TAMPA – About 10 years ago, Tampa's Molly Hamrick attended a rowing camp at Berkeley Preparatory School. Right then, her future path was set.
“I loved it,'' Hamrick said. “I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.''
Hamrick, after rowing at Plant High School and Princeton University, has pursued her sport to the highest degree.
She is among members of the U.S. Elite Women's Rowing Team – all with designs on competing in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – who will compete Saturday in the Roosevelt Rowing Regatta on Tampa's downtown waterfront along Seddon Channel.
For Hamrick and her U.S. teammates, it's an escape from the frozen North, a departure from tedious indoor training and a taste of friendly competition before eager spectators.
For others in the regatta – the competitors in rowing, paddle boarding, kayaking and dragon-boat racing – it's an opportunity to witness water sports at a world-class level.
“There are many young women in high-school rowing who take this sport very seriously,'' said Dave Spraker, head coach with the Stewards Foundation, which fosters rowing opportunities throughout the Tampa Bay area. “It's not just people who are bitten by the bug of a sport. It becomes their passion.
“They are looking to pursue it in college, maybe beyond. Having athletes like this coming to our area, connecting those dots, it's gigantic for us and the whole rowing community.''
Once, Hamrick was among the young rowers who dreamed of a future in the sport.
Today, she holds a psychology degree from Princeton and works a marketing job in Boston, but rowing remains her priority. When she began at Plant, trying to balance softball and rowing, she wondered if the Olympics were a realistic goal.
Now she knows it's possible.
“You need short-term goals to keep you going toward the bigger goal, but even though you may not verbalize it, the Olympics are always in your head,'' said Hamrick, 22. “It's the ultimate for our sport.''
For the next few months, though, the rowers will be intent on qualifying for this summer's World Championships in Amsterdam. The 2015 World Championships, staged in France, are an Olympic qualifier so the goal is within reach.
“This is the grunt-and-groan portion of our year,'' said Curtis Jordan, the director of high performance for U.S. Rowing, who oversees the U.S. National Team's training at Princeton. “We're thrilled to be in this weather, actually on the water. It's great to be in this sort of environment after spending so much time building their skills and physical capacity.''
Veteran U.S. coxswain Katelin Snyder, part of the Women's Eight team that set a world record in 2013, said Tampa has provided the perfect training ground this week.
“It's so nice to have such a long body of water, where it's so flat, and you can just row for miles and miles,'' said Snyder, a graduate of Winter Park High School and the University of Washington. “You have to embrace the grind of the process in order to stay motivated to do this every day. But a week like this is kind of refreshing. We work at this pretty hard.”
Snyder, 26, holds a history degree from Washington, but wants to pursue coaching when her competitive rowing days are done. There's no end in sight. Like many rowers, she lives with a host family in Princeton, N.J., and works odd jobs to make ends meet.
But the real payoff is a shot at Brazil.
“This is a fun group of people, everybody down to earth, no complainers,'' Snyder said. “We're always pushing each other to be better. It's an extremely competitive environment and as we get closer to the summer, we'll have some selection events where we'll see who will get to compete (in the World Championships).
“We take everything we do very seriously. But it's very nice to be at a regatta like this, where everyone there is someone who just loves rowing. We'd like to put on a good show.''
IF YOU GO
What: Third annual Roosevelt Rowing Regatta
Where: Tampa's downtown waterfront, along Seddon Channel, next to Davis Islands' Marjorie Park.
When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
More Information: Log onto www.RooseveltRowingRegatta.com.