Makayla Karr-Warner and Katie Kelly practice double scull.
The Norcal Youth Rowing Club in Redwood City will be represented by Makayla Karr-Warner, a senior at Woodside High School, and Katie Kelly, a junior at Menlo-Atherton High School, in the U.S. National Championships in Oakridge, Tenn. June 7 in the women’s lightweight, under 130 pounds, double scull.
Kelly, 17, handles the stroke seat while Karr-Warner, 18, works the bow seat. The actual boat is a double shell that measures approximately 20 feet, and about 12- to 14-inches wide.
They have already won gold medals at the Western Regional Doubles Rowing Championships. Every May, Norcal Crew sends all of their athletes to the Southwest Junior District Rowing Championships, a qualifying regatta for the Youth Invitational National Championships. Six days a week, for nine months, students train for one regatta in the district championships. Any crews that qualify in the top three positions head to the national championships. There are thirty-three high school rowing programs that compete at the District Championships. Crews must place in the top three of the 33 teams in each event to qualify. With support from family, friends and head coach Nathan Walker, the girls have now shifted their focus toward their ultimate goal. The U.S. National Championships will have five rowing districts plus 12 qualifying regattas like New York Championships, Philadelphia, New England and Scholastic Championships. Success on this level would propel them toward an even higher plateau, the world championships.
Allison Frykman, Norcal Crew Men’s head coach and executive director, is also a former Stanford Crew member. She is elated about the girls’ recent success and bright future. She is passionate about Norcal Crew and the outlet that it provides to students.
“We provide the resources, support, and opportunity to turn students into athletes,” said Frykman.
Frykman was a junior when she and six other girls at Palo Alto High School started a team. Coincidentally, her father Richard Lyon, the creator of the first ever rowing machine called “the Gamut,” introduced her to rowing at an early age. Norcal Crew is a nonprofit that started out as Silicon Valley Crew in the fall 2000. In 2004, the directors for Silicon Valley and Bear Island Aquatic Center, which had a junior crew decided to combine the two teams because they were essentially competing for the same athletes and water space along the Port of Redwood City. For 10 years, Norcal Crew has been the junior program at Bear Island Aquatic Center. Students from 30 different high schools including Palo Alto, Menlo-Atherton, Carlmont, Los Altos, Sequoia, Aragon, San Mateo and St. Francis participate in the program. Practices are held from 4 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.
Rowing speed is paramount for continuity, so practices reflect competitive scenarios. Consistency is key.
“The best way to get fast at rowing is by rowing”, said Frykman. “Short of gale-force winds and lightning, we get on the water.”
One of the most effective tools used to gauge an athlete’s individual progress with numerical feedback is a ergometer. It’s also useful for teaching the body how to complete the rowing stroke without worrying about what’s happening in the water. A 2,000 meter test, which is the international standard race distance in the sport, is also given to measure performance. Typically, the fastest lightweight women perform in nine minutes, and six minutes for the men. Coaches decide who should be placed in a varsity, junior varsity or third varsity boat based on these results. Rowing is 80 percent aerobic and 20 percent anaerobic. Therefore, most of the training is focused on low-heart rate, long-distance rowing which builds blood network and oxygen consumption ability. Rowing is one of the most physically challenging sports in existence, so coaches provide exercises in weight training and running to build strength and stamina. Marathon running, cross-country running, skiing and rowing require the greatest VO2 max, or maximal oxygen uptake during intense exercise.
With success comes challenges, but Kelly and Karr-Warner exemplify determination. Like many student athletes, they had to find a way to organize their obligations with school, home and athletics. It’s imperative they manage and prioritize their schedule, especially because of the mental and physical rigors of practice and competition.
This season hasn’t been smooth sailing for the pair. Kelly and Karr-Warner, both honor students, realized that maintaining a balance proved far more challenging. A year ago, they raced the same boat in the same event and came in last place. Instead of throwing in the towel, they realized improvement was needed. They dedicated themselves by attending practice regularly, and worked hard with each other and teammates. Collectively, they became an inspiration for the rest of the team to join them in extra workouts.
“They developed a renewed passion, dedication, and desire to improve,” Frykman said. “It’s magical to see their progress. They stayed focused and made their dream of heading to the national championships a reality through hard work.”