Womens Quad
Alexandra Buchowski, Scarlett Coke, GiGi Musolf and Frieda Cramer won the championship by less than half a second. (Courtesy of USRowing)

As Los Gatos Rowing Club Director Jaime Velez exited the plane from Florida and raced to catch his connection in Nashville to Oakland, he was ecstatic.

There’d been high hopes for the 59 athletes and their 14 boats at the USRowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota, Fla., and the Los Gatos contingent delivered better results, this time, than ever before.

“We had our most successful year in our history,” Velez told the Los Gatan over the phone. “We won three national championships in three separate events.”

The event, hosted at Nathan Benderson Park, was the largest ever, with 854 entries from 224 clubs across the country. The 4,000 or so athletes compete in 41 different boat classes.

And Luke Slattery, “The Boys in the Boat” actor, was even there signing autographs.

Los Gatos won three out of four events, in quadruple sculls action on the men’s and women’s side—and placed second in the women’s youth quadruple sculls, USRowing officials said.

In a blog post, an organization spokesperson recounted how Los Gatos’ men’s youth quadruple sculls “battled down the course with Whitemarsh Boat Club to win the event by 1.78 seconds. Los Gatos and Whitemarsh were even at the halfway mark before Los Gatos moved ahead to finish in a time of 6:13.10. Whitemarsh finished second in a 6:14.88, with Texas Rowing Center taking third in a 6:17.46.”
The post notes how, in women’s youth quadruple sculls, “Redwood Scullers dominated the course from start to finish, crossing the line in 7:04.91 over two seconds ahead of silver medalists, Los Gatos. Oregon Rowing Unlimited took bronze.”

Velez said the excellent performances came out of several years of rebuilding after the coronavirus pandemic hit.

During the lockdown era, rowers weren’t allowed to be in a boat with anyone else, so the local club shifted its focus away from having athletes row with two hands on a single oar, towards dual-oar rowing.

“Everyone was kind of by their selves,” Velez recalled.

on the podium
Dillon Yoo, Nolan Hamm, Carl Lewis and James Tiglao were crowned champions in the Men’s Youth 2V Quad contest. (Submitted)

But by Sunday, the memory of the pandemic era had largely faded, as LGRC’s men’s youth quad, men’s youth JV (2V) quad and women’s youth 2V quad (which Velez coaches) stroked to the top spot on the podium.

Los Gatos rowers also took bronze in the men’s U17 quad and silver in the women’s U15 quad with a coxswain.

“To be competitive across the US and be competitive even in the southwest region is really hard,” Velez said. “We knew, going into the regatta, we had an opportunity to perform really well.”

That doesn’t mean it was easy, Velez stresses.

“There was a lot of close racing,” he said, explaining some races were won by less than a second. “Our athletes just performed exceptionally well.”

Ultimately, Los Gatos racked up a total of six medals, with 12 boats placing in the Top 8.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Velez said. “They just did an amazing job.”

From Surgery to Victory

There is perhaps nothing more emblematic of Los Gatos Rowing Club’s impressive improvement—from the silver tier to champions—than the journey of one of its Women’s Youth 2V Quad rowers.

A year ago, Gianna “GiGi” Musolf was on the sidelines with back problems.

But she hung out with the team, watching Julia Kiplinger, Brynna Ruf, Annika Sivi and Sara Drabkin take second in the youth quad.

She’d originally caught the rowing bug at summer camp, after 8th grade.

“She really liked the team aspect,” recalled her dad, Ben. “She certainly fell in love with the team in general.”

But in 2023, as LGRC sent eight boats to Sarasota, she was not among them.

Eventually, she went to see a physical therapist recommended by her coach, which led to the removal of a tumor in October.

“They literally had to cut her open and remove her rib,” Ben said, noting his daughter even had a lung deflate. “It was the worst experience of my life.”

But those feelings of helplessness morphed into a steady—if incremental—evolution.

“It’s slow,” Ben said. “When she finally realized she was out of pain, it clicked.”

Next up: early mornings; 10-mile hikes; fine-tuning her nutrition program.

medalists
Alexandra Buchowski, GiGi Musolf, Scarlett Coke and Frieda Cramer of the winning youth 2V quad team. The Los Gatos Rowing Club won six medals at this weekend’s USRowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota, Fla. (Submitted)

As the days turned into months, the wattage on the “erg” rowing machine steadily improved.

And it all culminated on Sunday, as GiGi, now 17, got in a boat alongside Alexandra Buchowski, Scarlett Coke and Frieda Cramer, to compete against seven other crews—including their archnemesis: the Redwood Scullers, from the Port of Redwood City.

Los Gatos quickly took the lead, but it wasn’t long before the team from up the peninsula began to give them a run for their money.

The girls were perhaps just a deck ahead, coming into the final stretch, with the Hockaday School threatening in third.

“Redwood Scullers and Hockaday are out for blood,” one of the announcers commented.

Back in California, it was around 6am.

Ben was still in bed, watching with his wife Jennifer.

“I’m banging on the bed,” he said. “She starts screaming. We both start crying.”

“This finish is going to be tight,” the other announcer crescendos. “It’s going to be close.”

“That was an absolute nail-biter,” the first announcer states, as one boat after another completes the race.

When the ripples dissipated, it was clear Los Gatos had barely edged out their Silicon Valley rivals.

“They won by .47—47 hundredths of a second,” Ben said. “That’s a blink of an eye.”

Now GiGi, who’s going into her senior year at Saint Francis High School next year, will have a few days to rest up before heading off to Africa for a month.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].

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