Elsa Couvillon on the water with her team. Courtesy photo

Finding her stroke: CCHS alum excels in crew and biology at UCLA

By Phoebe Mabuchi — Correspondent

A typical day for Elsa Couvillon begins at 4:50 a.m. when she makes her way to the marina for rowing practice while the rest of the UCLA campus is still asleep. Once the sun rises, Couvillon is already in her first lab. 

Couvillon, a UCLA senior from Concord, knew nothing about rowing upon setting foot on campus for the first time. She lost her first year on campus due to the pandemic, and she wanted to find an activity as a way to meet new people. 

She spent months training from scratch and eventually made the team in January of her sophomore year. 

This spring, the student who had never rowed before college became the Scholar-Athlete of The Year with a 4.0 in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. 

Unlike rowing, Couvillon was certain of her academic interests. 

After taking AP classes at CCHS and growing up spending summers on Cuttyhunk Island, she knew she wanted to study biology. Her passion only grew during her first year when she got recruited to join a lab doing research on climate change and studying brown algae. 

“I totally fell in love with anything molecular biology-related,” Couvillon said. 

Busy days and balance

Couvillon’s days are filled with hours of practice, training, labs, classes, and club activities. When she gets back home, she’s doing schoolwork. When she’s traveling for rowing competitions, and she’s not on the water, she can be found in the hotel lobby or on the bus or plane typing away on her laptop. 

She admits that balancing the intensity of class requirements along with rowing is hard, but to her, assignments aren’t a burden. 

“It’s been really challenging, and it’s been stressful at times,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I think I just really enjoy learning.” 

It’s “come at a cost, I guess you could say, but I wouldn’t change any of it,” she added. 

Elsa Couvillon practices on Ballona Creek in Marina del Rey, California.
Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics Photographer Don Liebig

After graduation, Couvillon said she planned to spend some time at home with her family before applying to research assistant jobs in Boston. Couvillon intends to go to graduate school but wants to take a couple of years to figure out what she specifically wants to do. 

Couvillon attributes some of her success in college to lessons she learned at CCHS. She commented on the academically rigorous environment at the high school and how it set her up for college in terms of study skills, essay formatting, and the ability to meet deadlines. 

“Being in college [made] me realize how grateful I am to have received the education and the level of intensity that I did get from CCHS,” Couvillon said. 

Lessons from home

More broadly, Couvillon values having a growth mindset, which she learned about and developed at CCHS. She is proud to have carried this into her four years at college, which translates into her grit and determination as an athlete and student. 

“I think CCHS just helped me feel like, ‘Okay, just because I’m struggling right now does not mean that I cannot understand this,’” she said. 

Overall, Couvillon said, what made her college experience so successful was her mindset, openness to new things, and the discovery of her passions. 

To anyone entering college, Couvillon would say, “It can be kind of scary, but put yourself out there… If you see an ad to join the rowing team, do it — just because, why not?”