Making waves

Aidan Wrenn-Walz and her passionate career in rowing

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Making waves

Senior Aidan Wrenn-Walz talks with a group of elementary school kids from Kitakata City, Fukushima, the host city for the U.S. for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games. The US team had the opportunity to row with the kids in a cultural exchange event. “I still keep in contact with one of the girls via email and I hope to visit again someday.” Wrenn-Walz said.

Senior Aidan Wrenn-Walz talks with a group of elementary school kids from Kitakata City, Fukushima, the host city for the U.S. for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games. The US team had the opportunity to row with the kids in a cultural exchange event. “I still keep in contact with one of the girls via email and I hope to visit again someday.” Wrenn-Walz said.

Senior Aidan Wrenn-Walz talks with a group of elementary school kids from Kitakata City, Fukushima, the host city for the U.S. for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games. The US team had the opportunity to row with the kids in a cultural exchange event. “I still keep in contact with one of the girls via email and I hope to visit again someday.” Wrenn-Walz said.

Senior Aidan Wrenn-Walz talks with a group of elementary school kids from Kitakata City, Fukushima, the host city for the U.S. for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games. The US team had the opportunity to row with the kids in a cultural exchange event. “I still keep in contact with one of the girls via email and I hope to visit again someday.” Wrenn-Walz said.

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It was 8:30 a.m. in Tokyo, Japan, and then-junior Aidan Wrenn-Walz was sitting in the bow-seat of her coxed-four shell, preparing herself to represent the United States of America in the finals of the 2019 World Rowing Junior Championships. To her right were the shells of Germany, Italy, China, France and Australia. In the next minute, they were off, racing down the Sea Forest waterway. Only a few hundred meters in, Wrenn-Walz suddenly noticed that her teammates could not hear the coxswain’s calls because she had become disconnected from the boat’s speakers. Wrenn-Walz tried calling out to coxswain Carina Baxter, but she could not hear. 

“I decided it was better to save my lungs, spare my teammates the additional panic, and just let it go,” Wrenn-Walz said. “Not an ideal situation for the biggest race of all of our lives. Despite this, we surged ahead, leading the pack through the 1000m mark.”

Their boat had an early lead despite this difficulty. The U.S. boat was able to maintain a spot in the top three with Italy and China for most of the race, but at the very last minute, those two boats surged before them, with Germany closely following. Within the last 50 meters of the 2000 meter race, the U.S. boat had slipped just out of medal contention, finishing in fourth place. 

“It was so heartbreaking—a whole summer of training to not come away with a medal,” Wrenn-Walz said. “There were definitely moments after where the whole thing felt like a complete failure, but ultimately I can’t regret it. I made friendships I’ll keep for life, and I improved as an athlete and learned a lot about myself. As for that race in particular, I think we all learned really important lessons, and I hope that I can use that experience as fuel to be more successful in the future.”

Freshman Greta Filor of Brown University was one of those unforgettable friendships Wrenn-Walz made in her time training for the World Junior Championships. At the end of her junior year, Wrenn-Walz was invited, along with 39 other girls from across the country, to the Junior National Team selection camp in New London, Connecticut. There is where Filor and Wrenn-Walz met. 

“We got really close because of the extreme nature of how we met,” Filor said. “We were both probably a bit depressed and certainly exhausted. I connected so well with her almost immediately, we sort of latched onto each other and relied on each other to get through the days and practices ahead. I know I can count on her to give her full effort every day, and she knows the same about me.”

Both Filor and Wrenn-Walz were two of the 20 out of 40 girls selected for the Junior team and headed off to Princeton, New Jersey to begin official training. They remained close despite being on different boats, and together they headed off to Tokyo, Japan, to represent their country. Wrenn-Walz’s family followed.

“Seeing Aidan represent the country at the World Championships in Japan was a surreal and proud moment,” Penelope Wrenn, Wrenn-Walz’s mother, said. “It wasn’t easy getting there, but she never gave up. Knowing her future goals, I’m confident we will get to see her in a USA uniform, again, one day.”

Wrenn-Walz’s parents are not just fans, they have experience in the sport, too. Wrenn herself rowed throughout high school, club, collegiate and masters levels. Chad Jungbluth, Wrenn-Walz’s step-father, rowed for the U.S. Naval Academy and was a member of the U.S. National Team for the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba. He still rows on the Masters level at Potomac Boat Club, where  the school’s team also rows, where he served as President from 2015-2019. They are both incredibly proud of her success in rowing. 

“Watching her progress has been a bit like watching a bullet train: if you blink, you miss her, and she is at the next stop,” Wrenn said. “It’s hard to believe that she’s already halfway through her senior year and will be rowing at Harvard next year.”

On top of competing at the World Junior Championships, now-senior Wrenn-Walz has committed to rowing for Harvard University. She has known since fourth grade that Harvard was where she wanted to go. 

“I wrote a letter to myself when I was in fourth grade, and I hadn’t even started rowing competitively yet, but I was like I want to row at either Harvard or UVA,” Wrenn-Walz said. “[Committing] was super exciting. My family cried.”

Through her ten years of rowing, Wrenn-Walz has formulated a passion and career in crew. Just last year, her boat, the first-varsity eight for the W-L team, won the Virginia State Championship. But it’s not just about the medals and college commitments, though.

“I’ve worked really hard to be a better athlete, and as a result I can be a better person… I know what it’s like to work as a team,” Wrenn-Walz said. “It’s taught me leadership qualities and I want to go far in it. I’ve found something that always demands me to keep improving and constantly drives me.”

Next year at Harvard University, on top of rowing for one of the best college teams in the country, Wrenn-Walz plans to study international relations. 

“One of the greatest things I admire about [Aidan] is her amazing work ethic,” Filor said. “No matter how many bad days we had over the summer or how many times she got unlucky, she would always be there the next day with a smile on her face. I have never met a person like her, and there’s nobody else I would rather laugh at everything with.”