Senior Spotlight: Annabelle Bachmann

Senior Annabelle Bachmann, a mainstay for the Stanford women’s rowing program, rowed in the victorious varsity eight boat, helping the Cardinal capture its first NCAA women’s rowing championship since 2009. In addition to winning the team championship, Stanford garnered its third and fourth individual NCAA championships in program history, one by Bachmann’s varsity eight boat and the other by the second eight boat. For her efforts this season, Bachmann earned All-Pac-12 honors. Last year, Bachmann, in the third varsity eight, aided the team to a Pac-12 conference title. In 2021, Bachmann, rowing in the second varsity eight, helped lead the Cardinal to its runner-up finish at the NCAA championships. Hailing from Ingelheim, Germany, Bachmann is a biology major, specializing in microbes and immunity, and currently has a 3.977 GPA. In recognition of her excellence, the Pac-12 named Bachmann its Women’s Rowing Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

The Daily’s Kenneth King sat down with Bachmann to discuss the team’s ascent to the NCAA championship, her own personal journey at Stanford both on and off the water and her aspirations going forward.

The Stanford Daily (TSD):  What sports did you play in Germany growing up and how did you pick rowing as your sport of choice?

Annabelle Bachmann (AB): The only other competitive sport I’ve ever been in was swimming, until I was 12, but I wasn’t very good. I always finished second to last and I didn’t really like it. I thought it was kind of boring and I didn’t get any athletic drive from swimming. But I grew up around rowing because my whole family is involved in rowing. My grandfather used to be a coach, my parents met through rowing and my aunt and her husband met through rowing. My parents would take me on rowing trips when I was really small. When I said I wanted to quit swimming my mom said, ‘Well, you have to do another sport.’ I said I’ll do rowing. My parents weren’t very happy with that. My mom said, ‘You’re just trying to row because we are rowing and you’re not gonna like it; you’re not going to make it through the first winter.’  But it’s been 11 years now and I’m still rowing, so it was definitely the right choice. It’s worked out very well.

TSD: When did it become clear that you wanted to row in college and how did you choose Stanford?

AB: I always knew that I wanted to row after I finished high school but I wasn’t really aware that there was the opportunity to come to the U.S. to row in college and get athletic scholarships. Then, in the winter of my junior year, Ohio State emailed me and asked, ‘Would you be interested in rowing with us?’ That started this whole recruiting process. Subsequently, the Stanford coach texted me that summer while I was at the Junior World Championships and asked whether I would like to meet after my race to talk about rowing at Stanford. And I remember thinking, ‘It’s so rude to text me the night before a world championship final’ that I didn’t reply. But then the coach emailed me again two weeks later and I thought I would see what she had to say. I had one call with her and I thought that this is the school I want to go to — it’s perfect. I did an official visit in October of that year and I looked at the school and I also looked at other schools but Stanford took the cake; it was perfect. I thought, ‘This is where I want to be.’ And then I committed.

TSD: And what about Stanford attracted you so much?

AB: So, for one, Stanford has a really high-profile athletic department. All the teams are really good and rowing, especially, was a really good team. In addition to that, Stanford also has really high academic standards. So it was combining the best of both worlds. In the end, what tipped me over to Stanford was the team. When I came on my official visit, the airline had lost my luggage, so I didn’t have anything — I just had my backpack and the clothes that I flew in. And the team was super sweet and supportive. They got me a toothbrush and an extra t-shirt and everybody reached out to see if I needed anything. It was so obvious that they were all friends and were all really close with each other. That was like the kind of team culture that I was looking for. So I felt like Stanford had everything that I wanted in one place.

TSD: And what was it like meeting your teammates for the first time?

AB: Overwhelming! My English wasn’t as good as it is now and I found it very hard to understand people when they were talking and there were 40 of them, so I didn’t learn any names.  But they were all super friendly and super nice and I had a lot of fun, even though I was a little intimidated. And they made it very easy to imagine being a part of the team. 

TSD: Switching gears for a little bit — prior to a race, are there any superstitions or routines that you have?

AB: I’ve just started journaling this year before races because I get a lot of racing thoughts and my mind is spinning. So I write everything down before I go to bed and that helps. I have given up on superstitions. When I was younger, 13 and 14, I would row singles all the time. So I was by myself before the race and I would dip my hand into the water and draw little lines on my legs in order to be connected with the race course, but I stopped that.

TSD: Your sister’s also on the team. What’s that like?

AB: It’s great. She’s a sophomore so she came here last year and I helped recruit her because she didn’t really want to come and I kept bugging her about it. And it’s great because we’re living together. We’re rowing together. We’re really close.  We row on different sides [of the boat] so there’s no direct competition because we don’t compete for the same spots. But it’s still intense, especially because she’s faster than me and sometimes it’s a little hard to share everything. But I’m also very glad that we’ve gotten to do this because we’ve grown really close.

TSD: Is there a sibling rivalry?

AB: Yes, but not in a bad way. We push each other but we also get excited for each other’s successes.

