Two-year crew captain, rower of the year Lease among Club Sports Hall of Fame’s ninth class
Amy (McGowan) Lease (’12), a two-year team captain and rower on the Liberty University crew program’s first-ever national championship boat, will be one of three inductees into the ninth class of the Club Sports Hall of Fame, Saturday at The Virginian Hotel in downtown Lynchburg.
She said her rowing experience at Liberty — after transferring from Christopher Newport University as a sophomore and joining the crew team in its second season as a Club Sports program — was formative in her leadership development.
“The crew team taught me how to be an effective leader,” said Lease, who served as captain from the spring of her sophomore year through the fall of her senior year. “Without it, I don’t know where I would be. It totally transformed my college experience. The teamwork and the loyalty we had to have taught me some very valuable life skills, and I made some of my best friends through the crew team.”
Lease said the sport is unique in that it requires an extraordinary balance between physical conditioning and mental dexterity, as well as tremendous commitment to early-morning practices. She and her teammates, led by founding Head Coach Mark Furler who will serve as her presenter at Saturday’s induction ceremony, would rise at 4:30 a.m. for training sessions on Ivy Lake in nearby Forest, Va.
“It’s such a team sport, and it comes down to having a good relationship with people on your boat so you can balance the boat on the water,” said Lease, who was named the Lady Flames’ Most Improved Rower once and Rower of the Year twice in her three-year career. “I really had to modify what a leader was and how I was leading in order to relate to my teammates and gain their trust and lead by example.”
Admittedly not a morning person, Lease’s commitment to the team was tested her first semester, but she persevered and showed her leadership potential for the fledgling program.
“The team had only been around for a semester,” she said. “We were developing gear, deciding on what type of boats and oars we would need, as well as a boathouse. We didn’t have a dock at first, so we had to figure out what would make it easier to get the boats in and out of the water. So the first three years were huge development years, and all the while we were going to races all up and down the East Coast and getting our name out as a developing crew team.”
As much as it developed her character and grit, Lease said the sport — as well as Crossfit, which she picked up while at Liberty and still trains in — played as valuable of a role in maintaining her overall health and fitness.
“The difficulty of the sport itself made it so much easier to endure difficult challenges of any kind,” she said. “Crew kind of works your entire body and I definitely got way more out of the athletic side of things (than she had playing ultimate at CNU), so it was good for me spiritually, mentally, physically, and it set me up for success and health for the rest of my life.”
“Crossfit workouts are nothing compared to crew,” she added. “Rowing in a 2,000-meter sprint for eight minutes without a break, makes everything that much easier, and 5Ks are mentally brutal. It really ingrained some mental toughness.”
All those hours of labor rowing in the water and on indoor ergs paid off in the spring of her senior year, at the American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA) National Championships on May 27, 2012, at Lake Lanier, Ga., site of the 1996 Summer Olympic rowing events. Lease and her Women’s Lightweight 4 teammates — rowers Abigail Lenz, Lindsey Churchill, and Brianna O’Neal, as well as coxswain Toni Ortu — became the program’s first national champions, completing the 2000-meter course in 7 minutes, 43.9 seconds, and leaving boats from the University of Chicago and Penn State in their wake to win by several boat lengths.
“The significance of seeing the team at its very beginning to winning that medal was a huge accomplishment for us, to really feel like we got Liberty’s name out there,” Lease said. “It is very easy, if you see yourself get that far ahead, to let up and save your energy, but we knew that the weight of the world was on our shoulders with that race, and we really blew it out of the water.”
Lease, who graduated from Liberty with a pre-law Bachelor of Science in Western Legal Traditions through the Helms School of Government, handles Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-related injuries for a commercial exterior building maintenance company in Raleigh, N.C., where her husband Jacob (’13, B.S. in Exercise Science) works in customer care for a residential homebuilding company. The Leases, who met at Crossfit Lynchburg, married in 2014 before welcoming their first son, Noah, in 2020. They are expecting a second child in June.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media