Jacob Plihal takes the Lotman Challenge trophy

The Lotman Challenge is part of the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, founded in 1920.

Rowers joke that their professional opportunities hover between few and none.

But in fact, there are a few rowing races in which prize money is offered. These races are for the elite tier of American and international rowers who train year-round.

Vashon’s own graduate of an island youth rowing program, Jacob Plihal — a 2018 graduate of Northeastern University in architecture and an anchor of the school’s top-tier collegiate rowing team — competed in one of these races on Oct. 29, on the Cooper River in Camden, New Jersey.

Plihal took home the Lotman Challenge trophy — and a check for eight thousand dollars.

The Lotman Challenge is part of the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, also known as the Gold Cup, founded in 1920. In 1961, the cup was lost and the event went into a 50-year hiatus until the cup was rediscovered in 2011 and the series resumed. The Lotman Challenge, which is for American elite rowers, began in 2018, but with COVID intervening, this year’s race was only the third time it has been held.

Prior to the race, Plihal had recently returned from the Czech Republic, representing the U.S. in the World Championships, in quadruple sculling (over a two-kilometer course, the U.S. boat started slowly in early races but finished strong) and also competed in the championship bracket in double sculls at the five-kilometer Head of the Charles Regatta the previous weekend, placing fourth in an international elite field.

At the Lotman Challenge, in a return to singles, Plihal raced over an unfamiliar distance of 750 meters. About a dozen rowers competed in a morning time trial, from which the top four fastest rowers advanced to the noon final.

At 6 feet, 10 inches tall, Plihal is one of the tallest rowers in the US elite program and has an impressive stroke length, which is a key success factor in rowing.

For the challenge final, Plihal hung back a bit at the start to gauge the field and adopted a more upright posture with quicker strokes. Much like the 800-meter race in running, you can’t sprint for 750 meters in rowing — but you have to almost do that.

Averaging 40 strokes per minute over the entire race, Plihal brought up the intensity at about the 400-meter mark, pulling to nearly a boat-length lead and holding off the field to the finish line for the win.

The next stop for our itinerant Vashon rower will be the trials to make a boat for the next Pan American games.

“The Lotman Challenge win was a major mojo booster for the trials,” Plihal said.