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Check out this GREAT article that was in Sunday's Orlando Sentinel featuring OARS & LCRA!

posted Aug 12, 2013, 12:52 PM by Unknown user,0,960201.story

Clermont looks to capitalize on growing sport with rowing complex

Hoping to propel a sport more popular in the Northeast, the Orlando Area Rowing Society three years ago launched a program to teach middle-schoolers how to row. Boats full of children quickly began to pick up oars and hit the water.

The program started with 14 kids, society president Ray Hernandez said. This fall, he expects 120 kids with more placed on a waiting list.

Now, as the sport continues to grow in Central Florida, Clermont is hoping to capitalize on its popularity with plans to build a $750,000 rowing complex on Lake Minneola that could draw collegiate and national crew teams to train there during winter and spring breaks.

"Clermont is uniquely positioned next to the most popular destination in the world — Disney," Assistant City Manager Scott Blankenship said. "And we're surrounded by lakes."

The Lake County Rowing Association will use the facility, which likely will include a 2,000-meter (1.24-mile) course on the lake and a 4,000- to 5,000-square-foot boathouse that will hold 25 to 35 boats and training equipment. The facility should help boost the crew club's membership, president Debbie Kiely said. She and rowing partner Karen Dorr started the club two years ago to promote the sport in Lake.

"Once we got the word out, we started finding people that use to row," Kiely said, adding they now have 40 members, ranging from 14 to about 60 years old.

It's one of a few sports that people can do at all ages because it's easy on the joints and relatively easy to learn, said Kiely, 47, who picked up the sport more than a decade ago. Several of her members returned to the sport after rowing in high school and college — some for recreation, others to compete, she said.

The Orlando Rowing Club has been drawing adults to the low-impact sport through learn-to-row events throughout the year, helping double the size of its membership to 110 in the last few years, president Kim Taylor said.

"It's something you can do as a lifelong [sport]. We have members from 21 to 86," she said.

The sport has "catapulted" throughout the state in the past half decade, according to Glenn Merry, CEO of the Princeton, N.J.-based USRowing. That's in part to the growing number of youth and high-school crew programs that have doubled in the past eight years and draw thousands of students, he said.

"The sport is growing nationally. You guys are at the forefront of it," Merry said, referring to Florida. "You have a lot of waterways. It's a visible and accessible sport, more so in your state than other states."

He expects the sports will continue to gain steam as more teams from colder states travel to Florida to train in the winter and spring at facilities such as the one proposed in Clermont and the "premier" Florida World Aquatic Center in Sarasota, which is bidding to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships.

Clermont officials hope to attract some of the teams that could compete in the championships to Lake for training. Construction on it could start at the end of the year or early 2014, City Manager Darren Gray said.

Half of the project will be paid for by county tourism tax dollars.

The Orlando Area Rowing Society has been the winter training spot for the crew team at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., for at least six years, said Justin Knust, head men's coach for the organization. About 100 students came down from New York last year to row at Lake Down in Windermere, he said.

He said the rowing society is looking at expanding its competitive high school-age team, which the middle-school program feeds into. However, he said they don't have enough equipment at the boathouse with the growing demand. The organization draws young and adult athletes mainly from southwest Orange County.

Soon, rowers in Central Florida will have another option with the Clermont complex.

"We're really excited of what the future holds," Knust said. "As the sport grows in the region, everybody's going to benefit."