Robert Riekhof, a senior history major, had never rowed before coming to college. However, a chance encounter with a member of the men's rowing club at the Involvement Fair during Riekhof's freshman year changed that, as well as the course of his college life and potentially beyond.
"I was just a little freshman at the Involvement Fair, and I wasn't even at the rowing table," Riekhof recalls. "A guy from the rowing team saw me and said, 'You're tall and should try out, just give it a shot.'"
Riekhof has rowed as a member of the club at DePaul every year since the day of that Involvement Fair. In fact, his decision to try out led him to considerable success in the sport, as he now prepares to race for the USA World Rowing University Team this August in Shanghai.
"The day after I graduate I have to go to Ann Arbor to train all summer for the race in China," he says.
The 2018 World Rowing University championship is one event sponsored by FISA, the World Rowing Federation, which is the governing body of the sport of rowing. The championship takes place between Aug. 10 and 12, and will include teams from countries around the globe.
The championship is a big deal for Riekhof, who has never been out of the country, let alone attended a highly competitive rowing event in Shanghai.
"Last summer I was accepted to a rowing program in Philadelphia, but it's nothing like rowing against the Netherlands or Great Britain, for example," he shares. "This race is very high stakes."
The coaches for the DePaul men's rowing club have been influential in Riekhof's success. One coach, William Scherba, has pushed Riekhof to pursue a role on the World University championship team since last year. Scherba recommended Reikhof to Gregg Hartstuff, a friend of Scherba's and a team USA coach.
"Robert's ability to move boats himself is great, but his ability to make his teammates faster is even more important when competing on this level," Scherba says.
As for his plans after the big race in August, Riekhof will continue his rowing career.
"I'll either work towards a master's degree in medieval history at the University of London or attend a program in Vermont where they train rowers and have sent a couple athletes to the Olympics," he says.
The University of London allows graduate rowers, unlike the U.S. Riekhof also said the University of London has one of the best programs for medieval history, with some of the best scholars.
"At the program in Vermont, you live and train there for a couple years - your job is rowing," Riekhof says.
Though he has big plans following graduation, Riekhof intends to maintain a relationship with the DePaul men's rowing club.
"The team has given me so much. They ignited a passion in me that I didn't know I had," he says. "I also want to see the team thrive, and I plan to keep in contact with everyone I've rowed with in the club. We will be friends for life."