All in the same boat: Rowers at OARS are one big family

At the Orlando Area Rowing Society in Windermere, local high-school rowers develop their abilities and build friendships.

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  • | 10:39 a.m. April 3, 2019
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It’s 4 p.m., and the weather in Windermere seems perfect.

The sun above is warm, and the temperature is sitting around the mid- to upper-70s with a strong breeze blowing.

It’s the kind of weather that goes well with a nice walk or picnic, but for the rowers at the Orlando Area Rowing Society looking to get out onto the water, it’s not totally ideal. 

The winds that were brought in by a small cold front have made getting their boats into the water a no-go, leaving them to work out with the rowing machines in the OARS facility.

Although they would rather be out on the water, just being around one another is enough.

“I think everyone can agree that coming here is like coming to your second family — it’s basically like a second home,” said Samantha Clayborn, 17, who attends Windermere High. “School, your house and here is where you spend your most time — at least it is for me — but coming here is like being with my sisters and sometimes my brothers, and the coaches are like my parents. There’s disagreements, there’s great times, there’s terrible times, but ultimately it’s a lot of fun, and it’s a lot of family.”

The concept of family is an important one for the rowers at OARS, because for many, it’s directly related to how they got into the sport in the first place.

In Clayborn’s case, it was her sister who first introduced her to the sport, just as others such as Geoffrey Miller, 16, and Meagan Goldsmith, 15, were inspired by their siblings. So to call it a sport of family tradition is fitting.

And just like any family with siblings, there’s always that competitive push to be better, which in turn helps build relationships.

“The coolest part about being a member of the OARS team, for sure, has been the relationships that I’ve built out of it,” said Samantha Sizelove, 17, a student at West Orange High. “It’s definitely a whole different atmosphere here — everyone is just all for the same thing; we all have the same goal. It’s a huge team (and) everyone motivates each other, and I think it’s — for everyone — just like an outlet that’s different than everything else in our lives and gives us something that we can push ourselves to get better at.”

Getting better at a sport such as rowing is way more difficult than someone who doesn’t know might realize.

Sure, you’ll see the rowing machines in the gym that people use, but the routine of prepping for and rowing a race requires high degrees of endurance, physical and mental strength, coordination and an athlete’s drive to win.

In the case of Betsy McFarland, 15, it’s going to practice six days a week for two-and-one-half to four hours per session. And that’s just practice, which doesn’t include watching film on professional rowers or juggling school and life in general.

All that hard work and effort is then put forward to the regattas, which require their own preparation.

“Usually the night before a race, we are still at practice and putting away boats on the trailer and getting ready to have everything set for the people who transfer the boats to the race,” said McFarland, a student at Legacy Charter. “Whenever I get home, though, I like to drink a lot of water — half a gallon to a gallon — and then stretch and eat whatever my mom made, and then go to sleep really early.

“I always get nervous the night before the race, so it’s hard for me to sleep sometimes, so I watch recordings from really good national teams and college teams,” she said. “Those usually help a lot, because you have to find what motivates you.”

“I think everyone can agree that coming here is like coming to your second family — it’s basically like a second home.” 

— Samantha Clayborn

While McFarland has her approach, Miller does his own thing — which includes starting preparation a week before the regatta. He has the same plan of drinking a lot of water and taking it easy before a race, but on race day, his method is unique. While many stay quiet, he goes into full frenzy mode.

“At the starting line, I tend to be as intimidating as I can toward the other teams,” said Miller, a student at Olympia High. “I start stretching by waving my arms around and trying to look like a mad man, and the reason why is it motivates me — truly.

“Sometimes during the races, I can motivate my other teammates by yelling, and it really helps,” he said. “It’s so fun — to be honest, that’s my favorite part.”

Each individual rower has his or her own “thing” that helps motivate them through their races and practices, but at the end of the day, the athletes always have the same goal — to enjoy themselves and bring home the “W.”

Whether that win is done with the arm-waving lunacy of a mad man or with a more controlled and subtle approach, the rowers at OARS don’t care. And winning in rowing requires teamwork and concentration — something Goldsmith said was her favorite aspect about her sport.

“I really like rowing, because everyone has to connect with each other somehow,” said Goldsmith, who attends West Orange High. “You’re not focusing on the outside world — you’re just focusing inside the boat, and what it feels like, how to make it better, how to make it faster and how to win. Just having a common goal just really gathers everyone together to think the same, and I think that’s really cool.”


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