Nicole Marek is USRowing ‘Woman of the Year’
By Bill Stevenson
Must be something in the water. Or, better yet, someone on the water. While perhaps we’re not talking about a divine event, 2014 Grosse Ile High School grad and Michigan State University alumna, Nicole Marek was recently honored at the USRowing Annual Convention in San Diego with the Ernestine Bayer Award. The award, given for the past 36 years, is presented “in recognition of outstanding contributions to women’s rowing and/ or an outstanding woman in rowing.” Marek is the youngest woman in USRowing history to receive the honor formerly known as “Woman of the Year.”
The award is named for Ernestine Bayer, who defied age and gender barriers in founding a women’s rowing club in 1938 on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Ms. Bayer rowed competitively well into her 90s, earning her the title Mother of Women’s Rowing in the United States.
“I’ve been rowing since my sophomore year at Grosse Ile High School. I am incredibly honored to receive this award,” Marek said. “We [MSU women’s rowing] found ourselves in the center of the Larry Nasser scandal at MSU. He was also the team physician for the rowing teams, field hockey, as well as the gymnastics team. I helped lead the effort with other women’s sports leaders on campus to open the dialogue and meet with the Board of Trustees to address issues and make changes to the policies and practices of the university.”
As a result of her leadership, sexual assault training within the MSU Athletic Department was changed from large group, co-ed meetings to smaller group/sport-specific programs. The procedures in investigating and reporting sexual assaults on campus were strengthened. Further, the rowing team, as well as other women’s teams were provided a full time trainer in addition to an athletic intern to foster safety and promote best practices in athletic care.
She attributes her family, parents Paul and Rosanne, and sister Brittney to her willingness to speak out when something is wrong.
“My mother, particularly, pushed us to ‘Do the Right Thing,’ and follow the Golden Rule. I had to give a speech for Junior Day, and as I look back, much of what I was saying were quotes from my mother.”
Also, Marek credits her Grosse Ile teachers, Joe Reimann and Nate Bearinger as positive role models in pursuing her career in music education. “I was the drum major in high school for two years. This opportunity expanded my love of music, gave me confidence, and allowed me to find my voice as a leader.”
Marek was the MSU women’s rowing captain her senior year, honorable mention All American in 2017-2018, four year Academic All Big Ten, two year Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association National Scholar. Her coach at Michigan State, Matt Weise, is also a product of Grosse Ile schools (GIHS 1988) and was one of the first oarsmen when the rowing program started in the late 1980’s. His father, Richard Weise, was instrumental in starting the program.
Matt Weise said, “Nicole Marek was an incredible leader during a time of great crisis for our team and university. She led her teammates to provide solutions to the university administration and helped push great changes in medical services, sexual assault training, sexual assault services, and athletic administration at Michigan State. I have had no prouder moment as a coach then when I saw the team take action. She received the Bayer Award, not only because she’s a great athlete, but also because of the impact of her leadership on collegiate athletics.”
Also proud of her award, her high school and current Grosse Ile rowing coach, Scott Sitek (GIHS 1996) recalls, “Nicole made an immediate impact when she joined the team as a tenth grader. She supported and cared for her teammates, was extremely coachable, and embodied the positive culture we’ve worked to establish over the years. As much as she got out of her experience rowing for Grosse Ile, I’m confident that she contributed that much and more.”
While at Grosse Ile High School, she was the State Champion in two doubles and MVP in women’s varsity double her senior year. She also ran cross country and track.
After receiving her award, Nicole recently began her student teaching in music education, with the East Lansing Public Schools. Maybe it’s the all the hard work and discipline. The love of competition and endurance. The grit in knowing that not everyone can do what you do. The courage to stand up for what is right. Or, maybe it’s the peace and harmony of the river on an early morning row. Whatever the case, Nicole Marek said, “I can’t imagine a life without rowing. And, as a teacher, I want to be a positive influence and help change lives.”
As USRowing’s Woman of the Year, she already has. And then some. Must be more than something in the water.
If you’d like to learn more about Nicole Marek and the Ernestine Bayer Award, go to https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=JLWZT93Ezhg