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Local rowers trade novice tag for national acclaim

What do you get when you take some skilled athletes, then add liberal doses of hard work and excellent coaching? In the case of the Lake Oswego Community Rowing program, it resulted in some championship caliber performances.

The LOCR is only in its second year and yet the program qualified two doubles teams for the U.S. Rowing Junior Nationals, which were held three weeks ago in Cincinnati.

The club's best showing was turned in by the men's lightweight doubles team of Thomas Cameron and Pryce Waites. They finished seventh overall in their division after winning the petite, or consolation, final. In addition, Meredith Miller and Meaghan Pearson claimed 12th place in the women's lightweight doubles division.

It was an incredible performance considering the fact that all four of the LO competitors were novice rowers just a year ago.

'It was a fantastic showing. It really was,' coach Lisa Schlenker said after the team's return from Cincinnati.

If anyone would know about success it would be Schlenker, who is a longtime member of the U.S. Rowing team. She's won enough medals to fill a trophy case, including three silver medals at the World Championships.

Just the rise of the LOCR program is a success story in itself. It was started by Stacey Borgman, a former national teammate of Schlenker's. The program drew 20 participants the first year. Now, under the direction of Schlenker and James Rawson, that number has grown to 48.

'The program has really boomed over the last two years,' Schlenker said. It helps when 'you create an environment where it's fun to learn.'

It also helps to draw competitors with athletic backgrounds. Cameron is one of the most versatile in that regard. Before taking up rowing, he was a skilled squash and soccer player and an avid skier.

But getting those novice rowers up to speed required a lot of hard work.

'That's always difficult,' Schlenker said of the effort that was needed.

'They spent a lot of time with us … but first and foremost, it had to be fun,' the coach said. 'For me, it's fun or I wouldn't be doing it.'

Rowing might not be as popular as lacrosse, which is the fastest growing sport in America, but junior rowing has really gained a foothold in the Pacific Northwest. The fledgling LO club has to compete against the likes of the Rose City Rowing Club, which has 100 junior members. Vancouver Lake (Wash.) also has a formidable program.

In fact, Vancouver Lake finished second nationally in the men's lightweight double sculls, the same division that Cameron and Waites were entered in.

Despite being relative newcomers to rowing, 'we're starting to catch up,' Schlenker said of her team members.

The Cameron-Waites duo finished second behind Vancouver Lake at this year's regionals. And the Miller-Pearson combo finished third behind Lake Stevens (Wash.) and Sammamish Rowing (Wash.), which finished fifth and seventh, respectively, at nationals.

Just how good can the Lake Oswego juniors be once they gain some more experience?

'The sky is the limit,' the coach said.

Schlenker would like to see more girls get involved in the sport, especially since there's more opportunities available for them at the college level because of Title IX implications.

'I think girls are beginning to realize that, if the stars are aligned properly, there are scholarships available for them,' Schlenker said.

Schlenker is certainly a great role model. She's spent almost her entire adult life in competitive rowing, and she's not showing any signs of slowing down.

She's versatile, too. Schlenker has competed internationally in virtually every discipline available, including single sculls, doubles and quads. She's currently training in a lightweight single scull with an eye on another appearance in the World Championships, which will begin in late August in Munich.

Schlenker seems to be at her best when she rows by herself. Two of her silver medals at the World Championships were in singles. But she also has a silver in quads. And she would like to add a few more medals to the trophy case.

'I'm going to compete until my goals are fulfilled,' she said.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of money in rowing, so Schlenker has to coach on the side to finance her training.

'Hopefully I can get a couple of sponsors. That would be nice,' she said.