Chris Richbourg had a decision to make last summer: accept an invitation to try out for the U.S. Junior National Rowing team at a six-week selection camp in Boston, or accept a scholarship to attend the month-long Virginia Summer Governor's School for Math, Science and Technology at Lynchburg College.
The year before, Richbourg also had been invited to the junior national selection camp, but had turned it down. This time, there would be no second chance. The summer of study took a backseat to an opportunity to represent his country on the water.
"I'm glad I chose junior nationals because it turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Richbourg, a senior at Woodbridge and fourth-year member on the Vikings' varsity eight rowing team, which won a silver medal at last year's Virginia Scholastic Rowing Championships.
Richbourg was one of 60 invitees to the national selection camp last June. After nine days of training on the Charles River -- no ergometer tests were used during the selection process -- the field was whittled down to 30. Then, over the next month, national team coaches reduced the field to 16. Richbourg's decision to try out paid off. He made the squad.
"From when I started rowing [in ninth grade], it was something I thought about always," Richbourg said, "but not something I had set my heart on."
From Boston, Richbourg was off to Camden, N.J., for the U.S. Rowing National Championships, where his intermediate eight team (which also included 2002 Jefferson graduate Mike Gottlieb) won the title with Richbourg in the fourth seat. The next day, the team flew to Trakai, Lithuania, for the junior world championships, where the U.S. team claimed a bronze medal behind first-place Czech Republic and Italy.
"It was a little disappointing initially, but it was a close race," Richbourg said. "We didn't get blown out.
"It was kind of frustrating [the U.S. team lost by 2.1 seconds in a race that spanned 2,000 meters] but once we stepped back from it we were happy [with our performance]. We had a good time."
In December, Richbourg was accepted to Princeton, one of the "top two or three" collegiate rowing programs in the country, according to Woodbridge Coach Tom Moulen. He will not only study at one of the top universities in the country but also will row with former Woodbridge teammate Andrew Nowak (2000) and reside in the town that serves as the site of the National Team Training Center.
"He's got everything going for him -- personality . . . he's coachable, and he's bright," said Moulen, who three years ago made Richbourg the lone freshman to row a varsity eight boat in the 10 years he has led the Vikings. "He's got the whole package."
The Vikings have come tantalizingly close to winning the Virginia Scholastic championship in all three of Richbourg's seasons -- settling for two bronzes and a silver -- but have been denied the gold each time by Jefferson.
Woodbridge returns six rowers from last year's varsity eight, giving Richbourg hope that his senior season will end with a Virginia title.
"Ninety percent of it is mental," Richbourg said. "You have to want it more than the other team. If you want it enough you can usually overcome ergometer scores and size."