VIRC youth give it their all in humid Florida

100% humidity and temperatures in the upper 90s are not for the faint of heart.

If you have never been to Sarasota, Florida, 18 members of the Vashon Island Rowing Club’s youth team can confirm that it is hot, humid, and sunny.

Nonetheless, VIRC’s youth athletes persevered in the extreme conditions (100% humidity and temperatures in the upper 90s are not for the faint of heart) and found success on the Nathan Benderson racecourse. This is the 13th consecutive year that VIRC has taken boats to the USRowing Youth Nationals.

All five boats sporting the team’s distinctive blue blades and uniforms qualified for the B finals, and raced to see where they landed among the top 16 crews in the country.

“This was the first year that we were confident in our ability to send multiple crews to the National Championship,” Head Coach Ben Steele said. “We have been rebuilding our numbers since 2018, so it was great to see years of growth pay off and some of our youngest athletes qualify.”

“I am so proud of the athletes’ performances. While we may not have ended up in the A finals with a shot at the podium this year, each boat set personal best times. They put their heart and soul into this season, and it was rewarding to see that pay off. As a coach, I’m excited to build off this momentum into an incredible season next year.”

After two days of time trials and semifinals, Saturday started with a gutsy sprint from fifth to third place in their final, and 11th in the nation, by the men’s U15 4x+ of Grayson Hamilton, Brendan Blower, Arlo Harris, Alden Metler, with coxswain Kai Graham.

“These boys have really coalesced this trip,” said Rob Hamilton, team parent. “What a great end to our first year with the team. Regardless of what the future holds, they will always have this experience together.”

The rest of the Vashon boats took their cue from the U15 boat. The women’s U16 4x+ of Rose Ely, Gwen Tomlinson, Ren Colvos, Emily Rock, and coxswain Alekos Dalinis walked through several boats before posting a 30-second personal record (PR) and an open water win of the final to land ninth in the nation. The women’s U17 4x of Gwen Ranney, Rose Ely, Yvie Hu, and Ella Odegard then turned on the gas just an hour later and zipped in front of another crew for second in the heat and 10th in the nation with a 10-second PR.

If you think you read that wrong, you did not: one rower did indeed race 2000 meters in the Florida heat, and then hop right back in another boat less than an hour later to do it again.

“We’re all in awe of Rose,” Steele said. “Not only did she row twice each day, which is unusual for many athletes at Nationals, but she gave both boats her all and helped them find success.”

Rounding out the VIRC boats on Saturday was the men’s U17 4x of Xander Nelson, Henry Cooper, Quentin Cherry, and bow Tyler Davis. The photo finish of their final meant that they finished sixth in the heat and 14th in the nation, but were within 0.4 seconds of the third, fourth, and fifth-place boats.

VIRC athletes were happy to see and cheer on another island rower, Briar Guenther, who also made the trip in his U17 1x. Guenther made the B Finals as well and secured his spot at 13th in the nation after a valiant sprint.

Sunday ushered in a breeze and moderately cooler weather (95 degrees instead of 97) for senior VIRC rower Liv Ormseth’s last race wearing Vashon blue in the women’s Youth 1x.

“This may have been the perfect trip to cap off my time with VIRC,” Ormseth reflected on the way home. “The past five years on the team have meant more to me than I think anything ever could. I have been pushed, challenged, and mentored into a person unrecognizable from before. Being able to extend the season a few more weeks to soak up more time with all these people whom I have so much love and admiration for has been so special.”

“When I started rowing in 2019, the team was small, and while we worked hard, placing regionally was difficult for our girls’ team,” Ormseth added. “I am filled with so much pride — often mixed with tears — whenever I get a moment to step back and look at the strong, thriving team we have built together. Having all five boats sent to Nationals place in the B final is an amazing, tangible reward for the hard work that the team, coaches, and countless parents and supporters have put in. It breaks my heart to leave this chapter of my life behind, but it couldn’t have closed in any better way. From landing in Florida until leaving, Nationals has been an amazing experience, and will be cherished in my memory forever as I move from my rowing family to UW’s (University of Washington).”

Ormseth’s teammates and supporters at home and on the Sarasota beach cheered her on as she sprinted into fifth place and 13th in the nation. An outgoing team captain and role model on the team, the whole VIRC family looks forward to watching her upcoming success with the UW women’s team.

Next up for the Vashon Island Rowing Club will be cheering on the adult team as they travel down to Eugene, Oregon for the Northwest Masters Regional Championship. Summer programming is open and information for youth and adults is available at

Delany Steele is the boathouse director and novice coach of the Vashon Island Rowing Club.