U.S. Rowing Northwest Youth Championships being held at Vancouver Lake this weekend
Vancouver Lake is a destination, the destination for so many athletes.
This weekend, approximately 1,300 athletes throughout Washington, Oregon, and Idaho journeyed to Vancouver for the U.S. Rowing Northwest Youth Championships. They brought family and friends, too, with organizers expecting more than 3,000 visitors.
The annual event, which is a qualifier for the national youth championships in Florida, is on the calendar for dozens of clubs.
Yes. Right here in Vancouver. Every year.
“They know it as championship land,” said Conor Bullis, head coach of Vancouver Lake Rowing Club. “They only come here for championships. That’s fun. People see the lake, and they equate it to the championship.”
On Saturday, racing started at 8 a.m. and lasted all day. Other than lunch break, there is a race on the 2,000-meter course every eight minutes.
The regatta continues with racing on Sunday, as well.
Vancouver Lake Rowing Club is the local team, competing on its home course for the regionals.
“To have it here is huge for us,” Bullis said. “Most people in Vancouver don’t know what Vancouver Lake is. We tell them we have this event, and we have an Olympic course on the lake. They say, ‘What? I didn’t even know.’”
It is hard to miss once arriving at Vancouver Lake Park. Overflow parking is needed and walking through the crowd, one is wise to yield to the athletes carrying their shells. The place is packed, full of people who are absolutely passionate about rowing.
The competition is fierce, too. The best of the best from the Northwest in a number of classifications and age designations. There are U19, U17, U16, and U15 age groups. The Vancouver Lake Rowing Club had entries throughout the weekend.
“We’ve got a great team, a great facility, and a great lake,” Bullis said.
Cami Price, a senior from Seton Catholic High School in Vancouver, started rowing during the pandemic. She is so strong, so talented, that she has been recruited by the top college rowing program in the country. Next year, she will be at Princeton.
This weekend, though, she is supporting her teammates in Vancouver. An injury has temporarily sidelined her from competition, but nothing was going to stop her from being at Vancouver Lake this weekend for this marquee competition.
“We’re so fortunate,” she said of Vancouver Lake. “It’s nice to celebrate something that gives us so much every day.”
“This is home. I love it here,” added Jack Surface, a senior from Columbia River High School.
It might not be home to most of the officials who were in Vancouver from U.S. rowing. But it is an ideal location for the organization.
Sarah McAuliffe, director of event planning and services for U.S. Rowing, lives in Pennsylvania.
“We come to Vancouver Lake every year. It’s great water. It’s flat water. We have plenty of space for teams to expand with their boats. Coaches have a little more room to get comfortable. It’s a great venue,” McAuliffe said. “I know the Northwest community loves coming here, and we’re happy to be back.”
Green Lake Crew, based in Seattle, brought 150 athletes to Vancouver this weekend. A number of volunteers cook breakfast and lunch for all of their athletes. After all, at many of the regattas, it is difficult for the athletes to go back and forth into town to eat.
The club’s volunteers prepare the food for the athletes. This is the seventh year Emily Marks has cooked for the club in Vancouver.
“I love it here. It’s a nice town,” she said.
Marks does not have children racing with the Green Lake Crew anymore. But she keeps volunteering because of her love for the sport, and the club.
Stories such as hers could be found all over Vancouver Lake this weekend. There is a club from as far north as Bellingham, as far south as Ashland, Ore., and also clubs from Idaho.
Closer to home, rowing has become a way of life for Price and Surface.
Price was a three-sport athlete at Seton Catholic her freshman year, playing volleyball and basketball and then going out for track and field for a week or so before everything shut down for the pandemic in March of 2020.
High school sports were still out of action by December, when Price was a sophomore. Price ran into a friend who convinced her to try rowing.
“I showed up. It was 30 degrees, and I just fell in love. It’s very addicting,” Price said.
“But I like the work. I think the work is the best part,” Price said.
She kept working, kept improving. So good, she caught the eye of Princeton.
“It was super surreal. It was crazy to think, ‘I’ve been doing this for just a few months, and I’m already being recruited.’”
Cami Price is going to Princeton to row. Seriously. She never envisioned this just a couple years ago.
“I barely even knew it was here,” she said of the rowing club. “I didn’t really know what Vancouver Lake was.”
Now she knows that the lake is a destination for champions.
Surface has a family friend who was a competitive rower years ago. Surface was always told he should give the sport a try.
“Finally, I tested it out in high school, and I never looked back,” he said. “There are some early mornings. Some late nights. It’s all worth it.”
Next school year, Surface is heading to Gonzaga. He said he has already talked to the coach, and he will try to be a walk-on with the program.
The sport brings out the best in him.
“It’s a place where I can be myself with my friends. It helps me process things,” Surface said. “It’s a great workout, obviously.”
The coach at Vancouver Lake Rowing Club, Bullis, remembers his origins in the sport, too. He was 13 years old, living in Seattle, and he just wanted to try something new.
“To me, it’s been a lifelong connection to friends,” Bullis said. “It turned into a coaching career. I like teaching kids. My whole hope is to introduce them to a sport and see if they make more out of it than I did. Hopefully it’s a positive impact for them.”
Bullis is always on the lookout for potential rowers. Yes, he tells people, there are college scholarships out there for rowing. A lot of money.
“Some kids stop playing sports when they’re in middle school just because they didn’t make the middle school team,” Bullis said, referring to traditional school-affiliated sports. “We’re saying, keep playing sports. There are other opportunities out there.”
Take Price, for example. The pandemic stopped her athletic career, or so it seemed. Nope. It just changed her athletic career, and then changed her life.
The sport also gave her new teammates, and a special bond with the club.
“It’s the ultimate team sport,” Price said. “When you’re rowing, you don’t stop. You work as hard as you can for the person behind you and the person in front of you. So much of it is the people I get to do it with every day. You see these people every day. They’re my best friends. They’re my family. It means so much because you do it for others more than you do it for yourself.”
That teamwork, that way of life, is on display at Vancouver Lake this weekend, a championship destination.
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