In the preliminary race of the junior women’s rowing eight on Sunday, Gabbie Graves and her teammates took second place for the United States and prepared to face off against a considerable rival, Italy.
It was day four of the 2019 World Rowing Junior Championships in Tokyo, and Graves, an ace of the Burton Beach Rowing Club (BBRC), said the crew came together for a group hug back on the dock. They believed they could medal.
But China and Germany, she said in a later phone conversation, had not shown all of their cards.
In the final event, the team took fourth place, missing the bronze by a mere fraction of a second.
“Obviously we were disappointed with the result,” said Graves, “but I don’t think I was disappointed with the people. I think that we really had a great race, and we did everything we could just to hold on and push our bow ball ahead.”
Graves has good reason to be proud — she and fellow BBRC rower Kate Kelly emerged from three weeks of competitive practice in Connecticut in June and were selected out of a crowded field of athletes to join the 27-woman-strong national team in Japan from Aug. 7 to 11.
“I feel really proud of everyone that competed, and of our team, and for what we were able to throw down on the course,” said Graves, adding that the spirit of the junior eight crew was high, and their camaraderie was strong.
“I’m extremely proud of every single person in that boat,” she said.
Kelly rowed in her junior four event, pushing across the finish line with her teammates to a sixth-place finish. She said she is undeterred.
“What was just kind of special for us going in is we just had a lot of support — just from our family, our coach, we just had so much support from home,” she said.
Coach Richard Parr said both she and Graves were looking ahead optimistically to the next rowing season. He hopes the small club attracts new talent as determined as they are.
“You want people who sort of fall in love with the sport and want to go on,” he said, adding that for both rowers to have landed a place on the national team is an achievement in and of itself.
“We have to be happy with that,” he said.
This was a touchstone year for the Burton Beach Rowing Club, which made waves in both international competitions as well as stateside. Junior boys Davis Kelly and Jordon Rutschow took first place in the 500-meter sprint during the fifth annual Zhengzhou Longzi Lake University Rowing Regatta in China earlier this spring. At the Brentwood Regatta in Mill Bay, Vancouver Island, Canada last May, rowers faced difficult conditions and fierce opponents while still managing to take home two golds, a silver and three bronze medals.
The club similarly made a strong showing at the University of Washington’s Husky Open, Burton Beach Invitational and the second annual multi-team scrimmage in Vancouver, Washington, this year, with a score of awards claimed by the young athletes in each.
“I think, for a little tiny rowing club, that’s pretty good,” said Parr, noting that he believes it is important to put setbacks into perspective and look at things as they are.
“The rest of the world takes it very seriously too,” he said. “I’ve run junior national teams in three countries, and I can tell you we took it pretty seriously. But I’m super proud of them.”