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Jackie Matthews Making Waves Rowing For MSU



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Jackie Matthews was a quite versatile athlete throughout her childhood and during her days at Newtown High School, competing in track and playing soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. Now a Michigan State University athlete in the Big Ten Conference, you might wonder which sport she has concentrated on at such a high level.

The answer as to which uniform she wears might be a bit surprising: It is the one for rowing.

The decision to give a new athletic activity a try has gone quite well for the 2019 Newtown High School graduate. Matthews’ passion for running and scoring baskets and goals — in other words, her overall athleticism — has translated well into a successful career on the water.

“One of the best parts about rowing in college is that it was very out of my comfort zone. Playing soccer, basketball, lacrosse and running track my whole life taught me to love rowing even more because it is unlike any sport I’ve played and pushed me beyond limits I even knew I had,” Matthews said.

Interestingly, despite never having rowed before, Matthews was recruited by a couple of colleges.

“I got recruited through my basketball and track careers. After completing the heptathlon in the state championship my junior year, it got me on some universities’ radars for crew based on the variety of events that I was able to do. It was super cool to be introduced to a sport I had never even really known much about prior,” Matthews said.

“I actually got recruited by a couple schools out of high school to row, but did not see myself taking it on at the time. Once I got to Michigan State, I was able to see their facilities and programs in conjunction with my academic career, and was then offered the opportunity to walk on unexpectedly,” she added. “I had always been interested in giving it a try, but MSU made me more eager to make it happen.”

Newtown High School Athletic Director Matt Memoli said Matthews was a leader of the school’s Class Act Council, which focuses on promoting sportsmanship at school events, and he could tell she would have success in whatever path she chose.

“She’s such an amazing human being,” Memoli said.

Matthews, who is going into her junior year, believes taking on the challenge of rowing has strengthened her in a variety of ways.

“Given the lack of experience I had, I was determined to cultivate my high school work ethic into something much greater. My training hours got much longer, my workouts got much harder, and my mentality became much stronger. I did not exactly know what becoming a Big Ten athlete entailed going into it, but it ended up being one of the most gratifying and advantageous experiences ever. It certainly made my college experience worthwhile. The people and coaches I have met along the way have been very helpful in building me into a Division 1 rower,” Matthews said.

Matthews was an All South-West Conference track and basketball honoree, and earned the school’s Scholar Athlete award as well as the William Honan Junior of the Year Award. At MSU, Matthews earned Academic All-Big Ten recognition and is a Michigan State Big Ten Diversity and Inclusion Rowing representative.

“I love being on the water and being a Big Ten athlete because the level of support and prowess is incredible. Some of the best parts are pushing myself to complete an erg or water workout no matter how difficult — the feeling after is immeasurably rewarding. Traveling with my team and getting to experience being a Big Ten athlete also makes me proud to be a Spartan, and reminds me how awesome it is to wear green and white every day,” she said.

The schedule is grueling and requires tremendous dedication and sacrifice. Matthews typically practices from 6 to 10 am, goes to class from 10:30 am to 4 pm, and studies for about four hours a day. In addition, she usually attends four hours of club meetings a week for various clubs, for some of which she serves as president. Matthews is president of MSU’s Empowering Women in Law and MSU Fellowship.

“Juggling practice times, academics, and multiple academic clubs is not always easy, but I’ve been very fortunate to have fantastic resources throughout my college experience at Michigan State,” Matthews said.

Matthews has managed to excel despite taking on so much. She is a straight A student in the honors college.

Going on the road for competition is something Matthews enjoys as a diversion.

“Travel time is always fun with my teammates and a good way to focus on something other than academics on the weekends,” she said.

Matthews is a double major/double minor with international relations and economics as majors, and STEPP (science, technology, and public policy) and Arabic as minors. “My goal is to attend law school after graduating from Michigan State and hopefully work as an international lawyer, or in the realm of diplomacy,” she said.

She is on a strict training regimen this summer, working out about two to three hours a day rowing, running, lifting, and doing lots of core muscle work.

“I am incredibly excited for this upcoming season, especially due to COVID eliminating my freshman year season. Our season is in the spring and typically starts in March, however we practice full time in the fall and will be heading to Notre Dame for a race in late September,” Matthews said. “I am super excited to be back on the water in East Lansing and can’t wait to put my uniform back on.”

Sports Editor Andy Hutchison can be reached at andyh@thebee.com.

Jackie Matthews competed in a variety of sports prior to college and now focuses on rowing at Michigan State University.
Jackie Matthews and her teammates compete.
Jackie Matthews juggles academics and rowing with long days of practices and studies.
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