Seven young rowers participate in Youth Challenge in Florida in late September

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Aiden Susak (blue baseball cap), Will La Fond (white backwards cap) and Adrian Edwards (second from right) race to the finish in one of two Northwest mens eights in the Youth Regional Challenge that was part of the 2017 FISA World Rowing Championships in Sarasota, Florida in late September.Competing in sweltering conditions in a region still recovering from Hurricane Irma, seven Lake Oswego athletes showed off their rowing skills with some of the top rowers in the world looking on in late September.

Lake Oswego athletes Abigail Brown, Alex and Adrian Edwards, and Will and Ben LaFond, Aidan Susak and Nicole Gooding were all chosen to represent the Northwest region in the Youth Regional Challenge that was part of the 2017 FISA World Rowing Championships in Sarasota, Florida. Brown, the Edwards siblings and the LaFond brothers row for Lake Oswego Community Rowing, while Susak and Gooding row for Rose City Rowing Club.

With the World Rowing Championships in the United States for the first time in more than 20 years, USRowing — the national governing body for the sport in the United States — used this opportunity to bring together 312 top youth athletes for what it called "friendly yet high-level competition" between the six USRowing regions.

"I'm very pleased that these athletes had this opportunity to go to Sarasota and see the top rowers in the world train and compete," said Todd Vogt, Head Coach and Executive Director for Lake Oswego Community Rowing. "Hopefully, this will inspire these young athletes to train hard and set ambitious goals."

The event not only gave the youths a chance to row with athletes they normally compete against, it allowed them to see a World Championship regatta up close, so close that they actually raced on the same 2,000-meter course where the World Championship athletes were preparing to compete. SUBMITTED PHOTO - Representing Lake Oswego Community Rowing in the Youth Regional Challenge were (left to right) Will LaFond, Ben LaFond, Adrian Edwards, Abigail Brown and Alex Edwards. Will, Ben, Adrian and Abigail attend Lake Oswego High School, while Alex attends Lake Oswego Junior High.

"It was amazing to watch the international athletes, even during their practice sessions," said Alex Edwards, an eighth-grader at Lake Oswego Junior High. "And it was a bit terrifying knowing that they — and their coaches — were going to see us during our races."

The rowers arrived in Sarasota on Sept. 21 and the coaches for the Northwest team, led by Caitlin McClain of Holy Names Academy in Seattle and Nick Haley of Rose City Rowing Club, had less than two days to meet the athletes and decide who was going to race in which boats. Normally, coaches spend weeks evaluating athlete performance and refining lineups in each boat in preparation for a race. Since the Northwest rowers came from more than a dozen different schools and clubs across Oregon and Washington, the team had to wait until they all arrived in Sarasota before they could meet each other and row together for the first time.

Each of the six USRowing regions – Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic – organized their athletes to row in men's and women's eights, and men's and women's quadruple sculls. An "eight" holds eight rowers using one oar each with a coxswain who sits in the stern of the boat. A quadruple scull, or "quad," holds four rowers using two oars each.

The 52 rowers from each region raced each other on Sept. 23 in a series of side-by-side heats across six lanes. The top three boats from each heat qualified for the "A" final on Sunday, with the rest going on to race in the "B" final.

In the end, though, the race results were less important than the memories that these young rowers took with them, and the friendships they forged in such a short time. The next time many of these Lake Oswego rowers line up at the starting gate, some of their Northwest teammates might be racing against them, but off the water, there will be camaraderie and shared experiences that will last a lifetime.

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