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December 14, 2017

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Watershed moment: Rowing club at Lake Las Vegas builds from one man’s passion

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Steve Marcus

A Lake Las Vegas Rowing Club women’s high school team practices at lake in Henderson Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.

Lake Las Vegas Rowing Club

Lake Las Vegas Rowing Club high school teams practice at lake in Henderson Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. Launch slideshow »

Rowing terms

• Stern: back of the boat

• Port: the left side of the boat from the coxswain’s view

• Starboard: the right side of the boat from the coxswain’s view

• She: the boat

• Coxswain: The coxswain, who is responsible for steering the boat and keeping rowers in sync with one another, sits in the stern of the shell facing the other seven members of the crew. The coxswain faces the direction the boat is traveling. “That’s the brains of the operation,” Jim Andersen says.

Want to join?

For more information on the Las Vegas Rowing Club, visit llvrc.org. The junior team meets at 3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday at the Lake Las Vegas boathouse at 15 Costa di Lago at Lake Las Vegas Village. The initial two weeks are free; then it’s $130 monthly.

Jim Andersen was in Arizona to watch his beloved Oakland A’s during spring training and had a few hours to kill before his flight back to Oklahoma.

He went looking for a nearby lake, because when you’ve been coaching rowing for more than 30 years, even your vacations seem consumed by the sport.

He found his way to Lake Las Vegas and fell in love. The weather here is great, the uncrowded lake provides a training area and the nearby village had space for the Las Vegas Rowing Club to establish its headquarters.

“This is the best lake for rowing that I have seen,” Andersen said. “If you looked at the top 25 metro areas (nationally), this was the lone one without a rowing club.”

He soon realized his next adventure: developing a competitive rowing organization in Southern Nevada, similar to his previous stops in California and the Midwest. The club was founded about a year ago, and already has a success story.

Andersen previously developed athletes who went on to represent their countries in three Olympic games and guided clubs to national high school championships. In just a few months after starting the local club, Foothill High School senior Isabella Fimbres earned a partial scholarship to join the University of Texas rowing team.

“It’s a credit to (Andersen) and his ability to help me,” said Fimbres, who competed at the national team identification tryout and spent a month in New Zealand training at an invitation-only camp in her first year with the sport.

• • •

It’s shortly after 3:30 p.m. on a Monday and the 40 or so athletes in the junior program (grades 8-12) are arriving for practice. The expectation is to train at least three days a week, but many attend daily.

The practice doesn’t start on the water. First, it’s cardio — and lots of it. The training regimen is heavily based on work with a rowing machine and exercises similar to a CrossFit class to help build stamina.

Those unfamiliar with the sport assume the most accomplished rowers are those with the best upper body strength and biggest biceps. Andersen knows better. “Lungs and legs,” he repeatedly says.

They’ll soon make their way to the lake, but only after rowers work side by side carrying the boats (shells) from storage down to the water. Everything, from the calisthenics to the pre-racing routine, is done in unison.

“Rowing is the ultimate team sport. There is no superstar,” Andersen says to a parent enrolling her child. “There are eight people in the boat. You are only as good as the slowest guy.”

• • •

In November, the junior team will travel to San Diego for a race of 5,000 meters. In the spring, it will compete in multiple 2,000-meter events — a race of about seven minutes where the weeks of building up stamina are tested.

For many club members, it will be their first competition.

“I watched this before on the Olympics and thought it would be fun,” said Brooklyn Barnes, 13. “It’s definitely a good workout. My leg muscles have gotten bigger.”

Andersen said he constantly communicates with officials at local high schools to increase rowing awareness and participation. He plans to get enough athletes from each school to host a Nevada state championship in the spring.

Fimbres, for instance, was a lifelong gymnast but had to leave the sport because she became too tall.

“But in rowing, being tall is an advantage,” said Fimbres, who is 5-foot-9.

• • •

Las Vegas Rowing Club, a registered nonprofit, has endured expenses of nearly six figures to get established, Andersen said. For instance, new eight-man shells cost $50,000, so the club uses boats from the late-1980s.

They’ve also had to purchase dozens of microfiber oars, which weigh 6 pounds and cost $400 each, as well as the boat docks and launches.

The club isn’t limited to junior rowers. It also has two adult teams — one featuring former collegiate rowers, and one novice group. It hosts monthly events for first-timers. There’s also an eight-person Nevada State College team on the lake in the mornings.

“We make it to where anyone who wants to try rowing can,” said Andersen, who also serves as the club’s executive director.

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