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Olympic and Paralympic Dreams Come True Sunday in Sarasota

by Story and Photos by Ed Moran, ed@usrowing.org | Apr 24, 2016
The dream to represent the United States on the world’s biggest stage comes at different times for every athlete. Some remember having the thought of being an Olympian or Paralympian as their rowing careers progressed from one level to the next.
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lw2xSARASOTA, Fla. –
The dream to represent the United States on the world’s biggest stage comes at different times for every athlete. Some remember having the thought of being an Olympian or Paralympian as their rowing careers progressed from one level to the next.

“I remember making my first junior team,” said Andrew Campbell, Jr. (New Canaan, Conn.). “I thought, 'I just did this. Why stop here?'”

For others, it came when adversity knocked them down. Devery Karz (Park City, Utah) knew she wanted it after falling and breaking her arm in 2011.

“I thought, ‘that’s it. My rowing career is over,’" Karz said. “But then I moved to China, and I watched the 2012 Olympics and said to myself, ‘this is not over.' I got right back into the boat and had a bunch of days of just getting my butt handed to me over and over again. Now, the dream is back.”

blake2Arms and shoulders men’s single sculler Blake Haxton (Columbus, Ohio) needed three full years to think about rowing again after losing both legs to an infection commonly know as the flesh-eating disease when he was a teenager. “I didn’t even want to think about rowing,” Haxton said. “I was thinking more about just trying to get on with my life in whatever way I could.”

And then he was lured back to help coach his high school team, started erging on an adaptive seat, made the 2014 U.S. national team and set his next goal on Rio. But still, he said he “refused to think about it.”
 
Sunday morning at Nathan Benderson Park, under a blazing blue Florida sky and on flat, still water, all of those dreams came true.

Campbell, Karz and Haxton won their trials events at the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Team Trials – Rowing and earned a place on the team that will represent the U.S. in Rio, pending United States Olympic Committee approval.

amw1xEarning a Paralympic bid, in addition to Haxton, was arms and shoulders women’s single sculler Jacqui Kapinowski (Tequesta, Fla.).

Karz and her teammate Kate Bertko (Oakland, Calif.) won the lightweight women’s double sculls. London Olympian Gevvie Stone (Newton, Mass.) won in the women’s single sculls and Beijing Olympian Ellen Tomek (Flushing, Mich.) and Meghan O’Leary (Baton Rouge, La.) earned their Rio Olympic berth in the women’s double sculls.

Campbell and Joshua Konieczny (Millbury, Ohio) won in the lightweight men’s double sculls.

In events not yet qualified for Rio, two-time Olympian Ken Jurkowski (New Fairfield, Conn.) won the men’s single sculls and Craftsbury Sculling Center’s Willy Cowles (Farmington, Conn.) and Stephen Whelpley (Mequon, Wis.) won the men’s double sculls.

Both crews, along with the men’s quadruple sculls from Craftsbury Sculling Center - Ben Davison (Inverness, Fla.), Ben Dann (Pound Ridge, N.Y.), John Graves (Cincinnati, Ohio) and 2012 Olympian Peter Graves (Cincinnati, Ohio.) - that won their event Tuesday, will race next month at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland to earn a place at the Olympic Games.

In addition to winning here, all of the top-placing crews took home cash awards donated by private sponsors in partnership with USRowing.

Qualified Paralympic and Olympic Events

Men’s and Women’s Arms and Shoulders Single Sculls
Sponsored by Resolute Racing & Michael Joukowski

Both competitors entered in the event went to the start line together, but were separated quickly when Haxton, who has been the U.S. national team athlete for the past two years, rowed away from Robbie Blevins (Oklahoma City, Okla.). Haxton built on his lead across the 1,000-meter course, finishing in 4:57.56 over Blevins, who crossed in 5:42.15.

“I never thought I would be here,” Haxton said. “I dismissed those who said I could do it. I refused to think about it. That’s where trust comes in. That’s where the faith comes in.”

In the women’s arms and shoulders single sculls, Kapinowski also built an early lead over Community Rowing, Inc.’s Katelynne Steinke (East Falmouth, Mass.) and won in 6:15.91. Steinke finished in 6:31.52.

“When I heard that buzzer, I immediately thought, ‘oh my gosh. It's over. I won, and I get to represent the United States of America.' It does not get better than that.”

Women’s Single Sculls 
Sponsored by Wyc Grousbeck

w1xThroughout the week, the four finalists in the women’s single rowed fast times and competed to fill the spot Stone qualified at the 2015 World Rowing Championships. Stone entered the regatta as the perceived favorite after finishing fourth at worlds, and in the first quarter of the race, she answered, taking the lead and holding to finish first in 7:51.57.

Seven-time national team member Stesha Carle (Long Beach, Calif.) finished second in 7:58.59, and Vesper Boat Club’s Beijing Olympian Lindsay Meyer (Seattle, Wash.) was third in 8:06.71.

