CLEMSON, S.C. – Caroline Emerson is a three-time ACC All-Academic and has committed the last five years of college to helping Clemson’s Rowing program succeed on multiple levels. Although her love for rowing is strong, her true motivation comes from something far deeper than most Division I athletes.
Emerson, who hails from Moore, South Carolina, has a deeper motivation that drives her each and every day. Her younger twin brothers – Will and John – were diagnosed with autism when they were born. However, autism has not kept either of them from living their best lives as college freshman, something Emerson takes a tremendous amount of pride in.
“Will is a freshman at North Greenville University and John is an engineering major here at Clemson within the ClemsonLIFE program and both are thriving. This is something I take more pride in than any award I might win rowing for Clemson,” says Emerson. “Will’s college experience is all about independent living skills, while John, also a freshman, is a social butterfly and having the time of his life here. The bonus is I get to see him a lot.”
Both Will and John are proud members of their respective school’s marching bands which helped them transition into college life and build new friends that have become family to them.
Will and John going to different universities was a big deal for the Emerson family because the two had never been separated before.
“John really wanted to major in Engineering and NGU doesn’t have an Engineering program, so it wasn’t the best fit for him. He was also excited about being part of the Tiger band. Will also liked the ClemsonLIFE program but the smaller class sizes at NGU were a better fit because he would receive more support from his professors, which would set him up for greater success in the long term.”
Unlike a lot of Clemson athletes, Caroline did not grow up with a passion for rowing, she actually grew up playing soccer.
“I had actually never rowed before coming to Clemson. As soon as I got here, I saw that tryouts were being held and figured I would just go for it.” In the fall of 2019, Caroline joined the Clemson Rowing team as a walk on.
Given that she has always been an athlete, her family was very supportive and loved that she was going to try something new.
“I call my mom or dad every day after practice to tell them how it’s going, what my challenges are and how I plan to overcome them. However, regardless of my racing challenges, I know deep down, they are not nearly the type of challenges my brothers have had to overcome each and every day. Rowing can be very demanding, but I know I can control any situation I face. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with my brothers. Both must give it 100 percent every day just to have a normal college life.”
This is something Emerson never takes for granted and uses as daily motivation.
“My favorite race was the Cardinal Invitational last year. We were racing Indiana and Alabama, and we knew it was going to be a close one, however, we had trained hard and were fortunate enough to beat both of them and that set the tone for the rest of the season.”
Finding a way to connect her passion for sports and physical activity with her compassion for helping others, Caroline has spent the past three summers working for Camp Hope at the Clemson University Outdoor Lab. This is an overnight camp designed for children and adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
“We do traditional camp activities like canoeing, archery, and cooking meals over the fire. I have served as a counselor, lifeguard, program director, and head counselor.”
This camp holds a special place in the Emerson family as Caroline’s mom also worked for Camp Hope in the 90’s, and now their entire family spends a week there volunteering every summer.
In June of 2024, Caroline will be pursuing an Occupational Therapy Doctorate Degree from the Medical University of South Carolina.
“Occupational Therapy has been life changing for both Will and John, so I have known for a while that I want to help people with developmental disabilities.”
Though Caroline rows for Clemson competitively, she really rows for John and Will, her brothers that motivate her daily.