2/01/2022 Xueyan (Rita) Dong

Rise in Starlight, Set at Sunrise: A Q&A with Rowing Athlete Tim Lian

As a first-year international student at Franklin & Marshall, Tim Lian joined the rowing team to meet friends and stay in shape. Four years (and many early mornings) later, the senior reflects on the surprising lessons the sport has taught him.

Tim Lian, senior

Major: Economics with a minor in Spanish

Hometown: Handan, Hebei, China

Sport: Men's varsity rowing 

  • F&M international student athlete Tim Lian '22, far right, pictured with rowing teammates. F&M international student athlete Tim Lian '22, far right, pictured with rowing teammates.

Why did you choose to come to F&M? When I attended high school in America, I tried many sports, including basketball and cross country. When I chose a college, I did not take sports into consideration, but chose F&M because of its history and academic prowess. I did not want to give up on sports after I came here since I want to stay active, so I tried out for basketball. Sadly, I didn’t get picked. I considered cross country, but rowing seems to be a sport that is mostly specific to colleges. It was a chance I could not pass on, so I picked rowing. 

  • Tim Lian rowing team boats
"I think winning first place was a testimony to my training with a dash of luck sprinkled in there. This is when I started really treating this sport seriously and knew that I want to continue rowing in my college years. I feel encouraged every time I think back on this experience."
Tim Lian rowing team boats
Tim Lian '22

Can you tell me a little bit about how you started your athletic career? What has been your favorite memory? Or the hardest challenge? I started rowing when I was a freshman. F&M rowing has two levels: varsity and novice. The novice program is open to those who are not familiar with the sport. So, I got into the novice training and learned a lot of techniques. I built up my experience and made the varsity team. 

When I first came to college, everything was unfamiliar to me. I signed up for the novice program because I thought it could keep my body in good shape, but I was also hoping I could get to know more people in the process. So I just wanted to try something new and see if I could do it. 

My favorite memory is when I won my first big match as a first-year student. I was in the same boat with three other upperclassmen, and they were all more experienced. I was nervous and scared that my inexperience would slow down the team. But all the upperclassmen were super nice to me and kept encouraging me. Even though there were strong teams like George Washington University in the race, we were all relaxed and just wanted to finish the race with a good mindset. The race was short (about 2,000 meters) and it was over within five minutes. In the end, we won first place! It was my first time being on the varsity team and playing a big role in a race at this level. 

I think winning first place was a testimony to my training with a dash of luck sprinkled in there. This is when I started really treating this sport seriously and knew that I want to continue rowing in my college years. I feel encouraged every time I think back on this experience. 

The hardest part of rowing is, honestly, the training every day. We need to get up at 5 a.m. As a result, sometimes it is hard to concentrate in class and remain engaged during the day. My mind is tired from waking up so early, and my body is sore from exercising. F&M’s workload is not easy when it comes to balancing training with academics, but it is worth it! 

  • Tim Lian rowing team action Image Credit: www.row2k.com
"Our coach said that complaining about waking up early does not help our personal growth. We should enjoy the starlight that accompanies us when we venture out in the morning and the sunrise as we finish training."
F&M international student athlete Tim Lian '22, far right, pictured with rowing teammates.
Tim Lian '22

What does being an athlete add to your college experience? I think the sport itself is quite unique. You have to go out on the water and be in nature. As I mentioned, the training part is very intense. We get up at 5 a.m. to get on the bus, arrive at the boathouse at 5:30, and train for two hours. This built my endurance and my willpower. I really like what our coach [Bob Brady] said to us this one time. He said that complaining about waking up early is useless and does not help our personal growth. Rather than being unhappy and being grumpy, we should enjoy the starlight that accompanies us when we venture out in the morning and the sunrise as we finish training. Not a lot of people get to see what we see every morning. 

How do you manage your athletic responsibilities with campus life? Rowing really helped me with my time management. Most of my teammates are forced to be masters at managing their time. The best advice I can give is that you need to have a clear assessment of your knowledge and know what to prioritize. A lot of my classmates will stay up all night to study for a test or an assignment, but if you have always been getting Bs in the class, will staying up all night really help you get an A? It will be so much more helpful if you just study for a little longer every day so that you do not have to cram everything at the last minute. 

  • Tim Lian rowing team boats
"Playing a sport in college is really advantageous to building one’s character. Don’t say playing sports distracts you from academics; it can actually help you become a better student and teach you a lot about being efficient and resilient."
Tim Lian headshot
Tim Lian '22

Do you think there are any stereotypes about being a student-athlete? Can you myth-bust it for us with some of your own experiences? First of all, a lot of Chinese students are worried that playing sports will take time away from academics and cannot continue with the sport. I think the reason why people give up is that they do not find real enjoyment in sports. If people push through the difficult part, they will understand that playing a sport in college is really advantageous to building one’s character. Don’t say playing sports distracts you from academics; it can actually help you become a better student and teach you a lot about being efficient and resilient. I think people just need to do some introspection and ask themselves if they are making excuses to not keep pushing. 

Secondly, sports teams are actually very welcoming. In order to be on a team, you need to let go of yourself and be one with other people for a common goal. In my team, no one will put a label on you just because of your race or nationality. 

I think we need to let go of our own prejudice and step out of our comfort zones. There is a lot of talk about diversity in sports at F&M. We are trying our best to create a good environment, but someone needs to join in order to make diversity happen. It is a matter of whether you want to be a part of that diversity and promote understanding between different cultures.

  • Tim Lian rowing team selfie
"In Division III, most people are playing sports out of love for the sport. So people are a lot more welcoming and tolerant toward novice players."
Tim Lian rowing team action
Tim Lian '22

What would you say to another international student who wants to start playing sports but is feeling hesitant? I would tell them to try it out! Our school is mostly in Division III, so almost no one is looking to become a professional athlete. Most people are playing sports out of love for the sport. So people are a lot more welcoming and tolerant toward novice players. 

Any last comment you want to tell students at F&M? We only have two Chinese international students on the team right now because a lot of international students dropped out of the team, but both of us are graduating soon. So I want to urge international students to join the rowing team. It is so much fun and you will not regret it!

About the author: Senior Xueyan (Rita) Dong is a student digital content team member. She is majoring in business, organizations & society and psychology with a minor in art studio. Additionally, she is co-president of the International Student Advisory Board (ISAB).

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