Orlando Area Rowing Society (OARS)

Home of Orlando's premier rowing club. Address: 2457 Maguire Rd, Windermere, FL 34786 Phone: (407) 906-2410

OARS in the News

OARS boats make strong showing at US Rowing Youth Nationals


The Women’s V4+ boat led the four OARS boats at the US Rowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota earlier this month with a top-10 finish.


by: Steven Ryzewski Sports Editor

Four boats representing the Windermere-based Orlando Area Rowing Society boathouse qualified for the US Rowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota earlier this month.

The OARS Women’s V4+ team. Courtesy photo

Although all four boats successfully advanced past time trials June 9 to the finals on June 10 and 11, it was the Women’s V4+ boat of Savannah Sellers, Jaime Armitage, Alison Haas, Jessie Way and Samantha Sizelove that broke through to finish within the top-10, nationally, by placing eighth overall.

“We’ve always known this boat could do very well,” Sizelove said. “Everyone in this boat was very, very motivated, and we all had the dedication and the common goal of being in the top 10.”

The top-10 finish is one of the strongest for an OARS varsity girls boat in several years, but the Women’s V4+ boat was not alone in feeling good about its showing at Nationals.

The Women’s Lightweight V8+ boat placed 20th in the nation.

The OARS Women’s Lightweight V8+ team. Courtesy photo.

The boat included Jenny Finch, Megan Ford, Nicole Abruzzo, Kaitlyn Bennett, Payton Graziotti, Morgan Cunningham, Hailey Waller, Jaelin Figueroa and Ashlie Infante.

The boys from OARS got in on the action, too.

The Men’s V8+ boat improved from 20th place in the nation in 2016 to 14th place in the nation this summer. The boat includes John Kiely, Ryan McKinney, Sean McKinney, Valentine Lindsay, John Stephan, Owen Villaneuva, Timothy Miller, Nathan Kohl and Clarissa Barquist.

Finally, the Men’s V4+ boat placed 17th in the nation. That boat included Aaron Russo, Cameron McElwee, Matthew DiRico, Zachary Lung and James Sabis.

In addition to months of hard work, OARS rowers had a built-in advantage at the National meet, because it was in Sarasota this summer — on a body of water in which they have competed many times before.

The OARS Men’s V8+ team. Courtesy photo.

“We knew the course really well,” Sellers said. “We knew where the wind would hit us hard, if there was wind.”

What is also exciting for the boats that made it to Nationals is that each girls boat only had one senior and each boys boat had just two seniors, meaning most of the athletes will return for another shot at an even better finish in 2018.

For OARS Director of Rowing Kirsten Anderson, it was also encouraging to see two teams each for the boys and girls compete well on the sport’s biggest stage for youths.

“I think what was great this year was that we had so many boats from both sides of our boathouse — from our men’s team and our women’s team,” Anderson said.


Contact Steven Ryzewski at sryzewski@orangeobserver.com.


OARS rows to New Jersey for nationals


Orlando Area Rowing Society is sending five boats to the USRowing National Championships in West Windsor, New Jersey, this weekend.


by: Zak Kerr Staff Writer/Reporter

WINDERMERE  The throng of high-school students hitting Lake Down with their rowboats after school these days has decreased from estimates approaching 150 to about 45.

This is not because of reduced interest – rowing continues to thrive and grow in West Orange County – but because Orlando Area Rowing Society (OARS) has again extended its season into June for the USRowing National Championships. Those 45 students represent five boats bound for the June 10 to 12 regatta in West Windsor, New Jersey: women’s and men’s varsity 8+, women’s and men’s lightweight 8+ and women’s varsity 4+.

Five OARS boats placed in the top three at the USRowing Southeast Youth Championships May 14 and 15 in Sarasota.

“My novice year, when I joined, there were probably 40 girls on the team,” said Olympia student Maddie Sabis, who joined OARS in fourth grade and is in the woman’s lightweight 8+ boat. “Now, my junior year, we’re almost at 100, so the more competition, the more people are pushing themselves to be in the top boats and working even harder. And now states isn’t even our goal – now our goal is to get as many boats to nationals as possible, which wouldn’t be possible if we hadn’t been recruiting years ago.”

Hard work at practice for months was the other major factor for the team’s success this season, Sabis said. For example, she said boats from Sarasota had been defeating them all season, but sticking to the practice plan culminated in a sudden victory May 14 and 15 at the USRowing Southeast Youth Championships in Sarasota.

“I remember fall season, when we’re doing all those long (rows) just to build our cardio,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Why am I doing this? This is really rough.’ But then it all pays off when you get to sprint season and you’re beating all those other teams and you can call yourself a national-level athlete. It’s awesome.”

The OARS men’s lightweight 8+ boat conversely earned a bronze medal at regionals, the men’s and women’s varsity 8+ boats each placed second, and the women’s varsity 4+ boat finished third. All four also qualified for nationals; only five teams qualified more than OARS’ five boats of at least four rowers.

“For races, you train for months at a time, six days a week, three hours a day,” said men’s varsity 8+ captain Nicholas Hall, a West Orange High senior who will row at Stetson after three years with OARS. “All that work comes down to a race that’s just over six minutes long.”

This makes rowing a difficult sport to sell to spectators, because it consists of the same mechanics for just a few minutes, he said. Because synchronization is crucial but makes rowing look easy, even parents can fall short in appreciating the exertion of it, which Sabis said can leave her feeling faint.

