Sabrina Batdorf of the Halifax Rowing Association is committed to Drexel
When Sabrina Batdorf was a child, she trained with a legendary figure skating coach named Ron Ludington.
Ludington won a bronze medal at the 1960 Olympics and has coached many top skaters and champions. When Batdorf started working with him, Ludington was in his 80s and could tell decades of stories. He had this saying, “When the door opens, be ready to run.”
And yes, you could say that Batdorf did just that.
COVID-19 closed the door to his competitive figure skating career, but he opened one for CrossFit, then another for rowing. Batdorf sprinted through both.
Last spring, she signed up for Drexel University in Philadelphia on a rowing scholarship less than four months after trying the sport for the first time.
“I’m always thrilled to see someone who is so new to the sport learn so quickly,” said Asiya Mahmud, Drexel’s associate head coach of rowing. “To see where she is now and where she can be is really cool. Just knowing where she could go in the next four years is really exciting.
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Now 18, Batdorf was born and raised in Newark, Delaware. She started figure skating at the age of 8 at the suggestion of her father, Ron. She hated it for the first few weeks.
“Eight years is very late,” Batdorf said. “Most people start at age 3. So everyone around me was around 3 years old and at the same level of talent as me. I already felt a little defeated at the start.
She was originally signed up for eight weeks and Ron told her to hold on. As she spent more time at the rink, she liked it more and more – and got better and better. She decided to commit herself fully.
“I was lucky to be in a place where there was so much skating and history,” Batdorf said. “It wasn’t difficult to find a good coach, good ice and there were a lot of opportunities just because of where I was.”
In 2016, Batdorf’s parents bought a house in Daytona Beach and enrolled her in Florida Virtual School. They kept their home in Delaware so Batdorf could bounce back and continue training at the University of Delaware’s High Performance Figure Skating Center.
At her peak, she practiced there from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. — with two one-hour breaks — five days a week. Ron estimated that there were an average of four Olympians with her every time she was on the ice.
Her last United States Figure Skating Association competition was in September 2019, when she placed sixth in the National Dance Solo Finals.
Then COVID-19 closed her regular Delaware rinks in March 2020. She returned to Daytona Beach, thinking the closure would only last two weeks.
The rinks only opened in the summer.
“It was like a real vacation for a good week and then I got so bored,” Batdorf said.
She took up golf. When that didn’t completely satisfy her, she started running five kilometers a day.
“And I hate running,” she laughs. “So when I started running, everyone was like, ‘Something is definitely wrong. ”
In July, Batdorf resumed skating at Daytona Ice Arena.
She went back to Delaware on and off — she still gets her skates sharpened by a guy there — but it wasn’t the same due to COVID regulations. The facilities required masks, limited interactions with coaches and other female competitors, and did not allow her to hang out on the rink when she was not practicing. It was enter, skate, leave.
“It wasn’t that experience of looking at your friends and making it a full experience,” Batdorf said.
She briefly tried to emulate her training in Delaware at a location in Fort Myers, but that didn’t last either.
In the meantime, she skated at Daytona Beach when she could and kept fit in the gym. She used to go to a CrossFit gym in Delaware, but she never did CrossFit-style workouts. She had a personal trainer and focused on lifting.
In November 2020, her mother, Samantha, who is a CrossFit enthusiast, convinced Batdorf to join her in a CrossFit class. It took a lot of persuading.
“She’s very, very competitive every day,” Batdorf said of her mother. “Even this morning I was training with her and she got so mad because I beat her like a trick or something. We’re both very competitive and I didn’t want to open that door.
Batdorf quickly got hooked too. She needed an outlet. She and her mother now go there seven days a week.
“CrossFit is very competitive, and I’m a very competitive person,” Batdorf said. “It was really what I needed at the time.”
At the gym last December, she met Becca McBride, a former rower from Embry-Riddle.
“A complete stranger, she approached me and said, ‘Are you a rower? You would be a fantastic rower,” Batdorf said of McBride.
Rowing, in addition to being a water sport, is a popular CrossFit machine workout. Batdorf had only practiced a few times.
McBride pestered her about it, even trying to convince Batdorf’s parents of her rowing potential, and called a coach in Embry-Riddle to tell him about Batdorf.
Batdorf was not interested in rowing at first. Then, she discovered that there was money for studies in sport. Embry-Riddle’s coach showed her around the college and referred her to the Halifax Rowing Association. She joined the club in January.
In their first practice, the team ran a 2K test, which gauges how fast someone can row 2,000 meters on a rowing machine. As a rookie, Batdorf was placed in the slowest group. She finished in seven minutes and 54 seconds.
“Someone asked me why I quit,” Batdorf said. “I told them that I had finished it. They were like, ‘Did you finish it? In less than eight minutes, you finished it? Everyone was shocked. Guess the sub-eight was really good for a first down.
She created a profile on a website called BeRecruited and posted her 2K time. Within a month or two, colleges contacted her and expressed their interest.
Batdorf trained five days a week with the club and used the gym’s rowing machine on her two days off. She also participated in a few water regattas, but she didn’t do as well as she would have liked because she was so new.
“I was so nervous they were going to watch me row through the water and say, ‘You’re horrible,'” Batdorf said. “They didn’t care.”
Mahmud added: “There are many colleges that are looking for people who have no experience. But Sabrina, having competed in skating for so long, has developed an understanding of the sport and how to be an athlete. It goes with you.
She took offers from schools like La Salle, St. Joseph’s and Stetson and narrowed it down to six universities — three in Florida and three up north. By far his favorite was Drexel, but he also boasted the lowest bid.
A few days before the May 1 commitment deadline, Ron and Samantha said that Batdorf Drexel was too expensive. It was not feasible without a larger scholarship, so she had to choose another school.
“I was very upset,” Batdorf said.
The next day, she decided to take her anger out on CrossFit.
“I went so hard in the gym,” Batdorf said. “Harder than I normally do.”
Then she had a skating lesson and did rehearsal after rehearsal.
And then she trained in rowing. She had planned to sit down. She hadn’t eaten all day and wasn’t feeling well.
His coach had other ideas.
“Coach was like, ‘Test 2K! Last one for the season! Do it really well!’” Batdorf said.
And she did.
She clocked a time of seven minutes and 38 seconds, beating her previous record by 10 seconds and breaking the club record.
Immediately, she called her father. He told her to take a picture of the score and text it to the coaches at Drexel, and they responded immediately, requesting a phone call at 7 p.m. that same evening.
Batdorf finished practice at 6:30 a.m., drove home 20 minutes, and jumped on the call. Drexel offered more money and she committed right on the deadline.
“It’s almost like God came down and said we were going to have a test today and you’d be fine,” Ron said.
Batdorf hasn’t rowed with Halifax since the end of the spring season, but she has continued to row. Drexel’s coaches told her not to go back in the water because they didn’t want her to develop any bad habits before she arrived on campus. The first Drexel able to hold team workouts is September 9th.
She continues to skate daily at Daytona Ice Arena. Depending on her schedule as a biology major and member of the rowing team, she may not be able or allowed to do this regularly for much longer.
But then again, over the next four years, who knows which doors will close?