The masters women's crew of Marin Rowing Association almost canceled their trip from California to Oklahoma City for USRowing's Master National Championships.
For weeks, they had been hearing about the oppressive heat Oklahoma was experiencing.
“We were very nervous about how we would hold up in this heat,” said Muriel Martens, a member of the Greenbrae, Calif., rowing club near San Francisco.
The men's masters team from the Marin Rowing Association did cancel the trip from California because of the expected high temperatures and now must face the consequences.
Their counterparts are returning home as the top masters women's crew in the nation, scoring the most points at the Master National Championships, which concluded Sunday on the Oklahoma River.
“I am very happy we did not (cancel),” said Marin crew member Arlene Killpack. “It's been a big, beautiful regatta.”
The Master National Championships is one of five major events sponsored by USRowing each year.
More than 1,200 men and women from 81 cities across the country raced for four days on the Oklahoma River to win national championships. OKC RIVERSPORT racers won 16 medals in the event.
In addition to the masters nationals, which is for adult athletes, USRowing also holds national championship events for youth, club, collegiate and elite rowers.
Next year, USRowing is adding a sixth national championship, the Masters National Head Races, which will cover longer distances than the normal 1,000-meter races.
This is the first time the Oklahoma River was selected for any of the national championships, but it won't be the last, said Brett Johnson, director of operations for USRowing.
Participation in rowing is growing across the country, not just in Oklahoma City, Johnson said. Oklahoma City, however, is unique in its level of corporate sponsorship for the sport and its facilities in the Boathouse District, he said.
“I have been rowing close to 20 years, and I would venture to say that this is one of the best venues I have been to,” Killpack said.
Her teammate, Mag Donaldson, said rowing venues are usually rower-friendly or spectator-friendly. The Oklahoma River was both, she said.
“It's a fabulous venue for us rowers, but you can also see the whole course, which is really unusual,” Donaldson said.
Members of the Baltimore Rowing Club said it was hot and windy but also gave the Boathouse District high marks.
“This is a brilliant venue,” said Emily Erbelding of the Baltimore crew. “The layout of the docks and boats is thoughtful. It was built to have a very large volume of boats going quickly. All the loading, launching and recovery has been very, very easy, and that's not always the case.”
For most rowers in the event, it was their first time to visit Oklahoma City. The Marin squad visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, bought cowboy boots and hats in Stockyards City and attended a RedHawks game Saturday night.
“We tried to cram in as much as we could,” Martens said. “I have to say the people in Oklahoma City are truly the nicest people I have ever met.”
Paula Merkle of the Baltimore Rowing Club likened the Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River to a “Field of Dreams” approach for rowers. If you build it, they will come.
“It's working,” she said.
Johnson said he hasn't spoken to any of the participants who said they wouldn't come back to Oklahoma City for another regatta. Martens and the rest of the Marin crew said they would return.“We would come back, but maybe in a different month,” she said.