Treasure Coast Rowing Club coach Stefanie Falkner builds character and competition while teaching students a love for rowing.
Soccer, volleyball, basketball, swimming, track, cross-country. Stefanie Falkner competed in all of them while attending Martin County High School. But after starting at the University of Florida, she almost joined a very different competition where the “rush” wasn’t just about her speed.
“I was going to rush for a sorority,” says the 34-year-old Jensen Beach resident. “But I figured I didn’t like any of them.”
On a bike ride through town she says, “I pretty much stumbled on the rowing team.”
It was a fit so ideal it would grow to complement not only her competitive drive but also her natural coaching abilities. Today, the head coach of junior women with Treasure Coast Rowing Club, which is enrolling for its summer camp starting May 13, teaches students grades eight through 12.
Excelling at rowing in college (even placing second in the Head of the Hooch, a fierce contest in Chattanooga, Tennessee), she later moved to Boone, North Carolina, where she worked as a white-water rafting guide through 11 miles of rivers and waterfalls at Pisgah National Forest.
With the Treasure Coast Rowing Club, she trains on the St. Lucie River and the South Fork River. The time spent in nature is among her favorite aspects of the sport.
Still competing, Falkner recently finished first in the women’s eight at the Sarasota Invitational. Last year, she placed 10th in the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, the world’s largest two-day rowing event.
“It’s the ultimate team sport,” she says. “With rowing, if one person is off a little bit and not following the strokes and the timing is off, you can feel it. But if it’s on, it’s amazing. It’s the sweet spot. Everything is synchronized—even the breathing.”
As a coach, she builds up her rowers’ confidence while still drawing their best out, says Kristen Repetti of Palm City, whose 19-year-old son rowed for Falkner and whose 14-year-old daughter does now.
“Coach [Stefanie] fostered confidence in my children’s abilities and encouraged them to not give up, to go for it and continue to grow without being complacent, but she did it in a way that didn’t make them feel mediocre,” Repetti says.
Thankful she’s teaching a sport the students can enjoy their entire lives, Falkner thoughtfully but honestly imparts how the demands of rowing leave no room to coddle underperformance.
“It’s not just getting a gold star,” she says. “You have to literally go out each day and earn your seat. You have to be fair and upfront with them.
“It’s all about how you respond to the person,” she adds. “Some have figures in their lives that just berate them, and say, ‘Do it again.’ I’ve never been a fan of that mentality. I don’t say, ‘That was bad.’ I say, ‘Do you think that was your best or do you think that you can do better?’”
A good coach, Falkner says, creates good character and good competitors.
“I let them know that nothing is out of [their] reach,” she says. “Just work hard and go out there and get it. But you have to stay positive. Never get down or negative, and treat people the way you’d like to be treated. My focus is not just building good rowers but building good people.”