibility to turn them into Division I athletes. The key to doing that is practice – lots and lots of practice.

Sweeney said athletes who want to be rowers have to be very dedicated. They are up at 6:30 in the morning to get on the lake by 7 a.m. for their first practice of the day.

Then, following a full day of classes, they practice again in the afternoon on land with rowing machines or in the weight room.

Peters, a senior at Kansas State with a year of rowing eligibility left, said rowing was an entirely new experience for her.

She said, unlike any other sport she’d ever been in, rowing was all about pushing the body as hard as possible for a prolonged period of time. Their are no breaks, no respite.

“You have to push yourself to your limit, to your max,” Peters said. “You only get one shot.”

Anything less won’t get the job done.

Rowing is also a precision sport. The rowers have to be in perfect sync with matching strokes and paddles at exact angles. Sweeney said the key to getting everyone on the same page is simple repetition.

“We’re working day after day after day, work in the morning and again in the afternoon. We constantly work on basics,” Sweeney said. “We’re pretty boring because it’s the same thing over and over again.”

The routine worked for Peters, who said learning rowing was an intense experience, and that she was in “awe” for most of it.

“They do a really good job of teaching you the basics and the techniques you need to row efficiently,” she said.

Efficiency is one of Peters’ strengths, Sweeney said. The girl entering college with no rowing experience has now become a vital part of the Wildcats team.

“She’s not our biggest, but she’s a good all-around athlete,” Sweeney said. “She’s technically very efficient. She fits into any boat we want to use her in.”

Peters recently achieved success with her eight-person team, taking third in the Varsity 8 category at the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship Regatta. The Wildcats finished right behind Alabama and Tulsa.

Competition is far from a leisurely cruise across the pond.

Peters said rowing might not look like much effort to the average fan looking on from the shore. However, it’s a controlled chaos inside of the boat.

“It’s definitely a hard thing to explain to people,” Peters said. “It looks like we’re just sitting there. Inside the boat, your legs are burning. You want to stop. You don’t want to go anymore. Your lungs are on fire. You have to push yourself to your limit. It’s all or nothing.”

That feeling can last for nearly seven minutes in a 2,000-meter race. More than double it for the 4K and 5K races.

The rowers are able to endure for that long because most of the work is done by the lower body.

Peters said this surprised her most when she first learned the sport.

“Rowing is all your legs. You push with your legs,” she said. “Most people think it’s arms and stuff.”

Even with all the work and effort, Peters said she would make the decision again if she had the choice. Not only has she found a way to continue her athletic career in a new and exciting way, but she’s also developed close friendships with her teammates.

“We’re really close,” Peters said. “We do everything together. We hang out together.

“We know everything about each other. It’s a good thing because you want that trust with each other in the boat.”

Rowing has also helped Peters in her academic career. She said the sport helped her grow up quickly.

When an intense practice is looming at 7 in the morning five days a week, it’s tough to want to stay out late and get into trouble.

“It’s teaching me a lot of self discipline,” Peters said. “I’m not like a regular college student. I go to bed early. If I don’t, practice the next morning is horrible.”