Video: Pull! Harder! Faster!

Video: Pull! Harder! Faster!

On a crew boat, winning and losing can rest with the person doing the least rowing — the coxswain.

Emily Martin is by far the smallest person on her eight-woman boat for the Robinson crew team.

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While the rowers, who dwarf her in both weight and height, grunt as they push water in unison, Martin is snug in the bottom of the boat screaming at the top of her lungs.

"I can take control," she said. "I know how to put the girls in line."

As coxswain, she won't pull a single oar over the course of the race. The only muscles she'll strain are in her throat.

Instead, she'll command her rowers to give everything they have while she helps to guide the boat and keep track of how much distance is left in the race.

The physical strength of her rowers propels the boat, but Martin's guidance can be the difference in winning or losing.

"You definitely have to keep your girls motivated," she said. "Even if you have first place, don't let them slack off or say, 'Oh, this is fine.’"

Martin's coxswain skill has helped the Robinson women’s first eight boat win four regattas.

"She's really outstanding," Robinson head coach Jon Barrett said. “She has had a huge impact on our team."

Robinson might be blessed with a strong coxswain in their girls' first eight boat, but that's not the case with every school.

Finding a good coxswain isn't always easy, and the job requires more than just a loud voice, Barrett said.

"In the very beginning, you have to make sure [the coxswain] can steer straight," he said. "Most important is the way the girls interact with the coxswain. She has to be their friend, but also their leader. She has to get them to do things they don't necessarily want to do."

On top of all that is the weight factor. With some boats having weight limits, the coxswain is almost always the smallest and lightest crew member. That’s the case for Martin, who had hoped to spend her time on the crew team rowing.

"I was actually going to row my freshman year," she said. "But then they realized how small I was. I liked the idea of rowing, but they asked if I wanted to be a coxswain."

Weight limitations sometimes put girls in charge of the boys' boat and vice versa.

While some might argue that a girl can't motivate boys as well as a member of their own gender, W.T. Woodson coach Ashley Frese said, it really doesn't matter on a crew boat.

As long as they want to win, they'll be fine.

"The women and the men just have to be super competitive," she said. "As long as they have that spirit, they'll be an excellent coxswain."

W.T. Woodson coxswain Wade Price said being small and a good yeller doesn't mean someone has the potential to be a top coxswain.

"[You have to] keep your composure," Price said. "Try to not stop talking to the rowers. You have to find something to say. I try to make different pitches in my voice and get really loud when something is important."

Coxswains also must be prepared to receive limited coaching.

"I didn't have a lot of experience [when I started]," Price said. "Coxswains tend to be under coached."

In most cases, Frese said, the coxswain role hinges on one simple attribute — respect.

"The coxswain has to be well respected," Frese said. "[He] has to know his coach really well. He has to portray everything that I would do. I'm not out on the water on race day."