The Sarasota Crew rowing team had a slew of high finishes from its boats at the 2023 USRowing Youth National Championships, held June 8-11 at Nathan Benderson Park.
None shone brighter than the U17 men's 8+ team.
The 8+ squad took gold in the event's A final (6:07.85), crossing the finish line approximately one second before second-place RowAmerica Rye.
"We had some sort of understanding that we had the ability to win, but I never thought we actually would," Michael Euker said. "We're young. I thought we would be grinding (this year) to win as juniors and seniors. But winning now gives us an understanding of our potential."
The boat led the whole race, but never felt comfortable in its positioning until the race was over. Logan Mello said the boat "caught a crab," or had a rower lose control of their oar, causing a slowing, multiple times in the lead-up to the finals. It never left their minds, Mello said, which helped the rowers keep their focus the whole race.
William Warren said he was nervous before the race and questioning whether he could perform at the level the team required. But once he heard his family shout "Crew power!" from the land, he calmed down.
"I felt so motivated by that," Warren said. "I just absolutely sent it throughout the race. I'm so happy that we won. My emotions were at the absolute peak. Logan came and hugged me from behind. It was awesome."
The U17 division, as with other age divisions, is considered a stepping stone to the varsity level, or top level, of the sport. In taking home the win, the members of the U17 8+ boys team were excited by the win, but also what it could mean for the future.
Earlier in the day, the Crew's women's varsity 8+ boat finished fifth overall in the A final (6:41.30), approximately 13 seconds behind winner Marin Rowing Association. It was the Crew's first time reaching the event's A final in nine years, according to senior Ada Giraldo, who took the No. 5 seat in the boat.
"I think we were all a little nervous coming into the event," Giraldo said. "We knew that all we could do was try our best. Our main goal was getting into the A final, and we did that. Once that was secured, we thought, let's just have the best pace we can."
The members of the gold-winning U17 8+ boat could follow a similar path to Giraldo and her teammates. Giraldo rowed in the Crew's second varsity 8+ boat a year ago, reaching the B final, before stepping up to the varsity level in 2023 and realizing her and the boat's potential.
Giraldo, who will row for Boston University next year, said it is a thrill to go against the best rowers in the country, something she never could have imagined when signing up for the Crew. Giraldo said she uses the opportunity as a type of measuring stick, comparing where her skills are to the skills of rowers from other crews. She also uses it as a chance to look at how far she and her teammates have come in their own development.
"We were saying to each other before the race, if you had told us last year, coming off a second varsity B final, that we would be in the varsity A final this year, we would not have believed you," Giraldo said. "It was an exciting opportunity."
Giraldo said she's spent a lot of time in recent weeks thinking about the impact Sarasota Crew and the sport of rowing have had on her life. She's proud that she decided to join, she said, as it not only is giving her a chance to compete in college, but helped shape her as a person.
"Rowing has helped me with self-confidence, fitness and overall life skills," Giraldo said. "I think I would be totally different if I had never joined. The organization means so much to me because of that."
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.