Canby sophomore Bella Short's face lights up as she talks about rowing, especially as she looks to the future and her goals of competing in college and then the Olympics.
Three and a half years ago, those dreams seemed unimaginable.
Short was a three sport athlete — soccer, softball and basketball. But while playing first base for the Canby Rebels, Short collided with a runner and hit the back of her head on the ground, suffering a severe concussion.
The brain injury, her third in two years, kept Short out of school. She missed half of her seventh grade year.
"I was in a dark room," Short recalls. "I'd go to physical therapy three times a week at Providence Park for speech therapy and eye therapy."
Short was informed by doctors that her days of playing contact sports were over.
But it was also important, for her mental health as well as her physical, that Short stay active.
While Short says she considered picking up golf or archery, she was inspired by The Boys in the Boat, a book by Daniel James Brown that tells the story of nine Americans and their quest for gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
"My mom read that to me while I was out," Short says. "It really inspired me to go and try it (rowing)."
The summer before eighth grade, she attended a five-week learn to row camp at Rose City Rowing Club in Portland.
"I fell in love with it," Short says. "Something clicked with me and I knew this is what I wanted to do. It's an interesting sport. You've never really heard of it, but there was a bunch of people there."
She started with Lake Oswego Community Rowing before moving on to Rose City last spring.
"I really love the club," Short says. "It's a great club. It's very competitive, and it's been pushing me."
She practices six days a week, Monday through Friday for two and a half hours after school, and Saturday mornings for three hours at Rose City's boathouse, located downtown by OMSI.
Short participated in four 5,000-meter regattas (races) this fall, three on Vancouver Lake in Washington and one in San Diego at Mission Bay.
She mostly competes on a nine-person team with eight rowers and a coxswain that steers the boat.
"I'm a starboard so I row on the right side, explains Short, who sits in the middle of the boat in the third seat. "That's where you put your strongest and biggest people. You follow the eighth person. They set the rhythm and tone. You all have to be connected. You're like a big family. You trust everyone in the boat. Everyone plays a role."
In November, Short was selected to participate in the U.S. Rowing Youth Regional Challenge in Sarasota, Florida.
Representing the Northwest, she competed on a team against rowers from five other regions all over the country.
"It was really awesome," Short says." It was so fun competing and being with these girls that I'd never met before. It was an amazing experience. I learned a lot. It was really cool."
Last summer, Short also joined U.S. Rowing's Olympic Development Program. She spent three weeks in Ashland learning and introducing herself to coaches.
Kate Johnson, a silver medalist at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and three-time All-American at the University of Michigan, once competed for Rose City.
Short says college coaches routinely stop by Rose City's boathouse to meet with athletes.
"Coaches and scouts come to our practices," she says. Clemson, Stanford, Syracuse, Texas, schools from all over come watch the juniors and seniors row. Today a guy announced that he is going to Dartmouth and rowing there."
While Short is still a year away from being able to contact college coaches herself, she is interested in going to school somewhere on the east coast, where rowing is more popular.
She also has her sights set on competing in the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
"Rowing is a big part of my life," Short says. "It's a great sport. I've fallen in love with it. I can release all my anger out on the water. If I've had a bad day, I can get it all out on the water. It's a stress relief. The girls on my team, it's like a big family. It's meant a lot. I can't imagine doing any other sport now. I just love it so much."
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