From Cuba to Miami to Princeton to Oklahoma City to London.
Not many rowers arrive at Princeton having been born in Cuba and trained in the alligator-infested canals near Miami, but that was Robin Prendes' path to the 2012 Olympics in London.
It was a journey that also included a stop in Oklahoma City. A place Prendes plans to call home for at least another three years in hopes of making the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Prendes moved to Oklahoma City to train in the Boathouse District after graduating from Princeton in 2011. He set his sights on earning a spot on the U.S. national team in the Lightweight Men's Four.
He achieved that dream and was part of the four-man crew that rowed in the 2012 Olympics, placing eighth, the highest finish for the American boat in recent years.
Prendes, 24, and Olympic teammate Anthony Fahden have decided to remain in Oklahoma City and try for the 2016 Olympics, but that's not the only goal. Just making the U.S. team and competing in the Olympics is no longer good enough.
At the 2013 World Rowing Championships in South Korea last month, the Lightweight Men's Four that also included new crew members Bob Duff and 2008 Olympian Will Daly — who also train in Oklahoma City — placed fifth overall, marking the first time in 13 years that the United States had made the A final in the championships.
An Olympic medal in 2016 doesn't seem like such a long shot anymore.
“It's obvious to everyone the goal is different than before,” Prendes said. “The goal before was to see how well we can do (in the Olympics). The goal is now to get a medal in the Olympics. That's a significant mind shift for everyone.”
Prendes was born in Cuba, the son of a father who was a chemist in a sugar cane factory and a mother, an industrial engineer, who once represented Cuba in the Pan American Games as a swimmer.
Her athletic ability may have been inherited by Prendes' older brother, Rodolfo Jr., who was a promising swimmer until being stricken with leukemia.
Prendes' parents tried to leave Cuba to get medical help in the United States for their oldest son, but were either denied permission or ignored by the Cuban government, he said.
“My father was trying to do everything he could to save his life,” Prendes said. “You can imagine how tragic that was for them.”
Prendes was only 5 when his 12-year-old brother and only sibling died.
“I couldn't really grasp it,” he said. “The older I get the more I realize how naive I was to the whole situation.”
Less than two years later, the family was permitted to leave Cuba, but too late for Rodolfo Jr. They moved to Miami, Fla., where Prendes' father joined his brother in a business selling and repairing motorcycles, dirt bikes and scooters.
His mother earned a degree from Miami Dade Community College and became a paralegal for a law firm that specializes in patents, copyrights and trademarks.
Prendes, who didn't speak any English when he first arrived in Miami, quickly learned the language in public school. He was an excellent student and graduated high school with a high grade-point average.
His sport was rowing. In Cuba, Prendes and his family lived near a beach where the Cuban national rowing team trained. It was also the site of a national regatta.
“It was a big event,” he said. “I always watched the races on the beach.”
And his father always thought his son should try to row. After relocating to the United States, the family eventually moved to a lake near Miami.
One morning while Prendes' father was jogging, he noticed several people rowing on the lake. It turned out that a doctor originally from Peru who lived on the lake had hired a rowing coach for his sons.
“I got in with them,” Prendes said.
More teens living around the lake started rowing too, and the group formed a rowing club called the American Barge Club.
At first Prendes, rowed just for recreation, but the club eventually started racing.
“I realized I was pretty good at it,” he said. “I wanted to take advantage of something I found a talent in.”
Prendes was more than pretty good. As a high school freshman, he won the national championship for one-person boats 16 and younger.
He started looking for a big-time coach, and his search led him to the Miami Rowing Club.
“I knew I wanted to get better,” he said.
He won another national championship in a two-person boat the next year and didn't lose a race in the United States the following year as a high school junior. He qualified for the Junior World Championships that year and raced internationally for the first time in Amsterdam, finishing 13th.
That same year, the U.S. team trials were held in Princeton, N.J., and Prendes and the tradition-rich rowing school discovered each other.
At Princeton, Prendes was part of two national championship boats. After graduating with a degree in economics, Prendes turned his attention to the Olympics.
The men's lightweight rowing team had just made Oklahoma City and the High Performance Center its home base for training. Prendes moved to Oklahoma City to try and earn a spot on the boat and obtained a part-time job from Devon Energy, where he is now employed full-time in the human resources department.
Prendes will be rowing as a member of the eight-man OKC High Performance team in the Oklahoma City University Head of the Oklahoma this weekend on the Oklahoma River, part of the Oklahoma Regatta Festival that continues through Sunday.
But the ultimate goal is the 2016 Olympics and winning a medal for the United States.