Against The Flow: Humboldt State's Amelia Wagoner
Amelia Wagoner (middle) was among 161 student-athletes selected as conference finalists for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award and among 39 finalists from Division II.
Amelia Wagoner (middle) was among 161 student-athletes selected as conference finalists for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award and among 39 finalists from Division II.

Friday, August 28, 2020
by Kaho Akau, GNAC Media Relations Assistant

ARCATA, Calif. – Rowing wasn’t something that crossed Amelia Wagoner’s mind until she stepped foot on the Humboldt State campus.

From walking on as a freshman to becoming a four-year member of the Lumberjacks’ rowing program, Wagoner realized that being a Division II student-athlete was as fun as it was challenging. Rowing was a catalyst on her journey to becoming a leader.

Through nonstop activism on campus and in the community, Wagoner was selected as one of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s two conference finalists for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award, which recognizes graduating female student-athletes for their excellence in academics, athletics, community service and leadership.

“I would not have accomplished all of this without my family, coaches and teammates,” Wagoner said. “Being selected as a conference finalist shows the nature of our program and how it encourages women to use all of their talents to foster change.”

An Academic All-GNAC selection in the conference’s inaugural women’s rowing season, Wagoner was a member of the Humboldt State Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and, because of firsthand experience with sexual assault, she also joined the Sexual Assault Prevention Committee.

She received the Emerging Leaders of Courage Award from Equal Rights Advocates in 2019 for advocating for the passage of California Senate Bill 493, which will improve the procedures for sexual assault cases and provide Title IX staff with the strengthened training that is needed to protect sexual assault victims.

With a mission to ensure safe learning environments on college campuses, Wagoner promoted ENOUGH, a free legal aid hotline for sexual assault survivors, and spoke on a webinar to fellow college students in California to promote Bill 493. She shared her story with Ms. Magazine, the New York Times, PBS NewsHour and a case study for an upcoming book titled “CREDIBLE.”

“The example I hope to set is to not be afraid to use your voice,” she said. “Going against the flow can be scary, but being silent on issues affecting yourself or those around you is never going to bring change. Luckily, I had rowing to help me find my voice.”

The mindset that has made Wagoner passionate in activism and passionate about rowing go hand in hand. She explained that the mindset of a rower is to understand that rigorous training is required for a race that is just seven minutes long. Every day she got on the water with the team before sunrise, tore her hands apart on the oars and trained so intensely that her face often went numb and her legs felt like they were ripping.

“Then I would shower, eat breakfast and go to class knowing that I had already accomplished so much,” she said. “Rowing is the ultimate team sport. You can’t move the boat unless everyone is moving as one.”

A native of Coalinga, California, Wagoner graduated in May with a degree in history education and a minor in geography. In 2019, she was among the Lumberjacks who rowed in the varsity 8+ grand finals at the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association (WIRA) Championships on Lake Natoma near Sacramento.

“Amelia was an amazing force in her time on the team,” said assistant rowing coach Patrick Hyland, who served as the Lumberjacks’ interim head coach during the 2020 season. “She assumed her leadership roles as the team captain by tenaciously living her values. She set an example every day, consistently striving to be better on the water and in the classroom and empowering others to do the same.”

Following graduation, Wagoner joined an AmeriCorps program and packed her bags for Bowling Green, Kentucky, where she volunteers at a domestic violence shelter as an economic empowerment specialist. When she completes her service term, she plans to pursue a future in advocacy and obtain a master’s degree in social work or applied sociology.

When life continued to throw obstacles in Wagoner’s direction, she turned to the comfort of rowing and a strong support system. And although those people have helped her to stay the course, she has always been the ultimate coxswain in her life.

“Humboldt State is a place where I grew up a lot, faced a lot of challenges and met some of my favorite people,” she said. “I want to be remembered by my teammates as the fiercest competitor but also the first person to make them laugh when they needed it.”