In June the Everett Rowing Association’s Women’s Youth 4 boat made a splash on the national stage.
The quartet of Asia Erickson, Lucy Nault, Isabella Ulloa and Zoe Whicker placed fourth in the Women’s Youth 4+/4x/4 – Weight Adjusted division at the USRowing Youth National Championships. It was a significant accomplishment for a modest program like the Everett Rowing Association.
But no, Everett’s 4 didn’t blaze its way across the water at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida, where Youth Nationals usually take place. Instead, each team member was at her own home, individually pulling as frantically as she could on an erg machine.
Rowing, like every sport, is having to adapt the way it competes during the coronavirus pandemic. But Everett, and particularly its junior girls teams, is finding a way to flourish under the adverse conditions.
When the pandemic first hit in March, Everett was forced to shut down its operations for two months. When the summer junior program began in July the rowers were able to get on the water, but were limited to using singles — the club’s fleet of one-person boats more than tripled through a combination of new purchases and borrowed boats. It’s only in recent days that restrictions were loosened to allow for the use of doubles.
“It’s been really weird, definitely different having the smaller practices and everything,” Ellie Lewis, a senior at Monroe High School who is committed to compete at Southern Methodist University, said about rowing during the pandemic. “But I’m really just happy to be back here. For a while I wasn’t sure what it was going to look like, if we were going to be able to come back. A lot of other clubs in the area haven’t been able to, so I’m really thankful that we’re able to be here.”
When the club was shut down during the spring, the athletes were forced to train at home using ergs, which are rowing simulators. While most team members slowed their training, Erickson, Nault, Ulloa and Whicker continued to train at a high level, so Everett junior women’s head coach Brian Wagner decided to enter them into the USRowing Virtual Northwest Youth Regional Championships in May.
The way the competition worked was each athlete did 2,000 meters at home on her erg, took a photo of the time, submitted it to Wagner, then Wagner submitted the combined times to the competition. All of this was done on an on-your-honor basis.
“My actual 2K I did by myself, just with the erg in my garage,” said Ulloa, a senior running-start student at Everett Community College’s Ocean Research College Academy who’s committed to Louisville. “For sure it was a challenge, because we’re all used to the coxswains encouraging us, during our tests especially. To go from that to erging by yourself where it’s quiet, it’s challenging.”
Everett was one of two boats to submit times and won, but Wagner then compared Everett’s times to those nationally and found it was seventh among the 34 teams that competed at various regionals. Therefore, they decided to enter nationals. After three more weeks of intense isolation training, Everett shaved four seconds off its time and placed fourth at nationals.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Erickson, a senior home schooler in Marysville who’s committed to Stetson. “A that point I was just training on my own to improve my 2K. But having your teammates around you you’re, ‘Oh, I have to get better for them to make sure I can be the best I can be so we can get a good placement.’
“We were just texting each other back and forth, saying, ‘You’ve got this, keep going, you can do this,’ and sharing music choices just to motivate us,” Erickson added.
This fall, even though ERA is back on the water, the competitions remain sparse. But one competition the club entered was the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta held annually in Boston. This year the competition was conducted virtually in mid-October. Rowers downloaded an app on their phones containing a GPS unit that tracked the boat’s progress over 4,702 meters, the length of the Head of the Charles course.
The race organizers acknowledged that not everyone’s water is the same, and when Everett hit the Snohomish River to record its times the boats had a particularly favorable current. Everett ended up with six of the top 10 times in the Women’s Youth – Participatory Water division, including Snohomish High School senior Juliet Kirk placing first, as well as five of the top 13 in the Women’s U-17 – Participatory Water division. This was despite all of Everett’s competitors racing in singles and being pitted against teams racing 8s, quads and doubles.
“I’ve been really impressed with the girls’ times,” Wagner said. “We’re trying to use that as a springboard into what we’re doing now, to say, ‘You can do this,’ to use that as motivation.”
Everett is continuing to navigate the pandemic. All the rowers wear masks around the boathouse, have their temperatures checked when arriving for practice, and are well-versed in using disinfectant spray on every piece of equipment they touch. Everett executive director Hannah Sellars, who’s been in constant contact with the Snohomish County Health District, said that the club could be forced back into singles if coronavirus infection rates increase, and she’s not banking on getting into the big boats in the spring.
But everyone is happy they’ve at least found a way to continue their sport in some fashion.
“I thought keeping masks on was going to be a difficult thing to explain to everybody,” Sellars said. “But I think the kids are just happy to be down here and are like, ‘We’ll do anything to stay down here.’ They just want to be on the water.”
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