Bainbridge High School graduate brings home the gold
June 9, 2011
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. -
By JOHN BECERRA JR., Bainbridge Island Review Staff Writer
If not for a random encounter that eventually led Lauren Fleming to the Western Washington University rowing team, she might not be at the university at all.
"I was unhappy at Western during my freshman year and I even thought about transferring," she wrote in an email interview. "Rowing provided me with a niche and gave me that sense of belonging I think I had been missing my first year at college."
Fleming, a 2008 graduate of Bainbridge High School, was in the bow of the women's varsity four that won a national championship at the NCAA Division II national rowing championships on Lake Natoma at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center in Gold River, Calif. May 27-29.
The boat, consisting of coxswain Kelsey McFarland, stroke Kelsey Baker, No. 3 Mariana Cains, No. 2 Alyssa Dewey and Fleming, now a junior at Western, won the title with a time of 7:50.72, over a boat length ahead of second place finisher Humboldt State.
The varsity eight also came home with a title as did the university, which won its seventh straight team national title. It is an unprecedented run for any college in any division in rowing since the NCAA started awarding national championships in the sport in 1997.
The Vikings also finished the year the way they started at the No. 1 spot in the US Rowing/Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association NCAA Division II poll, collecting all five first-place votes.
It is the second straight national title for the varsity four and the first time that Fleming was a part of the varsity four at the national championships.
"My experience at nationals was better than I ever thought imaginable," she wrote. "My team has become my family and I would do anything for those girls, so crossing the finish line and becoming national champions with the girls on my team was unbelievable.
"Hearing the crowd chant `Western!' and having reporters swarm us made me feel like a superstar," Fleming continued. "All of those early morning practices, difficult workouts, frustration, and sacrifices paid off. I honestly couldn't ask for more."
Fleming, who was a member of the 2005 state gymnastics title team as a freshman and was an alternate on the 4x400 meter relay team that went to state her senior year, said she had never taken part in the sport.
But a random encounter in the summer of 2009, when a trainer at Bainbridge Island Fitness had stopped her while she was working out and asked if she was a rower, piqued her interest.
Fleming then checked out the Western rowing team online and sent an email to coach John Fuchs to see if she could try out. She worked on her upper body strength for the rest of the summer, then tried out for the team in September and "to my surprise I made it," she wrote.
Fleming said she quickly fell in love with the sport.
"The water, the synchronicity, the sunrises, and the people had me hooked," she wrote. "It took a while to get used to balancing school and waking up at 4:30 a.m. six days a week. Nevertheless, I knew rowing was for me."
Fleming rowed in different positions in the novice boat her first two years and was named a league academic all-star her sophomore year. But she was moved to the bow of the varsity four on the first day of practice this season.
The bow, which is responsible for keeping the boat in a straight line due to the bow's oar having the most torque, is also responsible for balancing the boat and communicating with the coxswain.
Fleming said Fuchs put her in the bow because she is the smallest rower and smaller rowers have a better chance of sitting in the narrowest seat on the boat and keep it balanced.
She also said that her background in gymnastics helped her performance.
"Gymnastics taught me to become particularly aware of my body position at all times and this has helped me balance the boat with ease," she wrote.
Fleming rowed on the second varsity eight and second varsity four for much of the season, but was a winner in nearly every race she rowed in. She moved up to the varsity four by the time the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship Regatta rolled around in April.
She wrote there was a lot of competition between rowers to find those who would make the national meet - but also said she was not worried when she made the boat for nationals.
"A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into choosing the athletes who would compete at nationals, but eventually those who proved they could move the boat the fastest were chosen for nationals," Fleming wrote. "Surprisingly I was confident throughout all of nationals and I never felt too much pressure. We all earned our spot on the team and we remained undefeated throughout the whole year.
"Going into the national competition I didn't feel like I had to find anything new or change my technique," Fleming continued. "All I needed to do was continue performing how I had been throughout the whole year."
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