By Paige Vanover
Over the weekend of February 20-21, 2021, Devon Papock, Ava Poole, and Paige Vanover, three sophomores at Ponte Vedra High School attended the American Youth Cup regatta with their rowing team, First Coast Rowing Club. This regatta is located at Nathan Benderson Park, a world class rowing facility that is currently holding the Olympic Trials for the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
The three girls along with Ansley Gibson, a senior at Bishop Kenny High School, raced in a varsity women’s quad event on Saturday for qualifiers and again on Sunday for finals. The girls placed second in their heat which contained nine other boats, just seven seconds from Orlando Area Rowing (OARS), the winning boat. Ava Poole said, “I was overcome with joy and relief that we made it to finals and that we had the chance to race for a medal.”
The next day the girls raced in 18 mph wind gusts and choppy water. They lined up at the start with great difficulty, and rowed the full 2000 meter race course. “I was feeling a little nervous but based off of yesterday’s times I was confident that we would take home a medal of sorts,” says Devon Papock.
However, the difficulties did not end after the starting lineup. The water made the oar handles slippery, which led to Devon Papock dropping her oar about 1000 meters into the race. She made a quick recovery, and the girls were able to keep going with only a small delay. Before the last 500 meters, Paige Vanover’s oar also slipped out of her hand, but she, like Devon, made a quick recovery. The end of the race came closer and closer when Ava Poole also dropped her oar. The recovery was once again quick and the girls sprinted what was left of the race to attempt to catch the OARS crew, who was in second place. Sarasota Crew finished first and the women’s quad placed third in the final race out of a total of 22 entries, once again just seven seconds short of OARS. The quad took home a bronze medal.
Davis Bales, the head coach was pleased with the result despite the many obstacles thrown these athletes’ way. He stated, “We learned a lot about our team’s potential this weekend.” Regarding the women’s quad race, he said, “It is noteworthy that this is a true lightweight boat, yet they took on and defeated lineups unquestionably larger in size – but not in heart.” Recently USRowing got rid of lightweight events, which creates a potential disadvantage for shorter, smaller girls. However, Bales and these four girls are optimistic about the future of this boat and their ability to overcome the odds once again in races to come.