TAMPA — When you think of Duke University, perhaps you think of its basketball team, or its medical center.
One of the most beautiful and challenging schools in the world has a hidden treasure that you probably don’t know about. It’s the rowing team, one of the best in the country.
Their meets aren’t on ESPN and they rarely get mentioned in local newspapers, but the Duke women’s team competes on a worldwide level and one of its lead rowers is Carli Willis, a Berkeley Prep graduate who just started rowing on a competitive basis during her senior year in high school, after leaving the volleyball team.
She’s at Duke majoring in Public Policy and Business and, despite her success at Duke, she hasn’t forgotten her time at Berkeley.
“I loved the teachers there so much and they taught me so much in return,” Willis said during her summer break from Duke. “They always supported me at Berkeley and they supported me when I started rowing.”
Willis had great examples to follow. One sister, Ginny, is on the Princeton rowing team, while another sister, Maggie, attends Vanderbilt. You might say that academics are a big part of the Willis family.
Carli got started in rowing and became hooked. When she isn’t rowing at Duke, she rows for the Tampa Training Center at the University of Tampa. She’s the only girl on the team. She raced solo in high school and competes in the 2K and 5K races at Duke. In person, she seems petite, but she said she is one of the stronger girls on the Duke team. She does squats every day and training starts at 6 a.m.
“I might not be the fastest, but I really started getting into it when I was a senior at Berkeley,” Willis said. “I’m really getting into it now and it’s a lot of fun.”
Duke finished 20th in the nation last year, so trying out for the team was scary for Willis. She earned a spot on the port position — one of the rowers in the back of the boat. After a summer of working out at the Tampa Training Center, she is hoping for better results this fall.
“This is something I really enjoy,” she said. “I love rowing and I love Duke, so it couldn’t get much better.”