Saturday, July 13, 2024

Path to Paris: William & Mary Alum Sophia Luwis Earns Alternate Spot on USA Rowing Team

William & Mary Alum Sophia Luwis is heading to Paris as an Olympic Alternate. (Courtesy of Row2k)

WILLIAMSBURG — Sophia Luwis recalls the accident that almost took rowing away from her.

“My teammate and I, we had just made our national team in 2021 in the lightweight women’s quad. We were going to fly out to Europe about a week later to compete at World Championships. We were on our way to practice and we had gotten into a very bad car accident. I don’t remember the first week being in the ICU,” Luwis said.

Luwis had suffered multiple broken ribs, three brain bleeds, and a collapsed lung, among other things. She spent weeks in the hospital and from her bed, watched as other women competed in her boat during the 2022 World Championships.

“There was never a moment, even through recovering from the accident, that I said, ‘I’m done rowing.’ My outlook was more so, ‘what is the recovery process, what do I do next, how do I get back on my feet, what is the timeline for me to get back in the boat?’ I never had the conscious thought of I’m done with this, there was only the idea of do I have enough time to make the next cycle for the national team and to eventually make it to the Olympic Games?” Luwis explained.

As she embarked on her recovery journey, it was all about the little things.

“I remember the first time walking on my own, the first time erging on my own, and the first time I sat in the erg for the first time, I did five minutes with the resistance all the way down. I knew that it was going to be a very long road and it was. There were lots of workouts where I actually thought I was having a heart attack because I had never been out of shape in my life,” Luwis said.

Finally medically cleared, Luwis came back with a vengeance during the 2023 racing season. She won a silver medal in the lightweight single sculls at the 2023 World Rowing Cup II Regatta, won a gold medal in the lightweight single sculls at the 2023 Bled International Regatta, won a gold medal in the lightweight single sculls at the 2023 World Rowing Cup III Regatta, finished third in the lightweight single sculls at the 2023 World Rowing Championships and finished second in the lightweight single sculls at the 2024 World Rowing Cup II.

Sophia Luwis competing in the 2024 World Rowing Cup II. (Photo courtesy of row2k)

By the time the Olympic Team was announced, Luwis had been named as an alternate.

“When I first found out that I was named an alternate, it was just joy. If making the Olympic Team in any capacity was the top of the mountain, I didn’t think I was ever going to make it to that point, especially with the accident. I remember saying to myself, ‘it will be next to impossible to make the national team’ and I did that. ‘It will be next to impossible if I just make the first selection camp’ and I got invited to those camps. All these steps along the way, and I thought the door to making them had been closed to me with the accident and when they kept opening, I couldn’t believe it. When I made the team as spare, it was still a joyous moment because I never thought I would be here,” Luwis said.

According to Luwis, in order to prepare for her role as an alternate, she still trains and maintains a healthy lifestyle. If called upon at the Games to step in, Luwis will need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

“I don’t have to train with the same amount of pressure that the people in the actual boat do. Now, at any time I have to be ready to do that but that’s a switch that I can flip and I’m ready to flip if I need to, but it’s not one that has to be on the whole time. I felt like I had that switch on the whole time that I was recovering from the accident and being that I can have a season with a little less pressure but still be on the team is exactly how it was supposed to be,” Luwis said.

The 2024 Paris Summer Olympics is the last Olympics where lightweight rowers will be included in the Games. Overall, Luwis said she can’t wait to bond with the rest of Team USA Rowing.

“I’m excited to see how the team comes together. It’s going to turn into a major pressure cooker in the lead-up. As elite athletes — and especially lightweight athletes — as we get ready to weigh in, we get really really tense on the lead-up. It’s going to be a lot of emotions to manage, but I’m excited to see how it comes together,” Luwis said.

Luwis will also get the opportunity to race a spares race on the official Olympic course prior to the start of the Games. As she prepares to head to Paris, Luwis is ultimately hoping to root her team on to a gold medal.

“The final of the lightweight women’s doubles, my last weigh-in as a lightweight at the Olympic Games, happens to all fall on my birthday. On Aug. 2, I will weigh in for the last time as a lightweight and I will watch the last Olympic Final of lightweight women go down the course as their spare, with a very tiny percentage that I might actually have to be in the boat. If I’m not, I’m going to be standing on the sidelines, with a glass of champagne, ready to congratulate my teammates when they get the gold medal,” Luwis said.

The Olympic rowing competition kicks off in Paris on July 27. The full schedule for all rowing events can be found on

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