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'Every stroke, make it your best'

If the Ashland Rowing Club’s goal in hosting the USRowing Junior Men’s High Performance Camp was to make a favorable impression and provide high-level training, they’ve accomplished both, according to some of the athletes who shelled out $3,290 to participate.

Rower Harry Burke, 16, of Westport, Conn., knows exactly what these sorts of camps are supposed to look and feel like after having participated in last summer’s high performance camp in Pittsburgh.

“Pittsburgh was very industrial,” Burke said last week at the ARC boat house before heading out to Emigrant Lake for the morning workout. “We ended up having to drive an hour every day to get good water to row in, which meant waking up very early. I definitely prefer this in terms of staying at SOU, all the facilities there are much nicer. And the lake here is amazing.”

Burke was one 47 rowers ages 15 to 17 from across the country invited to participate in the 19-day camp, which is a crucial step on the way to their ultimate goal of landing a spot on the U.S. Junior World Championships team. The camp, held at Emigrant Lake, wraps up July 6, after which eight rowers and a coxswain will be selected from the group to represent the U.S. in the CanAmMex Regatta, July 10-18 in Veracruz, Mexico.

In other words, there’s a lot at stake, which is why Ashland Rowing Club executive director and coach Rick Brown says he’s had little trouble keeping the boys focused on becoming the best rowers they can be.

“The real nice thing about this camp is that they’re really highly motivated kids,” said Brown, who ran the same camp in Pittsburgh before being hired by ARC last year. “People say to me all the time, ‘You have 47 high school boys, how do you do it?’ But in a lot of ways it’s pretty easy because they’re pretty motivated. It’s not just a fun sleepaway camp. I’ve been in the system a while and I haven’t had problems. They’re motivated to impress us and want to improve. They do it for the right reasons, so that’s not much of a worry.”

The rowers began arriving at the boat house for Wednesday’s morning session a little after 7 a.m. By about 7:30 they were ready to begin their warm-up routine on land, then they’re split into groups and take to the water. Four or five launches head out, along with the six coaches — Brown plus five more who flew in for the camp (Brown is also assisted by four interns, who help coach and stay with the boys at their dorms).

The rowers came here from all over — Boston, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, just to name a few. They’re staying at SOU’s newest dorm, McLoughlin Hall, and eat most of their meals at SOU new dining hall, The Hawk.

“Well, it’s pretty beautiful,” said rower Clemmi Borgogni of Rye, N.Y., a small town about 30 miles north of New York City. “I’ve never been to the West Coast so it’s quite a change of scenery. It’s a lot like where I come from in that it’s a smallish town, but it’s definitely, in terms of landscape, very different.”

Borgogni said the camaraderie among his fellow rowers is great despite their complicated relationship as both teammates and rivals jostling for invitations and recognition.

“It’s a very competitive atmosphere,” he said. “But no one really takes themselves too seriously, which is nice. But everyone wants to compete and get into the top boats and all that.”

Luke Ames, 16, from Scituate, Mass., said he was blown away by the Ashland scenery.

“To be from near Boston and be around a bunch of houses right next to each other,” he said, “and then come out here, where it’s wide open — it’s pretty crazy. And to see the mountains and stuff, it’s pretty cool.”

It’s also pretty intense, which is why after four or five hours of rowing per day, explains Brown, the boys spend most of their free time doing two things: eating and sleeping.

But that’s fine by Burke, who’s not here for the entertainment possibilities. He did have time to take in a movie on Tuesday, but he has no plans to check out the Oregon Shakespeare Festival or really do much of anything else. Except row, that is.

“Last year I went to the camp with this mentality that I was going to make this boat and nothing else,” he said, “but that’s not how it turned out so I kind of realized going into this to just take it day by day. Every stroke, make it your best stroke and don’t think about really what’s happening that you can’t control.

“These kids are all some of the top kids at their clubs. It’s kind of created an environment for success and improvement. Everyone wants to get better, everyone wants to go fast. So I come here just kind of thinking, just get better, whatever that may be.”

 Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.

Ashland Rowing Club coach Rick Brown leads a warm-up at Emigrant Lake Thursday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
USRowing Junior Men’s High Performance Camp members glide across Emigrant Lake Thursday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch