Burton Beach Rowing Club juniors Ros Bellscheidt, Olivia White (right, standing), Kate Kelly, Mabel Moses and Ruta Milewski (right, kneeling) after receiving bronze medals at the New Zealand National Rowing Championships last weekend. (Courtesy photo)

Burton Beach Rowing Club juniors Ros Bellscheidt, Olivia White (right, standing), Kate Kelly, Mabel Moses and Ruta Milewski (right, kneeling) after receiving bronze medals at the New Zealand National Rowing Championships last weekend. (Courtesy photo)

Island rowers medal at New Zealand National championships

Three weeks ago, six rowers from the Burton Beach Rowing Club, a chaperone and coach Richard Parr set out on a trip to New Zealand — and after a little over two weeks of exploring, making new friends, climbing a mountain and, yes, rowing, the group has returned home with a bronze medal from New Zealand Rowing National Championships, and memories that will last them a lifetime.

Parr, who coached rowing in New Zealand for 11 years, had often thought it would be a great experience for his American juniors to compete there. The Kiwis are a powerhouse in the sport — their annual high school rowing championships event, the Maadi Cup, is the largest school sports event in the southern hemisphere, with an average of over 2,000 competitors every year. And this year, some of his crew and their parents took his suggestion seriously.

“I always bring it up, but no one has ever actually wanted to do it,” he said. “So when some of the rowers told me that their parents were interested in making it happen this year, it was a bit of a shock. But it was great.”

With New Zealand’s national rowing championships set for Feb. 19 through 23, it was decided that BBRC would compete there.

Every junior member of the Burton Beach Rowing Club was given the option to participate, and ultimately six decided to make the trip — Mabel Moses, Kate Kelly, Olivia White, Ros Bellscheidt, Ruta Milewski and Ava Lorentzen, along with Bellscheidt’s adult cousin acting as a chaperone, all of whom traveled to director Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth for two weeks with Parr as their guide.

Parr’s friend and former colleague at the University of Otago Rowing Club in Dunedin, New Zealand, Glen Sinclair, made sure that the crew had boats to compete in and free use of the club’s facilities for training.

The intrepid crew participated in a scrimmage with rowers from Otago Girls High School to get some rowing practice in before setting off on other adventures, and Moses and Kelly even participated in the high school’s sports day. Then it was off to visit the famous Moeraki Boulders, explore Cave Stream (aka Broken River Cave) — a nearly 2,000-foot long cave about 100 km from Christchurch in the Canterbury region — and climb nearly 6,000-foot Avalanche Peak in Arthur’s Pass National Park in New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

The BBRC crew ended their trip with three days at the national championships at Lake Ruataniwha in Twizel, competing in the W U-19 coxed four and three W U-19 doubles.

Wind delays made for some unexpected down time and a shortened course for the team’s first day of racing, with the four qualifying for the A final and the doubles making the B final.

The final day brought better weather conditions and third place for the four. Moses, Kelly, Bellscheidt, White and Milewski (as coxswain) got to stand on the podium at New Zealand’s national championships and brought home bronze medals. (Note: Because they were a foreign crew, medals were also given the NZ crew who placed fourth.) Moses and Kelly took first place in the B final for the doubles, with a time that was faster than four boats in the A final. Lorentzen and Milewski placed fifth, in what Parr described as a very competitive field. Unanticipated boat damage led to Bellscheidt and White sitting out the race.

While making the podium was a highlight, Parr introducing some of the crew to the likes of New Zealand rowing legend Mahé Drysdale (Olympic gold medalist and five-time world champion in the men’s single) and Irish rowing sensation Gary O’Donovan (Olympic silver medalist and current world champion in the men’s lightweight double), and witnessing the winner of the men’s club single throw his arms around Parr in a hug when he recognized him, were experiences the young crew will not soon forget.

— Sarah Low is a Beachcomber reporter and the wife of Richard Parr

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