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MIC alumna and Olympian Alie Rusher

Posted July 19, 2021


Music and sports have a lot in common. Both require discipline, persistence, patience, and commitment. Alie Rusher knows this first-hand. As a child, she spent 11 years studying Suzuki flute at the Music Institute of Chicago; continued through high school and college, when she also took up rowing; and, this summer, travels to Tokyo to compete on the women’s rowing team in the quadruple sculls at the Olympic Games this month.

Born and raised in Glenview, Illinois, Alie has followed in her family’s footsteps both in music and rowing. She studied Suzuki flute at the Music Institute with Emily Abraham (now Dean of the Community Music School) and Meret Bitticks. Her sister Kay studied Suzuki violin with Sarah Montzka, and her brother Nick studied Suzuki guitar with Milton Dixon, both at the Music Institute. As for rowing, both her parents are Olympic medalists, having competed in 1988 and 1992: father John Rusher earned Bronze in the Men’s 8 at the 1988 Games in Seoul, and mother Cindy won silver in the Women’s 4 at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. And Alie joined her sister Kay on the Stanford rowing team when both were students at the university.

Quoted on the website row2k, Rusher offered this advice about her sport: “It is a marathon, not a sprint. Just because you are not the best today does not mean you can't be the best tomorrow.”  

Her Suzuki flute instructor, Emily Abraham, verified that Rusher had this attitude from a very young age. “Alie began taking flute lessons with me when she was just five years old. I remember vividly that, despite frustration when she couldn't play something, she kept working at it and didn't give up. At one point she entered a flute competition and did not win a prize. Although very disheartened at first, she picked herself up and worked harder than ever—and received first place the following year. Alie's grit and determination, coupled with incredible support from her Olympian parents, has clearly served her well in rowing, too.”

Alie remembered her earliest interest in the flute. “Every time I heard the flute on the radio, I asked my mom what the sound was. I kept asking my parents if I could start playing once my sister starting taking violin lessons at the Music Institute. They originally thought five was too young for the commitment but decided that I could start, with the condition that if I complained about practice/playing, it was over!”  

She has vivid memories of her early experiences at the Music Institute. “I remember getting my paper-towel-roll flute, spitting rice off the back porch at my house, and sliding my foot on the folder we used to practice stance (it was absolutely covered in stickers by the end!). I also remember having to play the tricky parts 10 times perfectly before I could move on in a song. I was definitely inspired to practice every day so I could show up at my lessons prepared because Emily didn't let me cut any corners. It was the best feeling when I could easily play a complicated song from memory. I honestly believe that learning flute with Emily instilled in me the discipline that has been vital in my rowing journey!”

Alie continued playing flute when she entered high school, and she felt she had an edge thanks to her Music Institute studies. “I could read music much more easily than most of my fellow orchestra members, but performed better when I had the time to memorize a piece and use no sheet music. I knew how to practice effectively, so when the time came to play pieces at full speed, I was ready. The exercises I learned at the Music Institute were also very helpful in keeping my tone, double tonguing, and other technical aspects of my playing sharp.”

“Alie’s music education benefited her in many ways,” commented her mother, Cindy. “She learned that if you practice (and practice correctly!) every day, you will get better. Playing the flute is a happy place for her. When she gets stressed or feels overwhelmed, playing the flute helps calm her mind.”

Though clearly destined to row, given her family history, for Alie it truly was a personal choice. “The high school that I attended starting sophomore year (St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire) encouraged us to play a different sport each term. Volleyball had been my main sport for a while, but I tried rowing in the spring and felt like it clicked right away. I appreciated that the harder you worked, the more you got out of it.”

Alie can identify ways the discipline she needed to study the flute prepared her for competitive rowing. “Emily taught me from an early age that if you want to achieve something, you have to go through the process with diligence. That included proper warmup exercises, good posture, listening to experts play the songs, and practicing again and again and again until I could do it correctly every time. It took a lot of patience, and my tolerance built up over time! (There were a lot of angry tweets into my flute when I was younger.) Even though Emily was strict, I loved playing the flute, so she must have instilled an appreciation of the beauty of the final product as well. All these lessons easily apply to sports. I may take more steps than others that are pure racers to build top speed, but once I get there, my foundations are unshakable.”

As she looks ahead to the Olympic Games, Alie feels “excited and optimistic! We have two veteran rowers in the boat (Ellen Tomek raced in the 2008 and 2016 Olympics, and Meg O’Leary also raced in 2016) who have rowed together for a long time and have medaled in international regattas. My other boatmate Cicely Madden raced on the National Team in 2019, and we trained together this year in Boston. These three rowers are athletes that I've looked up to for a long time, and I couldn't be more thrilled to race with them. The USA quad placed 5th in the 2016 Rio Olympics and won bronze in London 2012, so we have a strong legacy that we'd love to build on!”

Her mother shares Alie’s excitement. “It’s amazing to see Alie follow in our footsteps to the Olympics! I know how hard it is to get there, and I am so proud of her for making it. She is one of the hardest-working people I know. She has earned her spot on the Olympic Rowing Team with hard work and perseverance and by never giving up.”



Families in Concert 2022

Save the date! Join MIC for a special scholarship and financial aid fundraising concert. Sunday, October 23 at 3 pm >>