Clemson Rowing Feature: Megan Bendik

Clemson Rowing Feature: Megan Bendik

April 17, 2009

Senior rower Megan Bendik has left quite a mark on the Clemson rowing program. From her athletic accomplishments to her success in the classroom, she has set quite an example for student-athletes in Tigertown.

Rowing hasn’t always been a sport that Bendik has excelled in. Growing up, she was a talented soccer player. As her high school career at Harrison High School reached its conclusion, she realized that her opportunities to earn a scholarship playing soccer would be limited. Rowing, however, offered countless opportunities for scholarships for a talented athlete like Bendik. So she joined a club rowing team and started exploring her options as a Division I athlete.

“I barely knew anything about rowing, but I saw a lot of opportunities,” said Bendik, who will join her teammates at the ACC Championships on Monday. “I committed to it without really knowing what I was getting into.”

It is not rare for collegiate rowers to have little experience rowing prior to college. In fact, many rowers at Clemson have no previous rowing experience whatsoever. Bendik believes that this can often be a benefit, because the burnout rate is much lower for athletes who have not been participating in the sport for many years. Though rowing may look easy to many spectators, it is in fact a very grueling sport. But it is a sport that has provided Bendik with great opportunities and a plethora of fond memories.

Clemson has surely benefited from Bendik’s talent and leadership during her time as a Tiger. Surprisingly, she almost passed up a visit to the university when she was evaluating potential schools. A native of Marietta, GA, she wasn’t excited by the idea of attending college close to home.

“I was about to cancel my visit to Clemson, but my mom made me come up here,” said Bendik. “But once I got here, I really, really liked it.”

Perhaps Clemson has Bendik’s mother to thank for helping lead the talented student-athlete to Tigertown. Not only has she excelled on the water, where she was a second-team all-region selection last season, but she has also excelled in the classroom. Recently, the Atlantic Coast Conference awarded Bendik a Weaver-James-Corrigan postgraduate scholarship, an award given to student-athletes who have performed with distinction in both the classroom and in their respective sports, while demonstrating exemplary conduct in the community.

Bendik, a health science major, plans to use her scholarship to attend nursing school at Johns Hopkins University starting this summer. She’ll have the opportunity to earn a bachelors degree in nursing in 13 months, and then continue immediately on to earn her masters degree. In addition to being a top-ranked program, the “package deal” enticed Bendik to attend the school located in Baltimore, Md. She hopes to one day become a nurse practitioner, working either with children or in women’s health.

“I originally wanted to go to med school, but I want to spend more time with patients,” explained Bendik, a two-time CRCA National Scholar Athlete. “But I’m keeping my options open since I don’t have experience with nursing.”

The variety of international options offered was another important factor in Bendik’s choice to attend Johns Hopkins. She has a passion for working with underprivileged populations, and sees a great need for working with those that are less fortunate. She hopes to pursue her studies in another area of the world during her graduate school experience.

As part of her departmental honors program at Clemson, Bendik has taken the initiative to do a study on the human papillomavirus (HPV). Her mission is to learn about the attitudes and motivation for getting the new HPV vaccine. Originally, she planned to send out a survey to about 400 students, but she ended up distributing her survey to almost everyone on campus. The outcome has been great, with about 2,000 responses so far. According to Bendik, HPV is a pressing issue.

“Almost everyone will get HPV at some point in their lifetime,” explained Bendik. “If most of the population would get the vaccine, we could come close to eradicating cervical cancer. It’s pretty cool that a vaccine could wipe out cancer.”

Despite the demands of school and rowing, Bendik hopes to have her study published.

Bendik began her Clemson rowing career as a member of the Novice 8+ crew. During the spring of her freshman year she was moved up to the Second Varsity 8+, which is quite an accomplishment for a freshman. She continued to row with the Second Varsity 8+ as a sophomore, and broke into the Varsity 8+ lineup as a junior.

Bendik’s hard work during her first three years as a Tiger rower paid off last season, when her Varsity 8+ crew made it to the NCAA Rowing Championships for the first time in school history. She ranks her experience on the national stage as one of the top moments in her life. After facing a coaching change and a great deal of uncertainty about the future, Bendik was proud of the way the team progressed and handled adversity.

“It was cool that the same team that had fallen apart was able to rebuild and do well,” said Bendik. “It was a pretty surreal experience.”

For Bendik, it’s been especially rewarding to see the team succeed and accomplish many of the goals they have set thus far this season. Along with teammate Mairi Trimboli, Bendik was chosen to serve as a team captain this year.

“It’s a true honor to be able to work with so many cool and motivated people, rowers, coxswains and coaches included,” said Bendik. “I try my best to be positive in tough situations and to make everyone on the team feel important, because they are.”

Bendik is currently a part of Clemson’s 14th ranked Varsity 8+ crew and she anticipates continued success throughout the remainder of her career as a Tiger. Reaching the NCAA Rowing Championships will be a more challenging task this year, as the requirements for invitations have changed. Last year, the Varsity 8+ was able to secure an at-large bid, but the rule change has eliminated at-large bids from the championship. This season, the entire team must earn a bid in order to participate. As a captain, Bendik has used this to motivate the team to reach their highest levels of performance.

“We’ve really been focusing on the whole entire team and trying to emphasize that it doesn’t matter what boat you are in because it will take the whole team to get invited this year.”

Bendik is optimistic that the Tigers will be invited to Camden, New Jersey to compete for a national championship. She believes that the team is a step ahead of where they were at this time last year.

Should the Tigers make it to the national competition, Bendik will have a full schedule. Classes at Johns Hopkins start the day after nationals end, so Bendik will have less than a 24-hour turnaround between racing in the national championship and starting graduate school. After maintaining the grueling schedule of a Division I student-athlete, Bendik is confident that she is up to the challenge.

Bendik isn’t the only one in her family who has excelled athletically. Her younger brother, Joseph, is currently a valuable member of the Clemson soccer team. He is the starting goalkeeper and was a second-team All-ACC and third-team All-South pick for the Tigers last fall. Bendik enjoys having her brother on campus with her and the amount of time she gets to see her parents when they come to town for their various sporting events.

Though Bendik’s career as a Clemson Tiger is nearing an end, she has a bright future ahead.