Masters Nationals a success; local crew takes fourth

Looking back at a weekend where more than 1,100 athletes descended on the Occoquan Reservoir for four days of competition in the U.S. Rowing Masters Nationals, event organizer Lee West was tired, but all smiles.

But she wasn’t the only one who left the event smiling.

Prince William Rowing Club’s Pat Williams, Gretchen Thompson, Mary King, Michael Heisey and coxswain Jeannette Warbritton crossed the finish line third in their women’s lightweight fours race in one of the weekend’s top finishes by a local crew.

Though an age handicap gave the bronze medal to an entry from Saugatuck Rowing Club and relegated the PWRC boat to fourth place, the crew still impressed their coach.

“I thought they did super, I thought that was one of the best rows they did together,” said Alex Torres, who coaches the crew and also runs the Rowing Fitness Center at Gold’s Gym in Lake Ridge. “They practiced more than some of our other crews, because they had the time, and I think it showed.”

“It was kind of an ego-deflater,” said King of the handicap situation. “But we finally convinced ourselves that we came in third on the water, and that was what mattered.”

Torres was fairly satisfied with the weekend as a whole. Three PWRC women’s crews finished in the top four in their races.

“We didn’t walk away with any prizes,” he said, “but given the history of our group, I think we did pretty well.”

West, who had about 100 volunteers helping run the event, many of them from high school booster clubs, was equally satisfied with the weekend.

“It went very, very well, better than I thought possible,” she said.

West, whose staff organizes the state and D.C.-area scholastic championships, said that the crowds were a bit smaller than the thousands who pack the Sandy Run grandstands in the spring. But with masters participants rowing as singles and doubles as well as fours and eights, there were some additional logistical challenges. There were more boats on the Occoquan than during any high school event.

“This was something new for us to tackle,” West said, “and it turned out great.”

Among the impressed were members of the 2012 Washington/Baltimore Olympic bid committee. West said their comments throughout the event, including some made to a television station from D.C., were all positive.

If the Olympic Games came to the D.C. metropolitan area, official rowing competition would be held at Brambleton, on the Fairfax/Loudoun border. The Occoquan, at the Prince William/Fairfax border, could be the site for open-to-the-public Olympic practices.

Masters events are open to rowers aged 27 and older. Next year’s championships are scheduled to be held on the west coast, possibly in San Diego or Seattle.

Following the event’s first visit to the D.C. area, West said she and other organizers received plenty of praise.

“We tried to make it more festive, we had a Vendor Row Avenue,” she said. “It was kind of like a racing venue with a country fair feel to it. The athletes enjoyed that. One of the biggest hits was Woodbridge Wireless ham radio group, they filmed races and aired them back at the boathouse for athletes… They did four days of coverage [from a] TV tent. It was a lot of work, but it really was a great asset to the event.”

“It was the best job I’ve ever seen managing a regatta,” said Torres, who was most impressed with how the event stayed on schedule.

West said she was asked what it would take for her staff to go out west and run the event next year.

“I told them they didn’t have enough money,” she joked.

Several D.C.-area clubs, including Potomac Boat Club, Occoquan Boat Club and Alexandria Community Rowing, were among the most successful teams present.

Among local competitors, Warbritton, King, Heisey and Thompson were also a part of a fourth-place finisher that included Vicki Herman, Vickie Zadnik, Karen DeVito, Lynn Jones and Cyndi Van Winkle.

Williams joined coxswain Chris Manzione, who she coaches at Gar-Field, on a fourth-place finisher that included Marty Nelson, Mandy Jackson, Mary Jo Ward, Carole Protacio, Ulli Vaerst, Stephanie Ferguson and Phyllis Ingram.

The lightweight four that finished third was made up of coaches from four of the five Prince William High Schools that participate in crew. Williams coaches at Gar-Field, Thompson at Forest Park and King at Potomac. Heisey, formerly of Woodbridge, is the head boys coach at Hylton.

The crew, with an average age of 47, finished its final in 4:39.08, behind Denver Boat Club and St. Louis Rowing Club. Their handicap lowered their time to 4:30.30, but Saugatuck’s crew averaged 58 years of age. The Michigan-based crew’s 4:44.53 finish became 4:23.73 with the handicap, moving them from fifth place onto the medals dock to receive bronze.

King said that the lightweight four had no idea that Saugatuck’s handicap was more than 20 seconds, a significant amount in a sprint race.

“Of course they were disappointed,” said Torres of his crew, “but they felt that they really did come in third on the water, and they weren’t disappointed with that.”

Complete results from the event, which crowned 76 champions on the final day, are available at Photos from the event, by the Prince William Rowing Club, are on the web at

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