Above: Race against Cornell at the Ivy League Invite in Princeton. Willner is pictured left, in headband and glasses.

Hayley Willner ’22 is a Women’s Crew team member majoring in environment and sustainability with a minor in psychology. Rowing gets the Northern California native outside, combining her two passions of athletics and the environment. A unique partnership with Columbia University allows rowers like Willner to compete in NCAA Division I athletics. This arrangement, which was established in 1983 through the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium, makes Barnard the only women’s college whose students compete in D-I tournaments, via the Ivy League Athletic Conference

Willner navigates the intensity of her Barnard academics and the pressing schedule of her sport with the backing of her peers, whom Willner described as “one big, wild, family” that never fails to make her laugh, even after a long day of training. After Barnard, Willner hopes to work in sustainable business and help combat climate change. Learn more about Willner in this “Barnard’s Got Game” Q&A.

What attracted you to major in environment and sustainability and minor in psychology?

I spent basically my whole childhood and countless summers outside, so protecting our natural environment is incredibly important to me. I am interested in working in sustainable business and focusing on making the systems and institutions inherent in our capital-driven society environmentally friendly.

How does being an athlete inform your college experience? 

Being an athlete at Barnard is a special and unique position to be in as there aren’t that many of us. It is super awesome to be able to represent Barnard — and Columbia — on the water. Rowing for Columbia has introduced me to an amazing set of coaches and teammates who really form my main support system here. For me, the women I row with are the best part. We are all like one big, wild, family — they never fail to make me laugh even after a long day of training. In addition, rowing gives me a set schedule and a chance to get outside, even if we just go to our training site in New Jersey. On top of that, it helps me keep a balanced schedule and stay on top of work! 

Hayley Willner Rowing
Willner’s first fall race as a freshman, at Princeton, seated 7 (headband and glasses)

How were you introduced to the crew? What’s your origin story behind becoming a rower? 

I come from an entire family of rowers. My mom rowed throughout college at Wesleyan, as did my dad, and she continues to compete nationally today. My brother started rowing at the Marin Rowing Association, which inspired my mom to pick the sport back up 20 years later.  Through them, I started rowing when I was a freshman in high school and have continued to love rowing through today. 

What do you enjoy doing outside of crew and classes, and how do you balance academics and athletics

When I’m not rowing, I am usually cooking, studying, working at Dodge [Hall, at Columbia], or hanging out with my awesome suitemates. I danced throughout high school and have really enjoyed taking some modern classes at Barnard.

The balance between academics and athletics has always been very important to me. Training competitively in high school definitely gave me a good foundation on how to balance all of my commitments. As counterintuitive as this sounds, the more intense training schedule we have, the better I am at staying on top of my work. With limited free time and a need to get up early, rowing helps me use my off-time well. Rowing also gives me a nice opportunity to get out of my head and focus on the workout instead of stressing about what I have to do that day.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I am not sure exactly what I will be doing, but I hope to be working in sustainable business and helping to combat climate change. I would love to spend a little more time in New York before making my way back to the West Coast!

Hayley Willner '22
Willner racing, spring 2019


For more resources, visit the Francine A. LeFrak Foundation Center for Well-Being, Barnard’s new centralized hub for all wellness-related initiatives across campus. The Francine LeFrak Center supports the entire College community with a 360-degree perspective of personal well-being: physical, mental, and financial.



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