Collin Zimmerman wasn’t giving up.
As a freshman at St. Bede, Zimmerman tore the ACL in his left knee during football and then the ACL in his right knee during basketball.
His sophomore year, he tore the ACL in his right knee during football and didn’t play a game.
It wasn’t until the fall of his junior year when he ran cross country that Zimmerman completed an entire sports season without injury, only to then tear the ACL in his left knee in the winter during his junior wrestling season.
“It was really rough,” he said. “It was just one of those situations where I didn’t want to give up high school athletics. I’ve always tried to be very in shape, but it’s been hard for me to be without that kind of athletic outlet.
“Every time it happened, I just dedicated myself to getting right back out there. It was demoralizing at points, but in the end, I told myself I just couldn’t stop. There was a part of me who couldn’t live without some form of competition.”
So when Zimmerman arrived as a freshman on the campus of Vanderbilt University last fall, he sought an athletic outlet to feed his hunger.
What he found changed his life.
Bombarded at freshmen orientation and organizational fairs, Zimmerman joined the Vanderbilt crew team, the school’s club rowing squad.
It was everything he was looking for without the same risk of injuries.
“I knew absolutely nothing. I came in having no idea what to expect,” said Zimmerman, who had never been in a kayak or canoe. “It’s very much a you-love-it-or-hate-it sport, and it’s a very difficult sport to pick up, but if you have the right mentality, you will absolutely fall in love with it.”
The hard-working Zimmerman took right to the grueling and demanding sport.
He tried out for and made the team and was placed on Vanderbilt’s Novice A squad, which is made up of first-year team members.
The team competed at tournaments around the south and the nation in the fall and this spring and will compete at the American College Rowing Association National Championship this weekend outside of Gainesville, Ga., at Lake Lanier, the site of the rowing and sprint canoeing competitions at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
“I think it will be a really cool experience,” Zimmerman said. “I think there will be a lot of fast crews. Michigan, Virginia and Purdue are all very fast and have won the last few years. But it will be very cool to see them race and compare ourselves to them and other crews.”
After classes at Vanderbilt ended May 2, Zimmerman — who is majoring in mechanical engineering — remained in Tennessee to train for the national championship with his teammates. The squad is training twice a day.
“It tears your body up,” Zimmerman said. “We’re in two practices a day and just your entire body is sore all the time.
“Most people think of rowing as an all arms type of thing, but there’s a huge amount of leg muscle that comes into it. We wake up at 5:30 a.m., head out to the lake to practice and have to work through soreness. We get a lot of blisters and calluses on our hands from the oars. Those can get painful sometimes, but it’s another thing you just have to work through.”
Just like Zimmerman worked through his high school injuries and kept his athletic desire, which led him to rowing.
“Going from cross country to crew definitely made the transition easier,” Zimmerman said. “I wouldn’t say it was easy, but crew kind of takes the best of a lot of sports. It’s a very aerobic sport like cross country — you’ve got to be in great shape even for a 6 1/2-minute race because it takes everything out of you — but it involves a lot of muscle strength. There’s a lot of muscle power that goes into it, so it’s kind of the best of all worlds, and I think that’s why I kind of fell in love with it.”
In the end, he just wasn’t ready to give up.
Jared Bell is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.