Un-Herald-ed LO rower wins gold in Austria

by: , Brandy Herald receives her gold medal that she and her Junior Women’s 8+ team won recently in Austria. It was the first time that the United States has won the event in its 33-year history. Herald made the team after weeks of intense training in Connecticut and New Jersey and was away from home for a month-and-a half.

At 6-feet, 5-inches tall, it's not a stretch to assume that Lake Oswego's Brandy Herald could be a terrific athlete. However, given two guesses at which sport she would most excel at, volleyball and basketball would likely be the dominant answers.

In fact, given 10 guesses, most individuals would probably still not come up with the right answer which is, logically, rowing.

Not that Herald isn't a solid athlete in other sports. She played on the varsity basketball team at Lake Oswego High School last year and says that rowing is actually the 10th sport she has attempted in her life.

But, in those other sports, she hasn't won a world championship, which is something she recently accomplished in Linz, Austria.

How did such an outstanding feat come about? Even Herald isn't exactly sure when she takes the time to truly process it.

The incoming junior has only been rowing for about a year and joined Lake Oswego Community Rowing because a friend suggested it.

'I became addicted to the sport. Once I got out on the water I fell in love with it,' Herald said.

Not only did she quickly learn to enjoy the sport but she also demonstrated a talent for it. Although she didn't know it when she got into rowing, her height would prove to be an advantage due to her naturally long strokes.

Over the winter, Herald took some time off to focus on basketball but then began training hard again in the spring. In order to earn just a chance at competing for the U.S. Junior Women's team, she would need to break 7 minutes 20 seconds in a simulated 2K event on a rowing machine.

And, in late spring, she broke the barrier. So, on the final day of the school year, Herald packed her bags and flew to the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut to begin training with some of the most elite rowers in the country.

To say that the training in Connecticut was intense would be a gross understatement.

'I worked harder than I ever have before in my life,' Herald said.

Herald would wake up at 4 a.m., hop in a van and then row for two hours, all before breakfast. She would then work out twice more during the day all in hopes of making one of the teams that would be competing at the World Championships.

'I think the coaches were looking for who was willing to push themselves harder and once I figured out what they wanted it got a little easier,' Herald said.

As the day got closer when the final teams would be announced, Herald and many of her aspiring teammates started to get a sense of who had made the cut due to the boating assignments that they were being given but she still didn't want to get ahead of herself.

'When I walked into the room and they told me I made the team I think I stopped breathing,' Herald said.

She made the Women's 8+ team, meaning she would be in a boat with seven other rowers and a coxswain. She was the youngest person to make the team and the second youngest to even try out this year.

The teams then went to Princeton University for more training and got to meet and even row against the Olympic teams for the upcoming Beijing games.

Finally, the rowers hopped a plane for Austria for even more training prior to the competition.

In the 33-year history of the event, the United States team has never won the 8+ event. Only four other countries competed against the U.S. in this event but all of those teams were extremely talented.

In the preliminary heat to determine lane assignments, the U.S. team rowed a consistent race and ended up winning. However, the team knew it was going to change its strategy for the finals, going at a pace that was two beats faster.

'That first race is all about mind games,' Herald said.

The strategy worked as it caught the other teams off guard. The finals were held on July 26 and, after starting out in third place, the U.S. quickly made up ground and ended up winning by three-fourths of a boat length, setting off a celebration.

It has been a whirlwind for Herald, who was away from home for a month and a half altogether.

'I still wake up in the middle of the night and am just amazed that I was actually rowing in Austria,' Herald said.

She will watch the upcoming Olympics with an added interest, having met a handful of the participants.

Herald also hopes to continue rowing at a competitive college program and, if possible, get to that elite level someday as well.