WINDERMERE The spring season for the Orlando Area Rowing Society is heating up beginning this weekend and running through Nationals in June in Sarasota. For the Windermere-based program’s high-school seniors who are readying to go off to college and compete at that level, it is a bittersweet time knowing this is their last go-round with the program that molded them.
It is also a bittersweet time for the coaches who have become attached to the Class of 2017.
“They took us out on the water, and I realized, ‘This is something I want to do.'"
— Allyson George
“This group was a group that came in as part of a huge recruiting class,” said Kirsten Anderson, the director of rowing and girls head coach for OARS. “They are so much of a team and so much of a family and have supported each other. Usually, throughout the four years, you see kids trickle off — but we haven’t seen that as much.”
Three girls from that group already have signed to row in college, with six more who are undecided but closing in on a destination.
The three who are signed — Gabi Heard, Jaimie Armitage and Allyson George — each have a different tale of the OARS experience.
Heard, for instance, only has been competing since she was a sophomore.
“I’m from Windermere, and I’d always driven by the boathouse and seen the kids working out,” Heard said. “I wanted to know what it’s about, and I just came one day and tried it out.”
Soon, Heard flipped the switch from casual participant to dedicated athlete, and the reward has come in the form of a scholarship to row at Jacksonville University, where she will study elementary education.
“Her junior year, I could see a change in her — she just got on it,” Anderson said. “She just was totally immersed in the rowing world.”
Armitage, meanwhile, took up rowing as a freshman after first being a track and field athlete.
“I felt like (rowing) was just a really interesting sport,” Armitage said. “Other sports are very typical, but this one is different, and you’re on the water every day.”
It didn’t hurt that she was good at it, either.
“Jaimie is just a natural athlete,” Anderson said. “She catches on right away — early in her rowing, she was on the junior national team.”
Armitage was recruited heavily and ultimately settled on rowing for the University of Tennessee, where she plans to study to become a nutritionist.
As excited as she is to become a Volunteer, Armitage might consider sending a “thank you” card to George — who, as a friend of hers dating back to middle school, encouraged her to give OARS a try for more than two years.
“Allyson is one of three triplets and they loved it … the George Triplets have proven themselves to be not only great rowers, but also really good at recruiting,” Anderson said. “Allyson is one who is relentless and says, ‘You are coming.’”
That relentless attitude toward recruiting rowers has also translated onto the water.
“She has a great work ethic, and she just goes for it,” Anderson said.
“None of it has come easy to them. They’ve all put in significant training to get to where they’re at.”
— Kirsten Anderson, coach
George is headed to West Virginia University to row and will study art. Her final season with OARS harkens back to that first day she and siblings — Katie and Michael George — came out for a “Learn to Row” session.
“They took us out on the water, and I realized, ‘This is something I want to do,’” George said. “I remember it was flat waters and us just gliding across, and I was like, ‘This is really cool.’”
Allyson George’s sister, Katie, is among the six undecided who anticipate continuing their rowing careers. Katie George is leaning toward attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as is Jessica Meena. Caitlyn Pike is eyeing Louisville, Diana Perera is considering Embry Riddle, Nicole Abruzzo is exploring an opportunity with the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and Channon Brooks is being considered by Stetson.
Wherever they end up — and whatever comes next — these OARS seniors have a group of proud coaches rooting them on.
“None of it has come easy to them,” Anderson said. “They’ve all put in significant training to get to where they’re at.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].