Members of the Los Gatos Rowing Club start competition today in the US National Championships in Sarasota, Fla. The club qualified 14 boats and 59 athletes to the event. Submitted photo.

A year ago, the Los Gatos Rowing Club placed eight boats in the US Rowing Youth National Championships A league finals, and came away with three silver medals. 

This time, LGRC is sending a club-record 14 boats and 59 athletes to the National Championships Thursday through Sunday in Sarasota, Fla. 

“We’re looking to have an even stronger year this year,” LGRC Director Jaime Velez said. “We believe we have a really good shot of medaling in quite a few of those entries.”

LGRC qualified for the National Championships after a stellar performance in the Southwest Regional Championships last month. In Sarasota, LGRC will have eight men’s boats and six women’s boats, from U15 (15 years and under) to the U19 youth level. 

“We’re hoping to build off of last year’s championships,” Velez said. “We don’t want to jinx ourselves and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to win everything.’ But we’re hoping to be competitive in many events.”

Although most of the LGRC athletes hail from Los Gatos, they draw from 30 different middle and high schools. 

“We have athletes who live as far south as Gilroy and Santa Cruz, and as far north as Los Altos,” Velez said. “They attend both public and private schools, and small independent schools. So, it’s a really good cross section that represents the South Bay.”

Velez credits the club’s focus on sculling—athletes with two oars, one in each hand—as key to the program’s success.

“That’s where a lot of skill development happens,” he said. “We really focus on the technique of the athlete. A lot of rowing programs go for the biggest, strongest, fittest athletes out there, but what we’re able to do is take athletes that come into the sport and develop them over time.”

Don’t get Velez wrong: he knows LGRC inherits its fair share of talent. However, he takes pride in squeezing every ounce of talent out of its rowers while they’re in the program, whether they end up rowing in college on a scholarship or pursuing the sport recreationally as adults.

Redwood Middle School Principal Steve Hamm, whose son Nolan is on the LGRC men’s youth U19 4x Quad boat (a four-person boat where each has two oars), echoed Velez’s comments. Nolan recently completed his sophomore year at Los Gatos High School and started rowing three years ago with LGRC.  

“They (LGRC coaches) are very good about observing and coaching in a way that each child has an opportunity to grow,” Steve said. “And certainly my child has done quite well under their tutelage.”

A couple of additional factors have made the Hamms’ time at LGRC a productive one. 

“What keeps us there is the relationship Nolan has built with the other rowers and the coaching staff,” Steve said. “Unlike more traditional sports which tend to be adult driven, this is more of a team sport where they work together collaboratively towards their success. I really feel like Nolan has been seen and heard, and been taken to a new level based on his ability.”

Similar to several of his fellow rowers, Nolan has a jam-packed summer schedule. In the first week of July, Nolan will compete in the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta in England, July 2-7. After that, Nolan gets all of one day at home in Los Gatos before he departs to San Diego for an intense three-week U.S. Junior Olympics selection training camp.

From there, Nolan will row in an international competition, either outside Niagara Falls or in Mexico City. Steve shares in the journey as he accompanies Nolan. 

“My wife and I get to be his groupies,” Steve deadpanned. “It’s been a lot of fun. And getting into the sport of rowing has been a life-changing experience for him—and us as well.”

Steve has seen firsthand Nolan’s love for the discipline, one that American-born athletes usually take up after they first try their hand in the more traditional ball sports. 

“In rowing, you’re getting a different type of athlete,” Steve said. “It’s kind of more like swimming, where you’re an individual, but you are part of a team. It’s a niche for students who fall into the category, and it’s an opportunity for them to excel and physically change their bodies.”

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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