Five bold Lake Oswego women row at world skiff championship in Scotland

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The Rosies have another fun practice session on the Willamette River. They are already getting ready for the next St. Ayles championship in 2016. From front to back are Jann Lane, Pam Werner, Judy Rea and Antoinette Papailioui.

Five Lake Oswego ladies who call themselves the Rosies are a lot tougher than they look.

They look like five ladies who meet for bridge, knitting or even a little poetry reading. Instead, their pastime requires muscle, endurance and perseverance, because they are rowing at the highest level of competition in the world. They just returned from Ullapool, Scotland, where they competed in the first St. Ayles Skiff Championship. And they competed well, even taking the bronze medal in one race. They were also the only team made up entirely of women to build their own skiff and travel all the way to Scotland.

Jann Lane, Leila Elliott, Antoinette Papailiou, Judy Rea and Pam Werner are all back in Lake Oswego and happy, wearing their rose-red racing jerseys, proudly showing the bronze medals they won, and telling everyone stories about their excellent adventure.

“I never thought I would go to Scotland,” said Werner.

“I never thought we would bring home the bronze medal,” Papailiou said.

Somehow things worked remarkably well for five women who had never raced boats before.

The Rosies’ saga started in 2011 when they got wind of the news that Scotland, where coastal rowing had been revived, was going to be holding a world St. Ayles championship in 2013. The Wind & Oar Boat School of Portland thought this was a fine idea, and so it began to recruit 10 women to participate by building their own boat over the next two years, with the ultimate objective of racing in Scotland.

“We thought, ‘Wow, let’s do it!” Lane said. “We recruited friends and friends of friends and got a neat cross-generational turnout. Women from the ages of 23 to 61 turned out who thought going to Scotland was a gangbuster idea. We thought, ‘Let’s go to Scotland!’ As we built our boat the name ‘Rosies’ evolved.”

By Sept. 10, 2011, they had finished the first St. Ayles skiff to be entirely built by women. Of course, they called it The Rosie, and they celebrated by launching it on the Willamette River.

Still, going to Scotland to row in a rowboat championship was a rather wild idea, and it was not confirmed until February of this year. Some changes had taken place since the boat had been built. Many of the Rosies had to drop out because of various commitments. But four of them, all from Lake Oswego, managed to hang on for the full ride, and they were joined by another Lake Oswego lady, Elliott, who qualified for the team because she had helped build another boat. Now there was only one more thing to do: worry.

“We had never raced before,” Lane said.

“We had no idea what we were up against,” said Werner.

They practiced at the Willamette Sailing Club on Macadam Avenue in Portland, right on the Willamette River. Every morning at 7 a.m., the Rosies would rise and row at this idyllic spot with calm waters and beautiful scenery, with seagulls, bald eagles, jumping fish and sea lions providing plenty of atmosphere.

“Rowing is easy to learn,” Papailiou said. “We just had to keep practicing. We trained hard enough that we could handle the conditions we faced.”

“It didn’t take long for us to get fairly good at it,” Lane said. “We weren’t perfect, but we were OK.”

Then July rolled around. The Rosies had to leave behind their beautiful boat they had built because it is a difficult thing to move a rowboat from Oregon to Scotland. Fortunately, the women were adopted by the South Queensferry Rowing Club in Scotland, which was happy to loan them a boat.

This proved to be a great way to have a Scottish vacation. Their welcome was wonderful.

“They had been cooking soup for a month,” Rea said. “They had baked cookies. There were bagpipes and Highland dancers, a lot of men wore kilts and they played Scottish music that was old and new.”

“They were incredibly lovely to us,” Elliott said.

The Rosies got to dance some Scottish reels themselves, and they were honored guests in some Scottish homes.

But could the Rosies actually compete on the world stage? The Rosies found out they were in the big time at the opening day ceremonies on July 8. Making a dramatic entrance via helicopter, Princess Anne showed up to give her royal blessings to the event, as 1,000 rowers and 32 St. Ayles skiffs rolled respectfully by.

“We put our oars up as we saluted,” Werner said. “It was pretty cool. It felt like we were at the Olympics.”

After Princess Anne flew away, however, it was go time, and the Rosies had to find out whether they belonged among the best rowers in the world. They were already ailing because Elliott had sprained her ankle upon their arrival at the airport, although she gamely chose to compete.

“The saltwater we were racing on was fed by the North Sea, and it was really rough,” Rea said. “We were used to practicing on this wonderful river.”

“We were very nervous about how we were going to get around the buoy (on the race course),” Elliott said.

“We rowed as hard as we possibly could,” Rea said.

It proved to be hard enough as the Rosies finished third in their opening race, for women age 60 and older, and were presented bronze medals.

However, Rea said, “After that we relaxed. We never won another medal.”

As for the entire experience, though, the Rosies felt like they had won the gold medal. When it comes to competitive rowing, they have only just begun to row. They are consumed by boat ambition.

“The big thing is how to get more people into this,” Lane said. “It would be great to get more young people involved. There are so many benefits with rowing, like exercise, camaraderie and experiencing this beautiful river.”

“Now we realize how great it would be if we had some coaching,” Werner said. “Now we’re trying to go out as often as we can.

“We have rowing fever!”

Truly, everything is coming up rowing roses for the Rosies.

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