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Walk-On Winner: Eva Frohnhofer (A&S ’23, M.S. in Commerce ’24) Surprised Herself

Frohnhofer hadn't played sports before considering rowing as a good outlet beyond her college studies. Now, a major highlight of her rowing tenure has been representing the U.S., earning the bronze medal in the women’s four with coxswain at the World Rowing Under 23 Championships.

Eva Frohnhofer, third from left, with her UVA Women’s Rowing teammates.

Eva Frohnhofer, third from left, with her UVA Women’s Rowing teammates.

It’s not every day that a walk-on with no previous experience makes a team at UVA and suddenly finds themselves competing to earn a top spot at one of the most important international competitive events in their sport.

But that’s basically what happened to Eva Frohnhofer of UVA Women’s Rowing.

The New York City native’s journey to crew at UVA is perhaps best defined as a rare collision of chance, good fortune, commitment, and a great deal of hard work.

When she arrived on Grounds five years ago, she was singled out at orientation by one of the novice coaches on the lookout for new recruits for the team.

“She said, ‘You’re tall. You should try out,’” Frohnhofer recalls. “I thought I had no shot because I hadn’t played any sports. I didn’t really think it was my vibe,” she says, admitting that she attended the info session because she was trying to impress a friend who was a collegiate athlete. But what she came to learn about rowing appealed to her. “I thought it could be cool because I’ve always been competitive. I was captain of the math team in high school. I wasn’t doing sports, but academically, I was very competitive, and I wanted to win in school,” she says.

Thinking rowing could be a good outlet beyond her History studies, she decided to show up and see what might happen. She was surprised by the outcome. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was in no shape to be a rower,” she says, recalling how, as a sixth grader, she took a shot at joining her school’s track team and halfway through the tryout decided it was too difficult and went home. She was convinced that’s how rowing would turn out too.

But she can pinpoint a pivotal moment when it all changed.

During her first semester with the team, they were testing their abilities to go a distance of 4 kilometers in an “erg,” an ergometer, or indoor rower, when she attempted to get out of it. “I told them I was sick,” she says. Her coach quickly countered, flat-out insisting she was fine and convincing Frohnhofer to take the test. “I get on, we start, and I told her I felt like I was going to faint. And my coach said, ‘If you’re going to faint, just faint. Don’t tell me.’ I was crying.”

Eva FrohnhoferUltimately, her results were fine relative to the other walk-ons. “I know that if I had quit during that test, I would have just quit the whole thing. I remember it being so horrible, and I was so scared, but I was really glad afterward that I didn’t quit,” she says. “I think about that when I want to quit big, scary things. I just kept waiting another week and waiting another week. And now it’s been four years. And I don’t want to quit anymore. I think I finally made the team,” she says jokingly.

Well-Represented at Worlds

That first year, her second at UVA (as many in-person sports were preempted by COVID her first year), she found herself as the three seat of the Varsity Eight, but despite Frohnhofer considering herself “clueless” at the time, her commitment and growing prowess led to more responsibility.

“Then after my second year, I rowed over the summer at the New York Athletic Club because [Associate Head Coach] Kelsie [Chaudoin], told me that I just needed to get more strokes in and do some catching up because I just hadn’t been rowing that long. So she suggested doing that if getting better was something that I wanted to do. And it was. I did that over the summer; I rowed with their summer U-23 team,” she says. “Then I came back, and I was bow seat of varsity for most of the year.” The following summer, she joined a U-23 program at the Pennsylvania Athletic Club Rowing Association.

During the 2021-2022 season, she was part of the Varsity Eight that finished 12th at the NCAA Championships, earning an ACC title and ACC Crew of the Year. Balancing all of that work with her History studies, she was named to the All-ACC Academic team and ACC Honor Roll.

For 2022-2023, Frohnhofer found herself switching between seven seat and bow seat. Her accolades during that season continued to grow: She was a member of the Varsity Eight that placed 11th at the NCAA Championship, part of the Varsity Eight that rowed a runner-up finish at the ACC Championship as well as ACC Crew of the Week in April 2023, and once again named to the All-ACC Academic Team and ACC Honor Roll.

