Niskayuna rower determined to reach Olympics

At 5-foot-6, 28-year-old Hannah Moore is still on the small side, for an elite rower, but she’s dete
Niskayuna High graduate Hannah Moore, right, rows with teammates Carey Brezler, Sarah Bates and Margaret Duggan, left to right, during the lightweight women’s quad sculls competition at the 2007 FISA World Championships in Munich, Germany. (Ed Hewit
Niskayuna High graduate Hannah Moore, right, rows with teammates Carey Brezler, Sarah Bates and Margaret Duggan, left to right, during the lightweight women’s quad sculls competition at the 2007 FISA World Championships in Munich, Germany. (Ed Hewit

The cement front steps to her house, the waves on the beaches of Oahu . . . nothing was too big for little Hannah Moore.

“When she was 5, I had my back turned, and she climbs up five steps and yells, ‘Hey, Mom!’, and she’s flying,” Barbara Moore said. “She jumped, and I had to catch her.”

At 5-foot-6, 28-year-old Hannah Moore is still on the small side, for an elite rower, but she’s determined to take her best shot at making the U.S. Olympic team, starting with the penultimate step this week in the small boat trials which begin on Tuesday on Lake Mercer in Windsor, N.J.

Moore is the fifth Niskayuna High School graduate to make the U.S. National Team, after Linda Perry in 1991, Scott Proper (1996), Michael Woodmansee (1999) and Jeff Lindy (2000).

In this tradition-rich sport, ritual is important. So when Moore made the national team as an alternate in 2005, then appeared to be on the verge of making it again last year heading into the Pan American Games trials, Niskayuna named one of its new boats “One Moore Time” in her honor, as the team had done for its previous national team graduates.

Moore and Carey Brezler of Waynesboro, Pa., won the lightweight women’s double sculls at the Pan Am trials, fulfilling the prophecy painted on the side of that boat, but also reinforcing the theme of the pun, which refers to Moore’s determination to stay the course of her exhaustive rowing career against daunting circumstances.

“She’s one of the small people who takes down giants,” long-time Niskayuna head coach Matt Hopkins said. “We named the boat ‘One Moore Time’ because it’s been a long time for her, she spent years before she made it,

then it was as an alternate, and then after the heartache in the Pan Ams, I wouldn’t have been surprised if that was it, but she didn’t hang it up.”

“I’ve made many, many personal sac­rifices over the years,” Moore said.

The result is that Moore is a full-fledged U.S. National Team member who competed with Brezler in the Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the World Rowing Championships in Munich, Germany, last year (in a quadruple scull), finishing fourth both times and missing a medal by mere ticks of the clock.

The only Olympic lightweight event is the doubles sculls, so that’s the one Moore and teammate Rebecca Smith of Torrington, Conn., will target when racing begins on Tuesday. No one from the U.S. qualified for the Beijing Games at the World Championships in this category last year, so this is a last-gasp compet­ition to reach next month’s World Cup in Poznan, Poland, where a U.S. boat will have to finish in the top two in the lightweight women’s doubles sculls to make the Olympic team.

Moore, a 1997 Niskayuna grad, rowed for four years at Villanova University, then was a team member for two of the most high-powered clubs in the country, the Riverside Boat Club in Boston and Vesper Boat Club, returning to Philadelphia to pursue her master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy.

A typical day for her is two hours on the water with Smith at 6 a.m., followed by work in an after-school program for the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children, then up to two more hours of training, plus whatever extra workouts she can sneak in on her own during the week.

Moore believes that, under the tutelage of Vesper coach Michiel Bartman, she and Smith have been given the best possible preparation for this week’s racing.

“He has a really good four-year training program to prepare us physically and mentally and technique-wise, and

really focuses on an athlete as a whole,” she said. “It’s going fantastic. We’re improving

every day.”

At the small boat trials on Lake Mercer, Moore and Smith will be competing against six other boats for the opportunity to move on to Poland on June 20.

