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Asheville Youth Rowing looks to bring a title home to coach

Asheville Youth Rowing Association head coach Jack Gartner will have to watch from afar as two of his teams compete for national titles (WLOS Staff).jpg

WLOS - There are tough people in the world, and then there's Jack Gartner. Less than a month after having open-heart surgery, the founder of Asheville Youth Rowing Association was back at the boathouse barking out orders to his various teams. "Jack is the coach who makes sure everything is Ok. He sets the line-ups; he made this line up so like, he's doing something right obviously," smiled Lori Belanger, a member of the varsity women's four team. Gartner always seems to be on the verge of a smile, especially when the kids in his program are around the water. "It's all about the kids to start with, but what really happens is when they get into a boat they form this chemistry among themselves," he said of his love for coaching the sport of rowing. "That's what makes it so important."

Belanger and her teammates have reason to be proud. They're heading to the national championship in Sacramento this weekend along with one of the varsity boys teams. "It's really tough," explained Gartner of making it to the event. "You take an individual after they've developed all this strength and endurance, and you put them together [with a team]. It's almost choreographed like a ballet." More than 350 squads featuring 1,500 rowers will be at the USRowing 2018 Youth National Championships. Those teams will be vying for one of eighteen titles at Lake Natoma. Both teams from Asheville Youth Rowing placed first in their respective heats at the Southeast Regionals to qualify for the championship event.

Both squads dominated in the regional rounds, winning by about thirteen seconds each. That performance wasn't fueled simply by athleticism; rather, the most important factor is chemistry among the rowers. One of Gartner's most important duties is finding the right mix of personalities to take a boat to victory. "Honestly, I've never been in a boat where we have this connection," raved Belanger. "It's something that I've never experienced before." Gartner knew the time would come where he would have to step away from the lake for a bit. His heart surgery was to replace an aortic valve in his heart that was put in several years ago. The heart condition stems from a bout with scarlet fever during his childhood. Despite the early setback, Gartner went on to row at the University of Pennsylvania from 1960-64. Since then he has started rowing programs at both the high school and collegiate levels and coach youth teams up and down the east coast.

This year marks the ten year anniversary for AYRA, which was founded to promote the growth of the sport in Western North Carolina. A picture of the inaugural team hangs in the foyer of the Jack Gartner Boathouse on Lake Lure. Since that year, the organization has grown from eleven rowers to nearly a hundred. Several athletes under Gartner's watch have signed college scholarships. Despite all the success, Belanger's team is the first women's group from AYRA to make it to the national championships. "I've been dreaming about this ever since I started rowing," exclaimed Belanger. " We actually decided to get Crocs if we made it to nationals. So, now we all have Crocs!"

The new footwear isn't the only thing the team will carry with them to the competition. Gartner not only teaches rowing, but also expounds life lessons through the boats. Even though he won't physically be in the Golden State, his words will travel with the rowers wherever they go. "Hard work pays off," he stated. "They gain that work ethic here and they carry that on the rest of their lives." That and their love of the sport will take them further than any vessel ever could. "By doing this sport, I found myself," emphasized Belanger. "I've kind of gotten my personality and I understand who I am. So, it's just made me a better person."

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