Regatta competitors up to physical challenge

LANGLEY --- Rowing is not a sport for the faint of heart.


Augusta Youth Rowing coach Michael Cobb constantly tells his athletes that winning a 2,000-meter sprint, particularly for young rowers, can be just as much about "pain management" as strength and technique.

Cobb's team fell short of defending its team title at Saturday's Augusta Invitational Regatta, finishing third behind Palmetto Rowing Club, of Hilton Head Island, S.C., and Charlotte Rowing Club. North Carolina State's crew won the college title, followed by College of Charleston and Georgia State.

Because practices that begin well before sunrise and feature intense workouts are a staple of most rowing teams, the athletes at Langley Pond were generally in the minority among those who came out for their respective teams.

"People pop up (at practices) for like three days, and they're just gone," said Svan Valsson, a novice rower on the Georgia State club team.

Those who can handle the rigors of the sport are rewarded with improved discipline and an enhanced sense of responsibility. Valsson and his teammates, James Rigsby and Scott Belzer, agreed that even though they can't eat breakfast after practice without throwing up, it helps them get to early morning classes and have a more productive day.

Brandon Tylermock, a rower on the Augusta youth team from Evans High, said in order to develop the leg strength required for a race, they generally begin practices with a six-mile run.

"Running that six miles is like the first 500 strokes," he said.

Tylermock said his teammate, Tripp Stanton, might be the club's best rower. A junior at Lakeside High, Stanton said he quit football shortly after he started rowing four years ago. He's hoping to earn a scholarship and compete in college and beyond.

Rowing has a rich history in Augusta and at Langley Pond, where the U.S. Olympic team trained before winning a silver medal in Atlanta in 1996.

Augusta State's club team is in its first year after a six-year hiatus. Club president Clare Reeves said only three of the team's 13 members have previous rowing experience.

"I'm really excited about re-establishing it in a place that does have so much history," said Reeves, who is from Texas. "ASU used to have a team, and they used to win a lot, and then they just died off."

The club practices at 5 a.m. every day, although Reeves said practices will soon be a little later in hopes that the club can attract more rowers. They're not leading races just yet, but Emily Sosebee said they're having fun, and she's optimistic the team will restore its winning tradition.

As spectators and rowers watched boats cross the finish line and congregated among the tents and trailers Saturday, it was obvious that the time commitments and physical demands give rowers a sense of kinship. They take pride in their efforts, and few things irritate rowers more than people who mistake their sport for a certain leisure activity.

"I hate when people say canoeing instead of rowing," Belzer said.

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