The 2021 USRowing Youth National Regatta, held June 10-13 at Nathan Benderson Park, was an opportunity for junior rowers to make a name for themselves on a national stage.
One local rower took advantage of that opportunity.
Manatee County Youth Rowing's best finish was from Hayden Lesser, a sophomore at Parrish Community High. Lesser finished third in the U17 Men's 1x Final B (7:56.33) on June 12, less than three seconds behind event winner Cooper Anderson of Niskayuna Rowing (N.Y.). That meant he finished ninth overall in the event, if combining the A and B final rankings. It was the event's time trial on June 10 that put Lesser on the national map, however. In the time trial, Lesser finished fifth overall (7:36.68), approximately 20 seconds faster than his time in the finals.
The performance solidified Lesser as one of the elite U17 Men's 1x rowers in the county, something he didn't necessarily expect to happen entering the event.
"This was my first time [at the Youth National Regatta]," Lesser said. "I was nervous. I knew I had the potential to do it, but I have never competed at this level before. There was a lot of talent there."
Lesser began rowing four years ago. He had been aware of the sport previously, he said, but only decided to check it out on a whim. Lesser competed in the inaugural Fort Hamer Bridge Run on Aug. 26, 2017, and while at the event, he spotted a booth representing MCYR. Lesser went to a practice and never looked back. It was the sport for him — the only sport Lesser does. For him, he said, rowing offers the perfect blend of competition and uniqueness. He likes to race, but he also likes that rowing feels like a community all its own. People don't argue about it on social media or gossip about it at school. It's niche. The people who love it are the only people who need to love it. Lesser said most of his best friendships have been made through rowing.
"It's a beautiful sport," Lesser said. "It's physically active, and you meet great people. I would not trade it for the world."
Lesser made the most of his opportunity at the Youth National Regatta. The morning of the time trial, he did not change his routine. It still started with a round of bacon and eggs. He still stretched to eliminate any threat of cramping. What was different was the finish. Lesser, wanting to prove himself, was pushed to his limits by the event's atmosphere. When he got back to the dock, he said, his coaches were telling him he had completed the fifth fastest U17 1x race in the country.
"I was overjoyed," Lesser said. "It's the best feeling I have ever felt."
Like all great athletes, Lesser is not satisfied. While happy with his overall performance, he failed to come home with a medal. That's something he plans on correcting at next year's event, he said.
Lesser was one of approximately 2,800 rowers competing at the Youth National Regatta. They represented 183 different rowing clubs. Normally known as the Youth National Championships, the event's name was changed by USRowing in the wake of a decision to include U17 and U15 events to the U19 events instead of holding them separately. As a result, the regatta became the largest of its kind in USRowing history.
Only one other MCYR rower, Hayden Ross, competed at the event. He finished 28th in the Youth (U19) Men's 1x Time Trial (7:34.03).
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.