“You have to make every second of the stroke as together as possible, so when it looks like we’re barely even trying,” she said. “But I know when we finish a race everybody feels (tired).”

Windermere Prep freshman Jason Kwatra said faster rowing usually looks easier, citing his view of 2012 Olympic rowing before he started last year.

But his perspective has changed dramatically since then, and he has grown to appreciate nuances such as seeing rival boats behind when his is in the lead, unlike having little idea of foes’ whereabouts while leading in track.

“It’s kind of like one of those things you agree to do with a friend, maybe as a joke at first,” Kwatra said. “It’s a lot harder and more time-consuming than it seems, but it becomes a lot more enjoyable than a lot of other sports I’ve played – football, basketball, baseball, tennis, swimming. … It’s the most mental, and it’s pretty competitive.”

Hall agreed, noting how instead of having distinct roles, every member of any boat must constantly give a full effort and match his teammates. Despite the 10 different high schools – plus home schools – the 45 national qualifiers attend, they feel they can trust their teammates inside and outside the boat, cherishing friendships from all over the area.

“I do like all the friends I’ve made,” Sabis said, “because I have friends that go to West Orange and Dr. Phillips – and I go to Olympia – so it’s cool to know people who go to different schools when at our schools we’d be rivals.”

Another aspect of rowing that sets it apart is, of course, the setting. Hall said the ability to travel all over Florida and even to rivers in Tennessee for competition leads to seeing all sorts of natural vistas, as opposed to a virtually identical field or court.

“Some of my favorite time is when we go to a big race or even just at practice and you’re pushing yourself really hard, and then you just take a break,” Sabis said. “Especially during winter training, you take a deep breath, look around and the sun will be setting, and you’ll be like, ‘Wow.’ Not many people get to see this every day, so it’s really cool.”

But no setting compares to nationals, where the final stretch is a tunnel of pure screaming, Kwatra said. When he, Hall and Sabis rowed there last year, the senses blurred, Sabis said.

“Last year, it was in Sarasota, so it was really close to home, and we were used to the weather and it made training feel more at home,” she said. “But nationals, you get there and have to take a deep breath: ‘Wow, I just beat all these hundreds of other teams in the country and made it here.’ You have to be really committed to the training and really want it.”

And the three could not stress enough how having more team members has exponentiated their progress.

“Recruiting is definitely a big thing,” Hall said. “The bigger the team means there’s more talent coming in and everyone wants to be better. That pushes other people to say, ‘Hey, I want to try to beat that guy.’ It’s just a cycle of everyone continuously getting better, which then helps the whole team be better.”

And although Sabis said rowing is more common in Central Florida than most would think, she and Hall want OARS to get even bigger, especially if the schools can sponsor and promote it better. That could lead to making the podium at nationals instead of merely qualifying.

For more information, visit OARSrowing.com.


Participation in OARS has many benefits, something one DPHS student knows well

With practice six days a week, Reid Matheison is no ordinary high-school student. 

The sophomore at Dr. Phillips High School joined the Orlando Area Rowing Society in its inaugural year for middle-school students. Five years later, rowing with high-schoolers, his parents have seen incredible growth in many ways.

“Just physically it’s pretty amazing,” Rob Matheison, Reid’s father, said. “But, obviously there’s a lot of dedication and discipline for this sport, and I feel like it brings a lot out of the kids because it takes a lot of commitment to follow through with this.”

Not only do the rowers learn all of the ins and outs of the sport, but also they learn key strategies that they will carry with them through life.

“One of the main things I think it’s taught Reid is his time management,” Sandy Matheison, his mother, said. “He just is so disciplined for himself — to be a 16-year-old kid and so committed to getting the right amount of sleep, eating the right things, getting his school work done and prioritizing everything with the six-days-a-week practice.” 

Along with his time management, Reid has picked up communication skills along the way. Being able to win a race goes far beyond sitting in a boat with oars; without communication, the team would fall overboard.

“I’ve learned a lot about being a leader and being able to talk to people through just talking to the guys on the team or going out and recruiting new rowers every year,” Reid said.

 As the Matheisons have learned as a family, rowing can be different from many traditional sports. One aspect is that without cohesive teamwork, the boat will not succeed.

“It definitely is the ultimate team sport, because you either all succeed together or you all fail together,” Rob said. “They really have to stick together as a team and pump each other up and help each other push forward.”

As it is with many sports, communication is key. Learning to listen to peers and work together is always a milestone for athletes and one of the key takeaways for Reid. 

“It’s learning a lot of discipline, because you’ve got to listen to people, make sure you know what they’re talking about,” Reid said. “You can’t just go off and do whatever you want, or else you won’t do well.”

By on March 19, 2015

article in the West Orange Times

OARS Men’s Lightweight 8 Success at Nationals


Check out these pictures in the West Orange Times of our lightweight 8 that placed 13th in the nation at US Rowing’s Junior Nationals, June 13-15 at Lake Natoma, Calif., near Sacramento.

OARS College Scholarships

It’s becoming a common springtime ray of sunshine, and happily so. Five more OARS rowers have worked their way into college scholarships. Here’s an item from a recent edition of the West Orange Times:

2014-06-19-OARS-WOTimes-5 graduates continue to row-Harding, Hansen, Zimmerman, Figueroa, Montague

These faces, you know from seeing them around the boathouse. Clearly, they clean up real well too. Congrats to all five for the well-deserved honors. In your new boats, and in your lives, row hard go fast. 1-2-3-O-A-R-S OARS!

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