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Rower Robin Prendes in Oklahoma City working toward 2016 Olympics

by Ed Godfrey Published: October 2, 2013

photo - Robin Prendes, at right sitting in the stroke seat, practicing for the Oklahoma Regatta on the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma City Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013.  Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman
Robin Prendes, at right sitting in the stroke seat, practicing for the Oklahoma Regatta on the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma City Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman

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.

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by Ed Godfrey
Copy Editor, Outdoors Editor, Rodeo, River Sports Reporter
Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more...
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