Undoubtedly, one of the major highlights of her rowing tenure came in July 2023, when she represented the United States, earning the bronze medal in the women’s four with coxswain at the World Rowing Under 23 Championships held in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

Frohnhofer applied to go to selection camp in April 2023, but Virginia Women’s Rowing Head Coach Kevin Sauer suggested her 2k time was a bit too slow to earn an invitation from the U.S. team. Determined, she spent the spring bettering her results, but still insists that she was invited “by the skin of my teeth. I was invited later, after invites had already gone out, and so I was super grateful.”

She set out for Oklahoma to train, and despite her peer rowers’ welcoming personalities, she was intimidated by the speed at which they were performing. During the first week, she and her teammates got to know each other better, and Frohnhofer could see, despite her expectations, that she was a true contributor to the boat. “I’d expected to be lagging behind and being a bit of an anchor because of the late invite.”

In the brutal heat of Oklahoma, she and her teammates began what would be two intense weeks of selection pieces. “It was seat racing every day for 12 days and the same thing over and over again,” she says.

As the team continued seat racing, the order “fell into place,” after some experiments with the seat order. She found herself earning the stroke seat despite never having occupied it at UVA previously. But her commitment led to success on the international stage. And her team’s practice repetition—coupled with the insufferable heat—proved to be valuable training conditions for what was ahead of them. “We got to Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and it was so hot, but it was nothing like Oklahoma.”

The experience in Plovdiv will surely last Frohnhofer a lifetime.

“Just being at the start line is so nerve wracking, and you’re literally shaking because you’re just sitting at attention for two minutes before they shout, ‘Go!’ with the buzzer sound,” she says. “That was the best part—especially being in stroke in an international race was just crazy. It made me super grateful to Kevin and my novice coach, Aaron, and Kelsie, all the coaches here, because they taught me I am their athlete. They’re the people who taught me how to row,” she says. “I’m entirely a product of UVA Rowing.”

Frohnhofer feels that the preparation with her coaches at the University remains as important as earning the bronze, crediting Sauer with helping her to get to selection and getting advice from Chaudoin while in Plovdiv. “It was so cool, even more than standing on the podium,” she says. “I learned a lot. It was pretty hard, all the selection stuff. It was stressful and scary, but it made me think, ‘I can do stressful and scary.’”

From the Boat to Comm School and Beyond

Last summer, she returned to Oklahoma to train more with a group of student-athletes from university programs across the U.S.

And as she returned to UVA Rowing with a fifth year of eligibility, she also enrolled at McIntire for the M.S. in Commerce Program.

As an undergraduate, she delayed declaring a major as long as possible. “I just wanted to take classes that were interesting to me. I started with that philosophy, and then I started gravitating towards certain professors and certain themes, and ended up taking a lot of History classes,” she says, clarifying that she was also motivated to concentrate in Capitalism and Economic Life. Those courses provided the direction she wanted to pursue as a graduate student, and she liked what she discovered about the M.S. in Commerce.

“I sat in on some classes when I was applying, and I really liked it. Finance is what I want to do, so it was the perfect next step, since I was a History undergrad.”

Originally landing at UVA despite her extended family’s long history of attending one of five Catholic colleges, Frohnhofer wanted to blaze her own trail. She is still surprised at the positive results. “I wanted to come here, and I’m so glad I did. I can’t believe how well it turned out,” she says.

Though she acknowledges that she would prefer to continue rowing since it has become such an outsized part of her life, she understands that at some point she will have to give it up. At least that’s how she sees it for now.

“Skill-wise, I feel I still have a lot of room to grow,” she says. “There’s a lot of growing I would need to do before I could be considered for a senior team, but I do really like the sport and I’d like to meet more of the people. If I am going to row after college, I would need to think about that in the next couple of weeks, as I’m going through the recruiting process and there are a lot of choices that I have to make right now,” Frohnhofer says pausing to consider the future. “I guess that’s not a today issue. Let me get an interview first and then I’ll think about it.”

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