A local rowing team that practices in Marina del Rey won a bronze medal at the 2019 US Rowing Youth National Championships held June 6-9 at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Florida.
Competition is intense with approximately 150 teams from all over the country competing in 18 boat classes.
The team was comprised of Michelle Drandell, Jessica Duckworth, Lydia Rosen of Manhattan Beach; Sarah Fry of Redondo Beach and Charley Griffiths of Malibu. They won their medal in the women’s youth 4+.
“I am beyond happy that I was able to end my high school rowing career on such a high note,” Duckworth said. “There is no way to describe how it felt crossing that finish line with my best friends knowing we had just earned that bronze medal. I will forever be proud to have been a member of this boat.”
Duckworth, Drandell and Rosen graduated Mira Costa High last week. Fry was a senior at Marymount and Griffiths a junior at The Archer School for Girls.
They are coached by Zohar Abramovtiz. Catherine Hamilton is an assistant coach.
“We had an outstanding work-up going into the regatta and then the girls put down three terrific races at the event,” Abramovitz said. “They prepared really well, maintained their focus and then executed when it counted. I could not be prouder and I’m so happy to see all that hard work pay off for them.”
The team is part of the Marine Aquatic Center (MAC) that is comprised of 20 different high schools around the Los Angeles area that trains in Marina del Rey. All of their competitions are held outside the area for the most part. The closest site is in Long Beach.
“When the race came down to seconds and fractions of seconds, I thought about the early mornings, long afternoons, and hours on end of training,” Rosen said. “It gave me the confidence that we were capable of getting on the podium, and we could do it together.”
The race, which was 2,000 meters in length, was won by a team from the Connecticut Boat Club in Norwalk, Connecticut in 7:00.809. Second went to Row America Rye from Rye, New York in 7:04.497. Marine Aquatic Center was timed in 7:07.657.
They set a record time for a Marine Aquatics Center crew in that event.
“Nationals was such an amazing experience, and I loved racing against the fastest crews in the country,” Drandell said. “I’ve learned that in order to compete at a high level, you must be willing to sacrifice things and be 100 percent dedicated, which is exactly what we did.”
The crew trained for several weeks leading up to nationals.
“The month between Southwest Regionals and Youth Nationals is when the training really gets tough,” Duckworth said. “We were training six days a week, three of which had two training sessions per day, all while still in school.”
She added, “On those two-session days, we would wake up at 4 a.m. and be on the water at 5 a.m. and then go to school at 8 a.m. We would go back to practice at 4 p.m. and then come home at 7:30 p.m. On the days we had one practice, it was at 4 p.m. on weekdays and at 7 a.m. on weekends.”
Duckworth said as a group they “were tired” but focused on “a common goal of success in our heads that we weren’t going to give up on. I’ve never been a part of a boat that was more motivated than this one.”
All of the participants are rowers except Griffiths, who is the coxswain.
“I think one of our biggest strengths as a boat is our shared commitment to put in our all, 100 percent of the time,” Fry said. “That was really what propelled our boat down the course at nationals.”
The team raced three times over the four-day racing period at nationals. It began with a practice day and racing began the next day, Thursday, with a time trial. The team was the fourth fastest.
They had Friday off and then returned in their semifinal on Saturday with a second-place finish behind the Connecticut Boat Club (CBC). Connecticut was timed in 7:02.670 and MAC came at 7:13.094.
That led up to the final race between six teams on Sunday that resulted in a bronze medal.
“We put out a hard fight against Connecticut Boat Club and Row America Rye but they were just a little bit faster,” Duckworth said. “Coming off the water with the knowledge our hard work had paid off was an amazing feeling and something that not a lot of junior rowers get to experience. We had a great race and there was nothing else we could have done to change the results.”
It was the first medal for a MAC team since 2012 showing the challenges of competing against the best rowing teams in the nation.
“It was a huge deal not only for us, but also our team as a whole,” Duckworth said. “We had tremendous amounts of support back home and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
Getting a medal meant so much to Duckworth.
“After having gone to nationals both my sophomore and junior year, finally getting on that podium my senior year was a special moment,” Duckworth said. “The memories I made in my four years at MAC will be carried with me throughout my life.”
Duckworth just started the sport as a freshman and now is “hooked” on it and she is not the only one.
“We will all miss MAC so much,” Fry said. “This has honestly been the best three years of my life, and I am so grateful to have found this amazing sport.”
Before they faced competition at nationals, they had to get through the competition in the Southwest Region, one of six regionals. That was held May 3-5 on Lake Natoma in Northern California. The top three finishers at each region move on to nationals.
All of the team except Griffiths, who has one more year of high school left, plans to continue rowing collegiately.
Duckworth is going to attend Dartmouth; Drandell is going to attend Columbia, Fry and Rosen will be attending Princeton.
“I am super excited to see what’s next,” Duckworth said.