Stone, whose first Olympic dream was achieved in 2012 when she won trials over Meyer and then qualified the boat in Lucerne, said this regatta felt very different than her first trials.

“Four years ago, I didn’t have as much of a target on my back,” she said. “Lindsay and I were on pretty even terms. This was definitely a thrill winning. When you’re the favorite, it’s definitely a thrill, but there is also a sigh of relief. You got the job done. If I hadn’t, it would have been a real disappointment to myself.”

Women’s Double Sculls
Sponsored by Benderson Development Corp

w2xLike Stone in the single, the composite women’s double sculls from New York Athletic Club and USRowing Olympic Training Center – Oklahoma City of Tomek and O’Leary were favored after representing the U.S. in the event at world championships for the past three years.

They did not disappoint, winning in 7:09.11. Vesper’s Mary Jones (Huntsville, Ala.) and Nicole Ritchie (Dummerston, Vt.) were second in 7:21.27, and Riverside Boat Club’s Molly Hamrick (Tampa, Fla.) and Keziah Beall (Bainbridge Island, Wash.) were third in 7:30.36.

“This is all high risk, high reward,” O’Leary said. “It is risky to put all the chips in, but the outcome can be all the greater. I think that is what we did well here today. We made the gamble. We thought we had something good and decided to stick together and build the boat and make the adjustments we needed to make over the past few years.”

Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls
Sponsored by Wyc Grousebeck

lm2xCampbell knows the heartbreak of coming close to fulfilling an Olympic dream and then losing it. He won Olympic trials in the event four years ago, but the boat class was not yet qualified. His dreams were squashed at the final qualification regatta.

He did not let that happen again. With the boat qualified, the final task was completed Sunday.

"It feels so good to put a seal on it," said Campbell. "We've been rowing well together for the last year and a half and to finally see all that work come to a conclusion in this chapter is very rewarding."

Campbell and Konieczny, his Cambridge Boat Club partner, won in 6:32.86. Austin Meyer (Cohoes, N.Y.) and Nick Trojan (Los Alamitos, Calif.) were second in 6:37.14. Malta Boat Club’s Colin Ethridge (Laytonsville, Md.) and Matt O'Leary (Westwood, Mass.) finished third in 6:52.61.

Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls
Sponsored by Benderson Development Corp

Bertko and Karz took control of their race in the first 500 meters and finished first in 7:18.50. Riverside’s Erin Roberts (Fogelsville, Pa.) and Hillary Saeger (Dedham, Mass.) crossed second in 7:30.42, and local Sarasota favorites Monica Whitehouse (Big Bend, Wis.) and Rosa Kemp (Putnam Valley, N.Y.) were third in 7:31.61.

"We are just pushing each other to the max, every day was a seat race for someone’s throat," Karz said. "Without all five us,  we would have never had this happen.  It takes a team to make a good boat."

Non-Qualified Olympic Events

Men’s Single Sculls
Sponsored by the Taaffe Family

jurkoTwo-time Olympian Jurkowski was in a tight crowd through most of the first half of the race, but pushed into first and won in 7:20.31. Jurkowski appeared to be sitting comfortably until Craftsbury’s Tom Graves (Cincinnati, Ohio) made a sprint through the closing buoys.

Jurkowski answered and held on. Graves was second in 7:21.62. Greg Ansolabehere (Bakersfield, Calif.) was third in 7:30.31.

“The competition has been good. My competitors were great racers, and it is always a blessing to have the opportunity to represent the United States on this level,” Jurkowski said.

“This is a multi-step process. It is a matter of being well prepared. Everybody talks about (the Lucerne regatta) in fear with this term, ‘regatta of death.’ I think that is silly. I look at it as an opportunity to make the team. I prefer to look at it as 'the regatta of opportunity.'”

Men’s Double Sculls
Sponsored by John Chatzky

m2xCraftsbury’s men’s double of Cowles and Whelpley rowed into the lead in the first 500 meters and won its event in 6:38.83.

Vesper Boat Club’s Lenny Futterman (New York, N.Y.) and Jonathan Kirkegaard (Philadelphia, Pa.) were second in 6:56.41. Los Angeles Rowing Club’s Nick Babikian (Brighton, Mass.) and Matt Schaeffer crossed in 7:04.04.

“Our game plan coming into the race was never to make one giant move, but to move through the race, bit by bit, and to just keep ourselves ahead,” Cowles said.

“To represent our club here is the greatest honor. The fact that we are here today is through the support that we have at Craftsbury, the community, Concept2 and all the people who support us and allow us to make training our first priority. They are a huge part of our success.”

About USRowing
USRowing is a nonprofit organization recognized by the United States Olympic Committee as the governing body for the sport of rowing in the United States. USRowing has 85,000 individual members and 1,300 member organizations, offering rowing programs for all. USRowing receives generous support from the National Rowing Foundation and its corporate sponsors and partners.
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