Sports Feature: Rowing

Local rowers race for gold at US Rowing Masters Nationals
      The sun is starting to melt away the darkness when a splash echoes across the water.
      “Oars out,” calls a voice. “One foot up and in.  Push out.”
      It’s just past 6 a.m. as the first rowing shell glides out for an early morning practice.  Except these aren’t kids in rowing shells, but adults, heading out to row six to nine miles before work. The eight adult rowers, all members of Sarasota County Rowing Club (SCRC), are training to compete at US Rowing Masters Nationals, hosted at Nathan Benderson Park from August 15-18.
      Teams competing in the regatta hail from around the nation, as far as the Pacific Northwest, to compete against the best.  Sixteen members of Sarasota County Rowing Club have been training for over a year for the opportunity to represent Sarasota rowing at its finest.
      “I’m very excited to compete on home turf in what will be premiere facility in North America. It will be fantastic to compete and go home to my own bed,” said Karen Wiegandt, SCRC rower.
     The Masters Championships rotate each year to a different region in the United States. Coach Joe Dobson, a SCRC member, has been coaching and rowing for 52 years, but this will be his first Masters Nationals competition.
     “Masters Rowing is old people trying to go fast,” quipped Dobson.  US Rowing defines a Master rower as anyone, male or female, over the age of 23.  Members representing Sarasota County Rowing Club at Benderson Park range in age from 29 to 66. 
     At Masters regattas, races are combinations of rowers by number, gender, sculling or sweeping, and age.  For example, Dobson is competing Sunday in the Mixed 8+ E, a boat with a coxswain, four female and four male rowers with an average age of 56.
     Wiegandt has raced at Masters Nationals before and won gold and silver in the Women’s 8+, a boat made of eight women and a coxswain to steer and encourage the crew.  The boat will compete in the “C” category on Saturday.
     “It’s been one year of focused training on and off the water.  I have water team practices 2-3 times a week, weight lifting six times week, plus cross training,” said Wiegandt, who will compete in six events during the four-day regatta.  
The training hasn’t always been easy.
      “Getting people together to actually practice with the race line up can be challenging,” says Dobson.  “It’s about developing teamwork as a crew and significantly increasing speed through common technique.”
     As adults, competitive rowers juggle careers and families, meaning practice is often at 5:45 a.m. and held regardless of the weather conditions. Crews often navigate the Intercoastal waterway in complete darkness. 
     For Wiegandt, Dobson, and other members of SCRC, they hope to turn those early practices into wins for Sarasota at Benderson Park. 
     “Having Masters Nationals here allow the world to see Sarasota as a sporting destination and showcase us as a place to live and row,” Wiegandt says about Sarasota hosting the event.
     Dobson agrees. “This is recognition of what we have done to become the best rowing venue in North America. It’s a chance to practice using the venue before the 2017 World Championships.”
     SCRC members will compete in nine events over four days of racing.  They will also be rowing a Women’s 8+ composite boat with Sarasota Crew, also representing Sarasota area rowing at US Rowing Masters Nationals.
     Sarasota County Rowing Club is situated at Blackburn Point Park in Osprey.  The club is for adults over 23 interested in recreational or competitive rowing.  Learn-to-row classes are held several times a year.  For more information, contact membership@sarasotarowing.com or visit http://www.sarasotarowing.com.

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