Next week, 11 young rowers from Olympia Area Rowing will ship out to Sarasota, Florida, for the USRowing Youth National Championships.
For the past week, the athletes have been practicing on Budd Inlet twice a day, rowing an average of 20 miles.
“They’ve worked really hard, they’ve rowed really well,” coach Richard Hull said. “And they’re really excited to compete.”
Three boats qualified for nationals this year: Savannah Inglin and Willa Jeffers will row a women’s double; Jack Gerhard, Nick Taylor, Jeremy Sawyer and Ian Flynn-Thomas will row a lightweight men’s four with coxswain Maddy Cope; and Josh Katz, Noah Montz, Chris Hull and Johnathon Kneeland will row a men’s quad.
All of the young rowers attend either Capital, Olympia or Avanti high schools.
Kneeland said that because nationals are being held in Florida this year, the team has been practicing in warm clothing to simulate the heat.
“We’re putting in a lot of hard work getting ready,” Kneeland said. “And we’re wearing long sleeves.”
Flynn-Thomas, 16, said he’s nervous but confident about the upcoming competition, which will take place next Friday through Sunday. He’s rowed for two seasons, and this will be his first time traveling across the country for a sport.
“I think it’s going to be a great experience,” Flynn-Thomas said. “We’re definitely going to work really hard.”
His boatmate, 16-year-old Gerhard, said the rowers are focusing on their technique and teamwork.
The boat qualified for nationals the weekend of May 16-17 during the regional regatta in Vancouver, Washington, said Gerhard. The team hadn’t done as well in the previous regatta, so he was thrilled when they won and qualified for nationals.
Richard Hull said this is the first time Olympia Area Rowing has sent a boat with a coxswain to nationals.
Cope explained that it’s her job to make sure the rowers are working together, and that the boat is heading in the right direction.
“I do everything but make the boat move,” Cope said. “I’m like the captain of the ship.”
This year’s trip to nationals will mark another first for OAR: This is the first time the club will send three boats to the regatta.
“I think that shows how well we’re doing as a club,” Richard Hull said. “And all of these kids will come back with the experience and motivate the rest of the team.”
Olympia Area Rowing’s numbers have been climbing steadily in recent years. The club is composed of 50 junior rowers (aged 14 to 18) and about 100 masters, who are adults, Richard Hull said. About half of the masters competed as teens, but the rest picked up the sport as adults.
“I think the social aspect of the sport makes it fun for people of all ages,” Richard Hull said.
The club hosted a Learn to Row event on Saturday to introduce people to the sport and recruit new members. People were able to go out on the water with the club’s experienced rowers.
“Some people will decide to sign up,” Richard Hull said. “Others will say, ‘That was fun, but it’s not for me.’ ”