The opportunity could lead to a surprising result.
One such opportunity involves joining the Atlanta Junior Rowing Association, which recently competed at the USRowing Youth National Championships in Tennessee and left with its best results in the club’s 25-year history.
The championship included nearly 1,600 athletes from 150 clubs in 30 states competing for national titles in 18 events. Nineteen rowers represented the AJRA in five events at the championship, and for the first time in program history, one of the team’s boats — the Women’s Lightweight 4 plus coxswain — raced in the Grand Final, where it finished fourth.
Two other boats, the Women’s 4 plus coxswain and Men’s Pair, finished eighth and 10th, respectively, in the Petite Finals. The Women’s Pair and Men’s Lightweight 4 plus coxswain placed 13th and 18th in their respective races.
This was the first year that all of the AJRA’s boats at Youth Nationals qualified to race for national placements in finals.
AJRA coach Sam Greenblatt was excited to see how well the boats performed and was proud at how the organization has grown over time.
“We’ve grown to about 300 members since we started 25 years ago,” Greenblatt said. “The stars were aligned for us this year. We had a great showing at regionals at the end of May, finishing second overall out of 47 or 48 teams, and then at nationals, we had five boats finish in the top 20 and three in the top 10.
“Once you do well regionally, you never know how that shows up nationally until you get there. This year went pretty well for us.”
The AJRA, based out of Roswell along the Chattahoochee River, just inside the Cobb County line, is much like any other travel sports team in that athletes sign up and join to participate. After learning how to row, athletes join the novice group of rowers and, over time, grow to compete at the varsity skill level.
Pope graduate Maddie Wilson, who has signed to compete as a rower at UCLA, competed in the Women’s Pair boat, while Walton’s Maxwell Beerman rowed in the Men’s Lightweight 4 plus coxswain boat. Another AJRA rower, recent Harrison graduate Mary Waldman, will compete collegiately at Louisville.
“We have 11 seniors recruited to row in college,” Greenblatt said, “and they’re rowing at some of the best college programs, like Harvard, Northeastern and Michigan. One in five men can go on to row in college, while one in two women can earn scholarships.
“If you’re a good athlete, we’ll make you a great rower if you dedicate yourself.”
Recent Pope graduate Katherine Cheng was a member of the Women’s Lightweight 4 plus coxswain boat that placed fourth. A transplant from California, Cheng was just looking for an organization to belong to and found rowing as the perfect outlet.
“I got involved to meet new people,” said Cheng, who will try out for Georgia’s club rowing team this fall. “I moved and started at Pope my freshman year. Before I came here, I heard about rowing from my mom’s friend’s daughter, who rowed at Stanford, and she encouraged me to try it, so I did.
“I Googled ‘Atlanta rowing’ and AJRA came up. I joined and I loved it. Four years later, I’m racing at nationals and finishing in the top five. AJRA had never done that before. We exceeded our own expectations, and now that it’s over, I feel like I left the program better than when I came into it.”
Varsity women’s coach Skye Elliott was particularly proud to see the growth Cheng achieved over time.
“Katherine is clearly a good rower,” he said. “Pound-for-pound, she was one of the best we had. She moved the boat well. Put her on the water against bigger kids and she pulled her own weight.
“She always managed to put the team needs ahead of her own, and her commitment was a big reason she made it to nationals. She worked her way into the boat, and with her athleticism and attitude, once she was in the boat, she made it faster.”