Lisa Schlenker, Lake Oswego's world-class rower, may have discovered the perfect workout regimen for high-level athletes.
After a grueling two-year run to get ready for and compete in the 2004 Summer Olympics, Schlenker decided she needed some time off. She didn't need just a couple of weeks' rest, either. Instead, she took almost two years off, completely walking away from national and international competition.
Some people figured that layoff would mark the end of Schlenker's rowing career. Guess again.
Even though she's 41 years old now, Schlenker keeps herself in great shape, even better shape than many of her colleagues. And no one competes harder than the former Laker, so it shouldn't have been much of a surprise when she made a triumphant return to the US Rowing team this summer. It seemed Schlenker was the only one who wasn't sure what to expect.
'When I went to (the US World Championship) Trials, I just wanted to take it one race at a time, because I had taken two years off,' she said.
Plus, Schlenker was switching back to a single scull after having qualified for the 2004 Olympics as part of a doubles team. Most of Schlenker's success at the international level came in singles, but she wasn't sure if she could still compete at a high level on an individual basis.
'I want to see if I can still do this,' Schlenker said of her decision to return to singles.
So far, it's turned out to be a great move. Schlenker proved that at the World Trails in New Jersey three weeks ago when she claimed the U.S. Rowing team's lone berth in lightweight women's single sculls. But it wasn't easy.
To claim that berth, Schlenker had to win two out of three closely contested final races against Meghan Sarbanis. Schlenker won the first heat while Sarbanis claimed the second race. Schlenker then came back to win the decisive third heat by 4.25 seconds. After running neck-and-neck for most of the race, Schlenker opened a boat-length advantage with 250 meters to go. Then she gradually pulled away from Sarbanis down the stretch.
'I was real happy to put together a good final race,' Schlenker said via an Internet connection from England as she prepared for this week's World Championships.
It marked Schlenker's 10th appearance on the national rowing team. Most of her teammates are much younger than the Lake Oswego native and some of them can't believe that Schlenker is still willing to compete in such a grueling sport after so many years of competition.
'I'm always hearing things like, 'Don't you have something else to do?' ' Schlenker said with a chuckle. 'But if you can perform, age is not an issue.'
The only difference now, 'is that I need more recovery time after competing,' she said.
Schlenker had plenty of recovery time between the end of the US Trails and the start of the World Championships, which began on Sunday.
That day, Schlenker finished third in her first heat of single sculls. The Lake Oswego grad held the lead for the first 1,000 meters, but Spain's Teresa Mas De Xaxars passed Schlenker during the third quarter of the race. Then, Italy's Erika Bello passed the American in the final 250 yards to claim second place.
That last pass was critical because it was the last automatic qualifying spot for Thursday's semifinal race. That forced Schlenker to run in Tuesday's repechage, a second chance for all racers that finished third or below in one of the preliminary heats.
All of the Schlenker's grueling training paid off, though, when she won Tuesday's repechage to advance to the semifinals. In the repechage, Schlenker got off the line in second position but took command during the second quarter of the race. She continued to build on her lead throughout the second 1,000 meters, crossing the finish line 6.4 seconds ahead of her closest competitor.
Schlenker now needs to finish among the top three in Thursday's semifinal to advance to Saturday's final. If she makes it, it will be familiar territory for the Lake Oswego star, who has made a habit of appearing in World Championship finals.
In 2003, Schlenker and Rachel Anderson finished fourth in lightweight double sculls. In 2002, Schlenker finished second in single sculls, when she turned in an incredible time of 7:30.56. Then there was a fourth-place finish in 2001 and another second in 1999. That run made her one of the most successful rowers on the USA team during that span.
The biggest goal in rowing, though, is to win an Oiympic medal. Schlenker came close to nabbing one of those when she and Stacy Borgman finished seventh in double sculls in the 2004 Games in Athens. Schlenker would like another shot at the Olympics, but she'll be 45 when the 2008 Games roll around.
'Of course I want to (qualify for the Olympics), but I have to take it one race at a time,' she said.
'Whatever I do, I have to make sure it's rewarding,' Schlenker said. 'If it's not rowing, I'll do something active.'
During her two-year hiatus from rowing, Schlenker spent a lot of time bike riding and rock climbing. It was a good way to stay in shape while avoiding the grueling rigors that top-notch rowers deal with on a daily basis.
'I was burned out after the (2004) Olympics,' she said. 'It's not just the two weeks of competition, but all of the training before that … It takes a lot of emotional and physical strength to keep your body going,'
But, after seeing the way she performed this month after a two-year layoff, a 2008 trip to China seems like a very real possibility.