The UF concrete canoe team members messaged one another about their workouts every single day.
The messages kept one another motivated, said Tyler Mokris, the team’s construction and paddling captain. And their dedication paid off, as the team won the American Society of Civil Engineer’s national competition on June 22 at Clemson University, beating 21 other schools and winning a $5,000 scholarship.
The team’s 22-foot-long canoe is made out of a mixture of concrete and tiny glass beads, which ensures that it won’t sink. Members competed in five endurance races and were also judged on an oral presentation, a design paper and their canoe craftsmanship.
Over the course of the weekend, the team’s head captain, Danielle Kennedy, said members were working for 17 hours each day.
“It was a long day, every day,” the 22-year-old said.
They spent about 3,000 hours, or 125 full days, preparing for their competitions, including the regional competition they won in March.
The team practiced almost every weekend, Mokris said, and while they were apart, they reported their workouts through GroupMe.
Kennedy said their advisers, Robert Thieke and Christopher Ferraro, joined them at Clemson.
Thieke has advised the UF chapter for 23 years, and Kennedy said he told the team he’d been waiting that long to see them win nationals.
Next year’s team captains have been chosen, Mokris said, but he and Kennedy won’t be among them, as they graduated with degrees in civil engineering in May.
“There were some tears when we got back,” he said.
Kennedy said she was confident the team would place in the top five but didn’t expect to win the entire competition.
“I never thought we were going to get first place, even after they were saying ‘top five,’ ‘top four,’ ‘top three,’ ‘top two,’” she said. “I still didn’t think we won.”
Mokris said he agrees.
“We knew we worked really hard on it,” he said. “And at one point I was thinking, ‘there can’t be schools that are working harder than we’re working.’”
[A version of this story ran on page 4 on 6/29/15]
“We didn’t put ‘gator’ in the name of our boat this year, which they’ve done in the past,” said Tyler Mokris, the team’s construction and paddling captain. “So we just decided to put a gator straight in the boat.”