White hooked on rowing and its possibilities

Columbia River student has strong showing at Junior Nationals

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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Barely a year ago, rowing was something Gabi White tried at the urging of her father.

"I was a little skeptical about it," she said.

As a soccer defender, White knew the demands of making decisions on the run and being part of a team. She didn't know a thing about rowing.

Turned out, she was a natural.

After spending her first season with Vancouver Lake Crew rowing on novice boats, White surged to the varsity level this spring and recently represented the club at the U.S. Rowing Junior Nationals at Rancho Cordova, Calif., where she finished 11th in the women's single scull competition.

The Columbia River High senior-to-be called it one of the best experiences of her life.

"The highlight was how amazing the rowers were. It was beautiful to watch some of these rowers," she said.

Once she was introduced to Vancouver Lake Crew, it didn't take long for White to discover beauty on the lake. On the water of Vancouver Lake, White discovered a serene focus that is much different than the frenzied focus required as a defender on the soccer field.

"Just the feeling on the water when you're rowing is amazing," she said. "When you're rowing (well) it's peaceful and your mind is blank and you're focusing only on rowing."

That kind of focus combined with a competitive streak helped White develop quickly into a strong rower.

A novice rower only a season ago, it was during a November regatta hosted by the University of Washington that White learned she might have a real future in the sport. She finished second in the single scull race at the Head of the Lake Regatta, her first race as a solo rower.

In May, she placed third in the varsity single scull race during the Pacific Northwest Junior Regionals, held on Vancouver Lake. That qualified her for nationals and provided additional proof that she had found her calling.

White said she was "very, very nervous" before her first race at nationals on Lake Natoma in part because none of the rowers in her heat were from the Northwest regional.

With no idea how fast the other rowers in the race would be, White went out and rowed the fastest 2,000 meters of her young career. Her time of 8 minutes, 26.985 seconds was the fourth best in her heat.

"The water was very nice," she said, calling her time "a nice surprise."

A headwind slowed times the next two days, but White returned to Vancouver more enthusiastic about the sport and the possibilities ahead. Stewart notes that White has already been contacted by college coaches.

She will spend her summer helping coach Vancouver Lake Crew camps for young rowers, and — of course — rowing as much as she can.

"I love it on the water," she said. "I still love soccer, but I love this so much more."