Last year at this time, Chrissy Richardson would wake up before dawn to drive from Dale City to Thompson's Boat Center in Washington for 6 a.m. rowing practice. Then she would make the same trip--through rush-hour traffic--in the afternoon.
She's making the same long trips this summer, but the stakes are a little higher. Richardson and Woodbridge resident Sunny Reid are two of the 22 girls selected to the first Mid-Atlantic Rowing Development Camp, the first step in the Olympic process.
The girls and boys with the top 80 times in the country on a rowing machine, or ergometer, are invited to development camps. But before this summer, the only development camps were in California, Florida and Cincinnati--not exactly an easy trip for teenagers who are in high school or just graduated.
"I really didn't even know about the development camps before this year," said Richardson, who recently graduated from Gar-Field High School and will attend Duke University in the fall.
But she said putting a development camp in this area was a good idea. Last year, she rowed as a member of the Thompson's junior team, made up exclusively of Washington area rowers.
"This area produces fast rowers. Very fast rowers come off the Occoquan and Potomac, and there are so many high schools around here that have rowing programs."
The development camp team, which also includes rising Woodbridge seniors Andrew Nowak and Albert Arnold, left this morning for the U.S. Nationals in Syracuse, N.Y., which begin Thursday. Then it's on to the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in St. Catherines, Ontario, from July 28 to Aug. 1. The Mid-Atlantic team includes rowers from Connecticut and Massachusetts, and Richardson--who is rowing in the first eight--hopes her team can give Cincinnati a challenge this year. For the past two years, Richardson's boat has captured the bronze.
"We would always come really, really close, but it would always be 'Cincinnati A, Cincinnati B, Thompson's,' " she said.
But Richardson's team was also at a significant disadvantage last year. The junior teams would get to practice only once a day, while the development teams could hit the water twice. They would also compete in the same division, meaning Thompson's junior team was competing with some of the best rowers in the United States.
"Pretty much if you're going to row in Washington, this is the place to come," said Matt Russell, the development team coach. "I'm amazed at the potential that there is here."
Russell said the main change between last year and this year is not the talent level of the rowers but the title.
"The title [of development camp] lends an air of officialness to the program," Russell said.
The team had a special visitor at Monday's afternoon practice. Allen Rosenberg, the men's Olympic rowing coach from 1960 to 1976 and the last U.S. rowing coach to win a gold medal, lent his expertise as the girls rowed under the Key Bridge and past the Georgetown waterfront as people settled down to dinner on the boardwalk. The girls row twice a day, every day, unless there's a thunderstorm. They went out Tuesday afternoon, even though the air quality was deemed Code Red and thick black clouds loomed to the west.
But the boys team is a different story. They took the afternoon off.
"They're always looking for an excuse to take the day off," Reid said jokingly. Reid, a rising senior at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, said she wants to attend Duke with Richardson.
Richardson knows boat unity is important if the Mid-Atlantic team is going to challenge Cincinnati. No, the eight girls in the boat don't go on dates together and make trips to the dentist together like the U.S. women's soccer team do in the TV commercials, but Richardson said they do eat, run and hang out together.
"When you start learning how people act out of the water, you begin to learn how they're going to react in the water," Richardson said.
Even though Richardson herself admits she probably isn't big enough to make the Olympic team--she is only about 5 feet 6--she said the competitive atmosphere is enough to wake her up before the sun every morning.
"It's not an average sport, and people always have a question for me when I say I row," Richardson said. "Rowing is not something I can just walk out my front door and practice. . . . I love going to the water every day."
CAPTION: Sunny Reid, left, and Chrissy Richardson were picked for Mid-Atlantic Rowing Development Camp, the first step toward the Olympics.
CAPTION: Development team members Albert Arnold, left, Andrew Nowak, both rising seniors at Woodbridge, practice on Potomac.
CAPTION: Gar-Field graduate Chrissy Richardson, left, Thomas Jefferson rising senior Sunny Reid take a break. Richardson will attend Duke, where Reid wants to go as well.