Northwestern crew team to enforce mandatory swim test


Allie Goulding/Daily Senior Staffer

Mohammed Ramzan. The 19-year-old passed away April 10 after he accidentally drowned during a men’s crew team practice.

Erica Snow, Campus Editor

Following the accidental drowning of Weinberg freshman Mohammed Ramzan last spring, the Northwestern crew team will require swim tests for members, University spokesman Al Cubbage confirmed to The Daily on Thursday.

Ramzan told teammates he did not know how to swim, according to multiple interviews in an Illinois State Police report. Swimming was previously not a requirement to join the men’s crew team, according to a copy of the police report obtained by The Daily.

Ramzan, 19, went missing April 10 after falling off a nine-person shell during a NU men’s crew team practice on the North Shore Channel. He was ejected from the boat after his oar improperly struck the water, according to multiple interviews in the police report.

Cubbage told The Daily in an email that following the accident, the University’s Department of Athletics and Recreation reviewed the crew team’s safety practices “to ensure that the club uses best practices in protecting the safety and well-being of participants.”

“Northwestern Crew implemented a series of actions to further enhance the safety of participants, including additional training for team members and coaches, requiring members wishing to practice on water or compete at regattas to view safety videos and requiring members to pass a safety exam,” Cubbage said in the email. “Crew club members also are required to pass a swim test.”

Travis Hillier (Weinberg ’13), the varsity men’s coach, and a team member jumped in the water to try and save Ramzan, according to the police report. Hillier deferred comment to the University.

USRowing, the sport’s governing body, recommends but does not require member teams to enforce mandatory swim tests, spokeswoman Allison Mueller told The Daily.

“We strongly encourage and provide safety guidelines, a sample swim test and recommend that all rowers pass a swim test prior to engaging in any on-the-water activity,” Mueller said.

In past years, however, passing a swim test was a requirement for NU crew team members. Sei Unno (Weinberg ’16) said she had to tread water for about seven minutes in the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion pool before her first practice on the water.

Unno, who joined the team during the 2012-13 academic year, said she felt safe while on the crew team.

“It’s important to know how to handle yourself in the water somehow, whether that’s swimming or treading water,” Unno said. “(The swim test) was definitely a difficult task, and I don’t consider myself a good swimmer. So in the event that something would happen that I ended up in the water, I don’t know how I would’ve fared either.”

Leah Vinson (Weinberg ’16) said she took a swim test when she joined the team in the 2013-14 academic year. She said the swim test involved treading water for about five minutes in the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion pool.

She said because an ejection from a boat is so rare, even an experienced rower may not know what to do if they found themselves in the water.

“To me, it doesn’t seem like rowing requires all these safety measures,” Vinson said. “That being said, somebody died while rowing, so maybe it does, and maybe I’m wrong. It’s just, in my experience, I never felt unsafe.”

Morgan Jackson (Medill ’16) said she joined the crew team in the 2014-15 academic year, but did not have to take a swim test. However, she said it was recommended to team members.

Jackson said she doesn’t think swim tests should be required for the crew team. She added that bigger boats, like nine-person shells, are harder to flip.

“It’s pretty rare for rowers to be in the water, so I don’t think you need to know how to swim,” Jackson said. “It definitely can help because, you know, accidents happen.”

She said safety procedures were “pretty heavily drilled into” the team, with teammates and coaches helping each other. She said safety was “second nature” to the sport.

“We’re looking out for each other 100 percent all the time,” Jackson said. “I don’t think that (Ramzan) knowing how to swim would have prevented this freak accident from happening.”

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