“We are really excited,” Moore said. “We raced most of the boats at Princeton a couple of weeks ago and competed well against them.”

“The way I look at it is they worked hard to prepare, and everyone is vulnerable, and it’s seeing the opportunity and seizing it,” Barbara Moore said. “On any given day, the circumstances can present themselves, so their job is to prepare at the highest level. All the girls there go at it in the same way. They’re all highly competitive. At this level, we’re talking fractions of a second separating them.”

Because Barbara Moore was in the U.S. Army Nurses Corps, the Moores bounced around the country before settling in Niskayuna when Hannah was in eighth grade. Barbara Moore played basketball for two years at Niagara University while Calvin Murphy was starring there in the late 1960s, well before Title IX brought equity to men’s and women’s college sports. “There’s a picture of our team in sweatshirts and cutoff jeans,” she said with a laugh.

Once Title IX was enforced more rigorously, rowing exploded as a sport for college women, and by extension, high school girls. Hannah Moore was drawn into it by her friends as a sophomore at Niskayuna, and she became good enough to be recruited by a powerhouse like Villanova.

“She was undersized, but with tons of drive and commitment,” Hopkins said. “She was actually in the open boat for us and didn’t get in the lightweight boat until college, which kind of says it all. She was a little, scrappy girl.”

During her first year at Villanova, Moore was one of four freshmen in the lightweight eight that won the national championship, against the odds.

“It was totally unexpected, but we thought we could win,” she said. “We raced some of the boats, like Princeton and Radcliffe, previously and lost to them. We lost in the heat, then won the final by less than a second.

“Our attitude changed. It was a young boat, and we needed to lose to get fired up.”

Moore was a Villanova captain by the time she graduated, after which she worked on Beacon Hill in Boston as an administrative assistant to state assemblywoman Karyn Polito and rowed for Riverside before returning to Philadelphia.

Rowing is one of the sports in the U.S. in which even the highest caliber athletes have to be creative when it comes to funding, and Moore has had to put many aspects of her life on hold while she pursues her sport.

She has been engaged to fellow Vesper rower Patrick Godfrey for three years, and they’ll be married on Sept. 22, one of the few windows of opportunities on the calendar for elite rowers.

She went to Japan with the U.S. National Team in 2005, but as an alternate, she did not compete. She also didn’t give up.

“This year is the evidence of that,” Hopkins said. “It’s what you would expect from someone who, while her friends are off getting jobs, making money, she’s living in a tiny little apartment, sleeping in your car when you get to races.”

“She’s been kind of an amazing person from that standpoint, and it’s a reflection of the entire discipline of rowing,” Barbara Moore said.

That’s why the name of the new Niskayuna boat was so appropriate last year.

Hopkins’ freshman eight girls were in the midst of a disappointing season last year when their new custom-made boat finally arrived midway through the season. When they got to the Stotesbury Cup in Philadelphia, the biggest high school reg­atta in the country, in late May, the Silver Warriors gave Moore a personal unveiling, pulling back the cover to reveal “One Moore Time.”

Then the Niskayuna freshman girls went out and performed well above expec­tations, reaching the semifinals. The following week, Moore won the Pan Am Trials to regain her spot on the U.S. National Team, and not as an alternate this time.

Her parents, Barbara and Wilson, left Friday for a Mother’s Day’s swing through Maryland and back to visit their parents and finish in New Jersey to watch Hannah row. Her younger sisters, Kerry, a former Niskayuna rower, and Emily, who played college basketball at Ithaca, can also apprec­iate her dogged pursuit of excellence

They’ve been keeping an eye on her for a long time.

“We were coming back from Korea for some R-and-R on the west coast of Oahu when she was 18 months old,” Barbara Moore said. “The waves were beautiful, but they were big. My husband had to keep grabbing her and reel her back in. I think that shows the aspect of how she doesn’t give up.”

“My mom sends me positive text messages all the time,” Hannah Moore said. “She’s big on the power of positive thinking, to push forward, to believe.”

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