Returning to campus after a year abroad in Israel, Chantal Gil ’10 had some uncommon advice for students going to other countries. “Try a sport. It’s a great way to make friends and experience another culture—much better than just studying or partying.”
Gil did more than just try a sport; she trained seriously in rowing and was asked to join the Israeli national crew team. By the time she left Israel she was one of the top-ranked rowers in the country, as well as a silver and bronze medal winner at the Maccabiah Games.
Her achievements in Israel are even more remarkable considering that before she decided to join the crew team at Sarah Lawrence during her first year here, Gil had never rowed before.
In high school she played soccer and ran track, excelling at the 100 meters. But at Sarah Lawrence, she decided to try something new. She joined the crew team because it was supposed to be a great workout—rowing utilizes all the major muscle groups—and she hoped to stay in shape and meet some friends. Gil had the strength and the discipline to be a good rower. She just needed to learn technique and gain confidence on the water.
When she traveled to Israel for her junior year abroad, Gil studied Hebrew and psychology at both Tel Aviv University and Haifa University. She also found a rowing center, where she worked out with members of the Israeli national team and their coaches. She also dreamed of participating in the Maccabiah Games.
The Maccabiah Games are held every four years and involve more than 8,000 Jewish athletes from around the world. When she first imagined participating, Gil thought she would try to join the US team. But one of the Israeli coaches at the center noticed her work ethic and mentioned how nice it would be if she could row for them. Gil told him that she had an Israeli passport—her father was born in Israel—and the coach handed her a training schedule that day.
The intense training didn’t seem to faze this talented athlete. The team typically spent three hours on the water, six days a week, and most days they were required to do weight training as well. Since all the measurements were in kilos, Gil said she didn’t even realize how much she was lifting. “When I got back to Sarah Lawrence, I found out I’d more than doubled my strength. At one of the weight machines I used to only pull 30 pounds, but now I can pull down 60 to 80.”
Gil met her rowing partner, Chen Oshri, at the rowing center in Tel Aviv. The two friends won the silver medal in the women’s pair and also rowed together in the quad race, where they helped their team win a bronze. Gil credits the pair’s success to chemistry. “We were able to help each other out in many ways. She wanted to improve her English and I wanted to practice my Hebrew. She had just started rowing, too. Together we helped each other become more confident.”
Back on campus, just three years after first picking up an oar, Gil is training with her fellow Gryphons and looking forward to a return trip to Israel. This October she’ll race in the Israeli National Championships. “I always pictured myself as sporty,” she says. “But after Israel, I consider myself an athlete.”
—Sophia Kelley MFA ’10
Top Photo: Chantal Gil '10 (left) with her rowing partner, Chen Oshri