Olympia Area Rowing Produces Top Rowers


Olympia rowingStella Willoughby and Ashley Lane are tremendous, young athletes, but you won’t find them on the field or court. Their ‘playing field’ is on the water and the pair has been successful competing nationally.  In the spring, Willoughby and Lane raced their double scull in the USRowing Youth National Championships, placing fifth.  “When we qualified for Nationals, I did not know what to expect but it was cool to be around so many rowers and it really pumped us up to give it our all,” stated Lane.  “We set a goal to do our best and to beat a boat that had beaten us in the past.  We accomplished this goal!”

Housed at Swantown Marina, Olympia Area Rowing Association (OAR) consists of about 80 members ranging in age from 14 to over 80 years old.  Members compete in boats that vary in size from one to eight people.  The club provides professional coaching for both novice (new) rowers, junior (youth) and master (adult) rowers.  “OAR is people from all walks of life coming together with a commonality – a love for the outdoors, water, exercise, and the tranquility inherent in rowing,” said Bug Ruder, a master rower.

Some people find OAR through their annual free row day on the first Saturday of June each year.  Throughout the year, OAR offers classes to learn to row or scull.  During the class, participants learn technique from experienced rowers.  OAR’s junior rowing team, a year-round sport, is open to high school students.  Each practice includes an experienced rowing coach in a motor launch for teaching, encouragement, and safety.

Willoughby, a Capital High School graduate and freshman at Notre Dame, came to rowing after being recruited by a classmate.  “OAR’s Junior Team coaches focus on technique and endurance.  After listening to our Notre Dame coaches, I realize, even more, how valuable my OAR coaches were at preparing me for college level rowing,” commented Willoughby.

“Coaching fills me with joy,” states OAR coach Kiirsten Flynn.  “I love being able to hang out with athletes who work hard and who truly want to improve —and that can be improve as a person, improve their rowing stroke, improve their strength, improve as a team member.”

olympia rowing“Kids new to rowing do very well in OAR’s program because they are taught the basics right from the start.  It’s fun to be a parent supporting a kid in OAR’s program,” states parent Sue Hedrick who initially attended OAR’s free rowing day with her son who promptly joined the team.   Once her son graduated from high school and left the team, Hedrick took a class and now competes as a master rower herself.

Others find rowing after an injury or as an alternative to more mainstream, team sports.  “I played soccer for over 30 years.  I learned about rowing after talking to my physical therapist during treatment for an injury,” stated Hedrick.  Lane, an Olympia High School senior reported, “I played volleyball in middle school but when I entered high school I realized that to be competitive you have to spend thousands of dollars to play on club teams outside the regular school sport season.”

Alex Smith, a master women’s rower who has competed at Boston’s prestigious Head of the Charles regatta, prefers Olympia’s Budd Bay over Seattle.  “I’ve been back to row in Seattle.  It’s fun but crowded and on an industrial water way.  Here, we are rowing with herons, eagles, seals, and even a dolphin,” stated Smith.  “I row because it’s a great cardiovascular workout and an opportunity to be on the water with fresh air,” stated men’s master rower Scott Rowley.

Lane and Willoughby’s hard work has paid off.  Next year, Lane will row for the University of Tulsa.  “I encourage all young women to get involved and put some effort into rowing.  There are so many women’s rowing scholarships available, especially at big Midwestern colleges.  With huge football and basketball programs, Title IX requires colleges to be balanced with women’s sports,” commented Lane.  When describing her full scholarship to Notre Dame, Willoughby said, “I knew that paying for college would involve a sports scholarship but I never knew it would be from rowing.  When I went to Nationals as a junior high school student, I began to see that this dream would become a reality.  I will never take it for granted.”

olympia rowingAccording to Coach Flynn, rowing is the ultimate team sport. “No matter how you cut it, the boat cannot go, if all rowers aren’t there.  This is a time in a high school student’s life where what you look like and how you dress and what classes you are in determines much of how you go through life.  However, I think that rowing puts all this aside. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what you wear…you are all literally and figuratively in the same boat.”

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