TSD: And have you been able to provide guidance to her?

AB: I hope I’ve provided some guidance. I feel like in rowing maybe not, because she doesn’t need any guidance. But in life, for sure, because I’ve been here longer. She’ll have to grow out of it, though, one of these days.

TSD: So last week, the team won the NCAA Championships after runner-up finishes to Texas the previous two years. What was going through your head during the victory?

AB:  I looked back at the video because I have no memories of the moments right after the finish. Apparently I screamed and then I celebrated. And then we docked and the whole team was on the dock and I just sat and cried a little bit because I couldn’t believe that we actually did it. We built this victory out to be something so big and great, so unbelievably huge. And then it happens. It might seem kind of silly but in many ways the winning race feels exactly the same as any other race. It just has a different outcome.  And it’s not like there’s some magic or wizardry. We still had the same race plan and the same start and the same moves throughout the race. We just ended up being faster than everybody else.

TSD: In addition to clinching the team championship, your varsity eight boat won the NCAA individual championship as well. You were in the lead throughout the race. Did you know that as the race was unfolding?

AB: I was remotely aware. Our coxswain tells us where we are, but we never really think about other crews. We always very much focus on ourselves and how we can increase our speed the most because that’s the only thing you can control. So I kind of knew that we were out but I didn’t really realize by how much until the race was over.

TSD:  What were your feelings immediately after the boat crossed the finish line?

AB: I’d say relief and joy and just utter exhaustion.  I couldn’t move my legs. I couldn’t move my arms. I could barely think straight but I knew that something really good had just happened.

TSD:  And you were only one of four seniors in your boat on championship day. What was that like? And did you take on any leadership role?

AB: I didn’t specifically try to step into any leadership role because we had many very experienced people in my boat. We all knew what we had to do.

TSD: Switching gears again. Last month you were named the Pac-12 Women’s Rowing Scholar-Athlete of the year. What advice would you give to Stanford students on how to manage their time and navigate through balancing school and extracurricular demands?

AB: Keep an oversight of what is due and when and just try to get things done early. Also, make intense use of office hours, especially in STEM classes. I’ve taken a bunch of chemistry and physics classes and I just spend a lot of time in office hours every week just talking through problems. And even if you think you know how they work, explaining your answers to somebody else helps too. I feel like the one thing that my coaches have always told me that really helps is to stay on top of your work and don’t let yourself fall behind because it will only get busier. And then just take classes that you enjoy so that working on them isn’t a chore.

TSD: Speaking of which, you’re a biology major, specializing in microbes and immunity. How did you become interested in that area?

AB: I took biology in high school and then ended up taking AP Bio for two and a half years. And I think that it’s really interesting how the body’s cells, which do not have a brain, are involved in very complex and smart systems for process regulation and gene expression among many other things. And that’s always been super fascinating to me. How nature came up with all of that just by trial and error through evolution and that’s what has drawn me to bio. And then, ever since I was a little, I wanted to become a doctor so majoring in bio here was the best way to set me up for medical school afterwards. So it was a win, win.

TSD: Are there any particular areas of medicine that interest you?

AB: I shadowed an anesthesiologist for two quarters while I was here which I thought was really cool. I’d never seen an anesthesiologist work before so that might be something. Otherwise, I’m really interested in emergency medicine. So I’m kind of looking for a little bit of adrenaline, I guess. But I haven’t really decided yet because I feel like there’s so many different fields that I haven’t even looked into, and I hope to get an opportunity for that when I’m in med school.

TSD: What were the most significant unexpected challenges that you had to overcome while at Stanford?

AB:  My sophomore year was going really well and I kind of felt invincible. I rowed all summer for the German national team and came back for my junior year thinking that after rowing 12 consecutive months I could still be fresh. But last year was really tough and I felt physically burned out and I also started to mentally struggle over not performing as I wanted to. I learned that having my whole identity be defined by rowing isn’t very healthy because once rowing goes badly, it affects everything else. So I had to learn how to be very invested in rowing and spend a lot of time with it without it being the only character trait that I care about. I worked a lot with sports psych and I actually managed to come back stronger and recovered this year and learned to be a little less attached to how my rowing workouts go.

TSD:  What have been your favorite moments at Stanford?

AB: Oh, definitely winning NCAAs. But also I think it’s the many small moments that I’ll remember. Like just being out in Redwood City on the port every morning when the sun rises, and having little jokes and banter with my teammates. The practices are really hard and our coaches can get really frustrated, so finding the little things that make us feel happy, that’s what I’m going to take away the most. It’s just all the good times I’ve had with the team.

TSD:  And what are your current plans after graduation?

AB: A little up in the air. I want to train in Berlin with the German Olympic national team, but they are in season and it’s unclear if I can join them in July when I come home or if I have to wait until September once their season is over.  The team is trying to qualify boats for the Olympic games, so I’m going to try and join them and train with them. And then we’re going to start trialing for the boats that might go to the Olympics next year. I’ll apply to medical school next Spring.

This transcript has been lighted edited for length and clarity.