Despite an athletic youth spent running and playing soccer, Hannah Huppi had never rowed before joining the Tulane University rowing team after moving to New Orleans in 2007. But, Huppi didn’t have to spend much time on the water before she realized she had found the sport that was an ideal fit for her.
“I like the fact that it combines a team sport with an individual aspect,” Huppi said. “You have to put all of yourself into a race, but if you’re rowing with multiple people, everyone has to function together as a team. It’s a super-rewarding experience. I also love that there are a lot of options with rowing. I’ve been on a big collegiate team and I’ve done single rowing in smaller boats. You can really choose what’s best for you and turn it into a lifelong sport.”
In more recent years, Huppi has become an elite coastal rower. She has competed for Team USA, winning a bronze medal at the Beach Spring World Championships and placing in the top 20 at two Coastal World Championships. In addition, she was named US Rowing’s 2021 Female Coastal Athlete of the Year.
Amid those successes, Huppi is perhaps most proud of the fact that she and her husband John, who serves as head coach of the Tulane University Rowing Association, are working together to teach others about rowing and create opportunities for them to be exposed to the sport. In 2015, they restarted the New Orleans Rowing Club, which had been dormant for the prior three years after the loss of its boathouse. Huppi also helped found the NORC’s junior rowing team in 2015, growing it to include more than 30 athletes from across New Orleans. In 2020, a scholarship fund was established to help give more youth access to rowing opportunities.
This year, that work expanded with the opening of ErgoFit inside a renovated historic property on Magazine Street in New Orleans. Huppi owns and operates the gym alongside her husband and another business partner, Jonathan DeJean. Classes combine indoor rowing, biking and skiing in an accessible format designed for people of all ages and fitness backgrounds.
“One of the main things we’re trying to do with ErgoFit is create more community access to rowing,” Huppi said. “We’re especially passionate about making sure we are giving that access to youth who might not otherwise have the opportunity to row. Everyone can have the potential to be a rower, so we want to identify youth who have that interest. At ErgoFit, we have a unique opportunity to do that. We’re working with schools and nonprofits around the city to get more kids in the door and give them structure and programming to help them develop into high-caliber rowers.”
Huppi’s passion for youth is also close to home. Her daughter Hazel, who turns four soon, is too little to row just yet, but she’s already getting close to the sport. She loves riding in the boat and watching it launch. Since Huppi does a lot of coastal rowing training in Mississippi, Hazel has become “a little beach bum” who loves to play in the sand while cheering on her mom and others as they practice.
Huppi said she’s heard other women express concerns that becoming a mom might diminish some of their competitive spirit, but her own experience has been completely different. In fact, since Hazel was born, Huppi said she thinks she’s become a better all-around athlete with a broader perspective on how to approach her sport.
“After Hazel was born, I realized I wasn’t done trying to pursue a competitive rowing career,” she said. “That’s actually when I got into coastal rowing and it’s been so cool to have her along for the ride with that. My husband and I both made the national team when she was one, which was fun and crazy and hard and showed me a lot about what I’m capable of from a physical standpoint. Everything I’ve done since then has opened my eyes to new possibilities.”
Those possibilities may now also include the Olympics. It was recently announced that coastal rowing, in the beach sprints format, will be included in the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Huppi said that as she calibrates her goals for 2024, trying for a spot on the U.S. team is under consideration.
Regardless of where her own rowing career takes her, Huppi said she won’t stray from her mission to support and educate others, especially fellow parents who are trying to balance motherhood and competitive athletics.
“One of the main things I’m working on now is trying to create a platform to support moms who are into rowing, whether they’re participating or coaching,” she said. “I’ve realized that there are not many resources out there. Women have a lot of questions when they’re planning for a family or after they’ve had a baby about how rowing can fit into their lives. I want to develop a place where they can get all of that kind of information and connect with other moms as well.”
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