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A group of women in a rowing shell during a race.

A budding chemist and reigning gold medalist: Oregon state rower finishes strong

By Hannah Ashton

Evan Park sits in five seat (with the blue sunglasses) of the 2023 World Rowing Under 23 U.S.A. Women's Eight.

Oregon State chemistry senior Evan Park has a gold medal.

On July 23, 2023, Park sat inside a sleek, narrow, carbon fiber shell in an artificial canal in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. To her left on the port side, the team from Germany sat poised and ready and on her right on starboard, the team from Great Britain occupied lane 4.

Exactly six minutes, nine seconds, and fourteen-hundredths of a second later, the bow of Park’s boat soared past the finish line, winning the 2023 World Rowing Under 23 Championship in the women’s eight.

“We started to pull away and we didn’t stop pulling away until we had open water, and we won. It was a crazy, amazing, awesome experience,” she said.

Park will attend graduate school next year at the University of Washington and finish her last year of collegiate rowing eligibility. After that, the future is uncertain but someday you might find her teaching in a classroom.

Navigating new waters

Rowing and chemistry share many similarities: precision, teamwork, technique, collaboration, training, practice, attention to detail and more.

For Park, both rowing and chemistry run in her blood. Her father is a chemist, and her parents both walked on to their club crew team during their college years.

“I think one of my earliest memories of being interested in STEM is at my birthday parties. My dad would blow up a bucket and it would go flying everywhere. He also came into my second grade class and made a fire vortex tornado,” she said.

Even without her parents’ influence, Park believes that she would have followed the same path. She credits amazing middle and high school science and chemistry teachers who helped her fall in love with STEM.

“Even though it’s not really intuitive at first, there are patterns within chemistry. And if you just stick with it and keep an open mind about it, you might end up really liking it,” she said.

Born and raised in Bend, Oregon, she chose Oregon State for several reasons, notably the strong science offerings. “The College of Science puts a lot of resources towards helping students,” she said.

When she arrived in Corvallis, she didn’t envision being a student-athlete in her future. In high school, she participated in multiple sports including the swim team, water polo, ski team, volleyball and basketball. She had never touched an oar before.

"I've had really awesome professors here."

But an email from the rowing team inviting incoming students to attend a Zoom information session changed the course of her life.

“I had no idea what I was doing when it came to rowing. The entire process of learning, being in a boat with other people, doing ergs every week and seeing improvements—that’s what got me hooked,” she said.

“Erg” stands for ergometer, a fitness device designed to simulate the action of rowing on water. It includes a flywheel or resistance mechanism, a sliding seat, footrests and a handle connected to the resistance system, providing a full-body, low-impact workout.

It took Park some time to realize just how talented she truly is. From being named the fastest athlete at C.R.A.S.H. Beavs, an indoor two-kilometer race using ergs, to achieving the fastest time during the USA Under 23 selection camp, Park has entered the rowing world by storm.

A woman stands on the Oregon State campus wearing a graduation outfit.

Evan Park stands in front of Gilbert Hall.

Balancing a full STEM course load with collegiate athletics hasn’t been easy, but it has been rewarding.

“I think the pressure of having a set time you have to be at class and then at practice pushed me to be more organized and plan out my time better. I have had multiple class conflicts where I have to do the workout by myself or switch into the boat halfway into practice,” Park said. “It’s been a lot of work, but I’m proud of it.”

Although a few of her professors have never worked with student-athletes before, all of the faculty have been accepting and helpful.

Chemistry instructor Jie Zhang even attended C.R.A.S.H. Beavs and watched Park row on the Willamette. “I’ve had really awesome professors here,” she said.

On top of school and rowing, Park has also stepped up to the plate to advocate for student-athletes. She serves as a member of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee and is also part of the Student Athlete Leadership team.

When the news of the dissolution of the Pac-12 was announced, she was among hundreds of fellow student-athletes who were worried about their future. Drawing from her own experiences, she participated in a Pac-12 legislative hearing with Oregon State University President Jayathi Murthy and Vice President and Director of Athletics Scott Barnes.

Addressing the Oregon House Interim Committee on Higher Education was daunting, but she wanted her voice to be heard.

“It feels like all of these things are changing within college athletics and people are making decisions for us. I wanted to go there and say ‘Hey, look at me. I am the one being affected by all of this.’ Being able to have them see me and hear me is what I think needs to happen,” Park said.

Similar to trying again after failing an experiment in chemistry, athletics teaches the value of never giving up.

“I trust that we’ll be okay because that’s just what we’ve always done. We always fight. We always push through,” she said.

Park is proud to wear orange and black both on the water and in the laboratory.