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US Men's Rowing logo by Alex Notman for the US Men's Rowing website

I spent the last weekend (Thursday 19 – Saturday 21, 2011) with the men training for the rowing Worlds, coming up in a few weeks, and the Olympics (London 2012). The experience has been… surreal. A group of us at the University of Oregon are putting together a website for U.S. Men’s National Team for Rowing. (Well, actually there is no team yet. The men at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, are training to become a part of the National team.) We flew down to San Diego and spent the weekend filming, interviewing, photographing and just getting to know the Olympic hopefuls.

Standing in the boathouse where the men train and keep the rowing shells (boats), it felt as though I stood in a forest of men. Very tall, athletic and muscular men. The average height of guys training is six-foot-five-inches. In other words: tall. Especially for a petite girl of five-foot-four. The tallest trainee is six-foot-ten. They tower over me, to say the least. It was intimidating at first, and I wasn’t really sure how to go about being an “embedded” journalist. But over the next couple days, the rowers opened up to us, and we to them.

The rowers train four to five hours a day, six days a week and each training session (they have two a day) is very similar to the last. These men are dedicated to the sport to an extent that is hard to believe. The sacrifices they make to try to make the U.S. national team are phenomenal. Many barely see their family and friends. One rower said that he sees his wife, who lives in San Francisco, about once every three weeks. The coach’s wife lives in Australia and he sees her about once every four months or so. Jobs are hard to come by that accommodate their training schedule, and these athletes don’t make money from the sport–it’s not the NBA. But they have such dedication and drive that they make it work.

One of the rowers, a Worlds competitor, retired from rowing for several years before deciding that in order to really feel satisfied he needed to get a gold medal at the Olympics. It’s not a want he said, it’s a need. It was hard for me to understand at first, why that medal is so important for them,  but I am beginning to get it. After all the sacrifices and time spent in the sport, these men want to prove that all the time spent was worth it. The men are chosen for the team three weeks before a race and every moment before then leads up to the final selection. They start tests tomorrow and will continue until the coach has picked those he wants to go to Worlds and then the Olympics. I wish the rowers good luck!

The next couple of weeks we will spend putting all the information and work together to create the website. I’m excited to see how it turns out. I’m also excited to watch up coming rowing events. Not only do I understand the sport better now, but I have had personal connections with the rowers who will be going to them.