WINDERMERE — Shaula Rey likes a challenge.
The recently graduated alumna of Windermere Prep initially came to the campus after spending 10 years at Montverde Academy because she wanted the challenge of completing the school’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme — a rigorous and comprehensive pre-university program that spans two years.
As if that program wasn’t challenging enough, in the summer of 2014 — just ahead of her senior year — Rey decided she wanted to take things up a notch in crew.
Rey, who had been rowing for the Orlando Area Rowing Society in Windermere for just a year, went all out in her training that summer with the goal of rowing in college.
“(Shaula) told me, ‘I’m starting the IB program and, oh, by the way, I want to be a competitive rower’ — and I said, ‘It is going to be very, very difficult,’” said Kirsten Anderson, Rey’s coach at OARS and a teacher at Windermere Prep. “She kicked it in gear over the summer. She trained, she came back and within the first week of practice all of the girls are turning their heads at her, going, ‘Who is this kid?’ From there, she’s had a phenomenal year.”
Indeed, Shaula did exactly what she set out to do.
On May 23, Rey graduated from Windermere Prep in the top 10 in her class and she recently signed a National Letter of Intent with the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne to compete for the women’s rowing team.
Although there is still nationals to prepare for through OARS, walking across the stage of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando, Rey remembers feeling a unique sense of relief.
“I had complete relief — I just felt like I could breathe,” she said. “There were a lot of times, especially this year, where I felt like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ It was kind of just a relief off my shoulders.”
The relief likely came from not having to maintain a schedule that regularly kept the teen, who lives in Montverde with her family, busy from 6 a.m. until midnight most weekdays.
When Rey gave up swimming after eight years of competing, she might have chosen to go without a sport to have some downtime given her rigorous course load. But Rey’s mother, Norma Rey, said rowing provided an important outlet for her daughter as things got more chaotic.
“For her, this was pretty much her escape,” Norma Rey said. “Even though she’d get home (from practice) extremely tired … I think that was her escape. I think that actually brought her peace.”
Rey was introduced to rowing, in fact, through her mother.
Norma Rey had begun to row for the Lake County Rowing Association and raved about it to her daughter, whose interest grew. She started to go to her mother’s practices and learn the craft.
When Shaula decided to row for OARS, she was welcomed because of her natural abilities as an athlete. But she still had to master the intricacies of the sport, which took time.
“I was still kind of messing up the technique and stuff, so people got kind of frustrated — and I got frustrated with myself,” Shaula Rey said, noting that times like those were when she would lean on her parents. “(My parents) were just there for me to vent, which was really good, because it helped me to continue and just not give up.”
Despite her inexperience, Shaula decided to throw her name into the hat for captain before the current season started. Although most of her competition were teammates who had spent significantly longer rowing with the program, Shaula — who comes off as quiet — gave a speech that inspired her teammates.
“She definitely is a leader — she’s a very eloquent person,” Anderson said. “In the first week of fall practice, we vote for captains, and she gave this speech — this quiet Shaula that nobody ever expected — she gave this speech, and she’s one of our captains this year.”
Shaula is excited about heading to college at Florida Tech, where she will study the pre-med program in biology. The Windermere Prep alumna hopes to go into orthopedics as a doctor, where she hopes to combine her passion for science with her love for sports.
She’s also excited about getting to know her new teammates (and, not to mention, the school’s proximity to the beach).
“Knowing that I’m going to be going into it with a bunch of awesome athletes — we’re all in it to make the team better,” Shaula Rey said. “And it’s cool, because all of them are in crazy majors, like me.”
A crazy major to follow a crazy competitive program during high school — and, once again, rowing will serve as a method of keeping her on track.
“Rowing probably saved me from going insane,” Shaula Rey said frankly. “Not even just rowing itself, but not doing schoolwork and going for a run or going to the gym — doing something that relaxes you is beneficial.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].