Francesca Raggi helped lead the U.S. women’s eight crew to a second-place finish.
Halfway across the world, one local helped make a difference — a silver- and gold-medal-winning kind of difference.
It was in the city of Racice in the Czech Republic that Maitland native — and recent Winter Park High alum — Francesca Raggi found herself standing up on a podium with a silver medal wrapped around her neck.
Standing alongside her teammates, Raggi showed off a big grin as the U.S. women’s eight crew took home a second-place finish at the World Rowing Junior Championships.
Thanks to their medal, and the work of all the other boys and girls crews who raced, Raggi was able to help the United States do something it had never done before — win the overall medal count and take first place.
“It’s really inspiring to be around them, so getting to the Czech Republic, everyone was just so focused on their goal and everyone really worked together — especially in my boat,” Raggi said. “We really all pulled together to create such a good environment. We weren’t just teammates; we were all really good friends and took care of each other.”
The process of just getting to Worlds was a long haul in for Raggi and the other girls. To be selected, they first had to be invited to the U.S. Rowing Selection Camp in Connecticut, which only picks the top-60 rowers in the country. While there for two weeks, the athletes endured nonstop training and head-to-head competitions before being selected as the final 20 for the team.
Following the selection process, the team made its way to Princeton University, where it trained for one-and-a-half months.
It’s this constant work, team-building and past competition that Raggi said really helped the U.S. team flourish at this year’s Worlds.
“Last summer I raced in Trakai, Lithuania, but we got seventh, so we didn’t get a medal,” she said. “Having that experience going into this summer really helped kind of stress the team and boat dynamics that we wanted, and everyone has the same goal to medal at worlds.”
Before she was medaling in international competitions, the Maitland native was making a name for herself as one of the best rowers at Winter Park High.
In her freshman year at Winter Park, Raggi impressed Crew Coach Mike Vertullo so much he dedicated time to helping her with technique and other aspects of the sport — it’s ultimately what drove her to keep going.
“She was a great student-athlete,” said Vertullo, who has been the school’s crew coach for 20 years. “Making the varsity as a freshman — I think she was the fourth girl ever — was quite an accomplishment, and she has won three state titles, two national silver medals and (was) team captain her senior year.”
Along with her list of accolades as an athlete at Winter Park, Raggi also became the school’s first representative for the U.S. Team when she was selected last year.
Although this year’s competition will be the last year she will be eligible for the Under-19 championships, Raggi has a lot of rowing ahead of her. She joins the University of Texas’ rowing team this fall.