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Gliding through the summer

Youngsters find that rowing can be rewarding
by: Vern Uyetake, Meaghan Pearson, above, glides across the Willamette River during a recent early-morning workout with the Lake Oswego Community Rowing junior program. Pearson, who is one of the more experienced rowers in the group, enjoys the program because “all my friends are here,” she said.

Another day breaks.

Coffee-fueled drivers trickle onto city streets while most students re-situate under their cotton sheets, having long succumbed to the summer experience.

Yet down by the Charlie S. Brown Water Sports Center near Roehr Park on the Willamette River, eight Lake Oswego and West Linn High School students, fairly awake and coherent at 9 a.m, climb into their carbon-fiber boats as members of the Junior Lake Oswego Row program.

'I am flying on fumes,' said John Pearson, a Lake Oswego High School senior whose oily mop-top haircut and squinting eyes suggested a late night out.

'I wish I had a Red Bull or something.'

They groaned under the weight of a 40-foot, four-person rowboat, where orders from Sara Kolmes, 15-year-old coxswain, might be the last way some would choose to start their day.

But not this team.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, nearly a dozen students come to exercise in unison, learn techniques from the junior program's coach, three-time national champion James Rawson, and enjoy the Willamette River's natural beauty.

'We're the dedicated crowd,' said Austin Allen, sophomore from Lake Oswego High School and newcomer to the program.

The boys took out a four-person boat, setting it up as a sweep. Each rower controls one oar, rather than handling one in each hand, which is most normally seen.

Strapped into well-used track shoes attached to wooden boards mounted onto the boat, the boys push off, the blade skip of their oars silently dipping in unison, skimming atop the waveless, murky green water.

'This is some of the flattest water in the country,' Rawson said.

Rawson began his interest when his high school friend decided to start rowing and Rawson begrudgingly followed.

His love flourished after being introduced as a high school freshman to the sport.

And 17 years later, he has made rowing a profession.

Rawson went on to become a national champion in 1993 while still in high school.

After graduating, he went to the University of Washington campus in search of a good rowing program.

There, he said, 'I knew I would be in good company.'

He won another national championship as a senior at University of Washington in the summer of 1997.

'My parents always said I majored in rowing,' Rawson said.

Later, he coached Holy Names Academy Rowing, a team once fifth in the region that became fifth in the country after he joined the ranks.

'And they've been pretty good ever since,' Rawson said without airs.

A cold breeze ran through his hair as Rawson jumped choppy waves from other boaters to protect his rowers trekking up the river.

As the sputtering green coach's launch slowed to keep pace with the boys' four-person boat, Allen, sitting second from the back, studied the oar in front of him, controlled by Pearson. His eyes scanned the oar as it twisted and dipped into the water, struggling to match its speed, extending his legs to pulling back on his oar and time its movements.

The oarlocks, or metal supports holding the oars, squeaked as Allen picked up speed. He splashed his oars into the water, spraying himself as the boys pursued a pair of female junior rowers.

'I like watching the athletes become better people,' said Rawson with a smile as he looked back at his rowers. 'It's cheesy, I know.'

Roya Elizeh, a West Linn High School senior who gashed her leg days before and had joined Rawson on his boat, laughed out loud at her coach.

Not far from where the rowers were building a sweat, two women - Linda Rogers and Sharon Miller - spent their last day of a three-week rowing program floating along in their single boats.

Rogers sneaked photos with her digital camera, handing out organic cherries from individual plastic bags, while Miller explored beyond her usual route, moving father up the river.

While the assorted group pushed themselves up the river, a boater in an 80s-style high-speed jet boat hauled by, spewing smoke and rocking the novice rowers towards the bank and its menacing rocks.

'He obviously has a lack of boater education,' Rawson said, following the boater with his eyes. Rawson said that usually human-powered boats have the right-of-way over engine boats.

Continuing up the river, a fly-fisher flung a hook over Miller as she was returning to the boathouse, his tackle splashing just 10 feet past her bow.

'This is when I would have torpedoes,' Rawson said, eyeing the fisherman's boat.

Upon returning to the boathouse, Pearson, who at 9 a.m looked like he had sleepwalked to the boathouse, now showed signs of alertness.

'Well, I got my muscles firing at least,' he said.

After rowing four miles and a 15-minute run, sweat rolling down their cheeks, the troupe began to joke around as they had at the start of their day.

'(It's just) you, your oar, your thighs and the river,' Rachel Doherty said as to the impetus to row two days of the week during her summer vacation.

Meaghan Pearson, sister of John, agreed. If she was to spend two days every week in three-hour long conditioning exercises, she'd better enjoy it.

'Of course it's fun, all my friends are here,' Meaghan said.

To join, contact Lake Oswego Community Rowing at 503-699-7458.