Courtney Berger spent many of her days growing up on the water in Sarasota as a member of Sarasota Crew. When she was younger, she rowed, but soon her height of 5 feet, 2 inches, wasn’t ideal for rowing, and she became a coxswain, which she describes as “the eyes, ears and brains” of the boat. She excelled as a coxswain for Sarasota Crew; she is the former coxswain for state champion Sarasota Crew Men’s Varsity 8.
“I’m loud, and I can command people pretty easily,” says Berger.
The skills she learned as a coxswain for Sarasota Crew helped her to lead her college team not only to a victory but also to help a rival crew member in May.
The Nova Southeastern University Sharks Freshman Eight had just won their race in the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association Regatta, in Oakridge, Tenn., when Berger, the team’s coxswain, noticed that the second-place finishers from Rollins College were having trouble on their boat. As she looked more closely, she realized one of the girls on the rival team had collapsed. Berger quickly got her crew to paddle their boat closer to the Rollins’ boat, and she jumped onboard.
“I asked if she was OK, and they (her team) said no,” Berger said. “I looked for an official, because they were supposed to check on everyone, but they didn’t. They (her team members) were freaking out and crying. I had to take some sort of action. It was natural instinct.”
Berger repositioned the distressed rower, who was slumped over her oar, and held her upright and spoke calmly to the rower and her teammates. Berger tried to help the woman breathe properly.
“I was calm, but I was in emergency mode, so I had to just try to calm the girl down and calm the teammates down,” Berger said.
While Berger was helping the rower, the NSU and Rollins rowers attempted to notify an official for help. After about 10 minutes, an official arrived, and the rower was taken to the onsite ambulance and treated for dehydration and an abdominal injury.
Berger talked to the rower after she had been treated.
“I think she blacked out,” Berger said. “She said she could hear my voice, but everything was black, and she said she tried to focus on my voice.”
For their assistance in the medical emergency, Berger and the crew of the NSU Sharks Freshman Eight were selected as the winners of the 2011 Sunshine State Conference Female Sportsmanship Award.
Berger was also awarded the 2010-2011 NCAA Female Student-Athlete National Sportsmanship Award; it is the first time an NSU student has received the national award and also the first time a Sunshine State Conference school has received the honor. She was also featured in the Sept. 12 issue of Sports Illustrated as one of the seven athletes in its “Faces in the Crowd” section.
Berger spent her summer coaching at Sarasota Crew’s rowing facility and is now a sophomore at NSU, where she is a pre-med student majoring in biology; she is also currently practicing for the fall rowing season.
Berger said she will continue to keep a vigilant watch for dangers on the water for her team and for those around her.
“I’m usually pretty observant — I’ll still be the same,” said Berger. “I just hope the officials are a little bit more (aware) … they could have taken action quicker.”
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