It won’t be the Olympics, but for two Snohomish County rowers a trip to Bulgaria is the next best thing.
Martin Forde of Mill Creek and Sam Helms of Snohomish, both products of the Everett Rowing Association, are competing in the World Rowing Senior and Junior Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, Wednesday through Sunday. Because this is an Olympic year, the competition will combine those Senior events not being contested in the Olympics with the usually-separate Junior Championships.
The 19-year-old Forde, a 2011 graduate of Everett’s Archbishop Murphy High School and a sophomore-to-be at Oregon State University, will row in the senior lightweight eight (the only men’s lightweight Olympic races are the double, a sculling event, and the four, a sweeping event).
The 18-year-old Helms, a 2012 Snohomish graduate who is headed to the University of Washington, will row in the junior coxed four. He was in the same boat a year ago at the Junior World Championships on Dorney Lake outside London, site of this summer’s Olympic rowing and canoe sprint events.
For Forde, this will be his first taste of international rowing. Lightly recruited out of high school, he blossomed in his first year at Oregon State and was encouraged by his coaches to attend a try-out camp for the World Championships.
“To be honest, I was not really expecting to do as well as I did,” he said. “The camp was composed of the best lightweight rowers from across the nation, and some of the guys had tried out for the Olympics. So when I was first named to the boat it was mostly disbelief. To be in the top eight at such a young age, it was an overwhelming happy feeling.”
As a teenager, Forde is much younger than his teammates, who are mostly college grads in their mid-20s (they have nicknamed him “Young Blood”). He arrived at the camp in mid-June, was chosen for the team in early July, and since then has been training twice a day on the Charles River in Boston. Each of the workouts is about three hours, and the team rows an estimated 50,000 meters (over 31 miles) a day.
“This year has completely opened up the type of potential I think I have,” Forde said. “A year ago I was just a junior rower trying to make a college team. But my college coaches helped push me to the next level, and now I’m faster than I ever thought I could be when I was at Everett.”
As he prepares for Bulgaria, Forde admits he is very excited and a little bit nervous about the opportunity.
Because the lightweight eights do not row in the Olympics, “this competition is the highest possible level for this boat class,” he said. “There literally is no higher level we could compete in, so it’s really humbling and really intimidating. A lot of guys have been training for years and years just for this moment, and here I sort of hopped in the boat at the last minute.
“So it’s going to be a really nerve-wracking experience, but I can’t wait to represent the United States.”
Helms, meanwhile, has the advantage of having been to last year’s Junior World Championships. Although, he said, that experience was disappointing because the Americans finished eighth out of nine boats.
“When we first got to London, we sort of knew things had changed,” Helms said. “This was no longer youth nationals, this was the World Championships, the real deal, and everybody there was performing at an entirely different level. People were coming off the line like they were only racing to the 500-meter mark (on a 2,000-meter course), and then they kept rowing hard after that.”
But if the race itself was a letdown, the opportunity to wear a uniform of red, white and blue was an unqualified thrill.
“There’s a feeling you get when you put on the (rowing) suit for the first time with the American flag on the back and USRowing on the front,” Helms said. “It kind of gave me a light-headed feeling.
“Knowing that even if we don’t get a gold medal I’m still one of the top guys in the country, that’s a very unique feeling.”