Three Citrus County rowers stepped into their boats for one last practice before leaving for a national competition. Zed Zakaria, Trey Finley and Brenden Donnelly are rowers for the Rowing Organization of Citrus County Students (ROCCS). On June 10, they will compete in the U.S. Rowing Youth National Regatta at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota.

The three rowers have undergone intensive training since the beginning of their 2 kilometer season in January. They’ve implemented two weekly 5 a.m. practices before school, on top of their usual 2 hour and 30 minute practices, five days per week. They’ve also included weightlifting in their regimen. “We’ve clearly reaped the results,” Carly Zakaria, assistant coach, said. 

“I think they’ll be pretty competitive,” head coach, Reza Zakaria, said. “Thursday is important.” Based on their Thursday performance at the time trials, they are put into heats, which determines when and who they row against on the weekend.

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Zed Zakaria, Carly’s brother and Reza’s son, will compete in the under 17 singles event at nationals. Zed is just 15 years old and started rowing nine years ago, after Carly joined ROCCS. “I’ve practiced every other day since then,” he said. 

Up until school was out for the summer, Zed had a lot to juggle. “You just have to set your priorities straight,” he said. “No procrastinating.” 

In addition to competing and staying fit, Zed found that he’s made many close friends at ROCCS. “It’s almost like a family.”

Zed said he’s excited to compete at nationals. “I just wanna go there and see what I can do.”

Trey, 16, and Brenden, 17, will compete in the men’s youth double at nationals. The pair must row together in synchrony and each have important roles that contribute to their success.

“Brenden’s the bow of the boat,” Carly said. “His job is to steer.” Since rowing is done backwards, Brenden has to make sure they’re going in the right direction by glancing behind him. However, the less Brenden turns, the faster the boat travels.

“Trey’s job here is to stroke,” Carly said. He sets the pace, which must be sustained for about 8 minutes at nationals for their 2 kilometer race. “Hopefully shorter than 8 minutes, though, guys” Carly said to the pair.

“It’s a lot of getting to know the technique of how each other rows and rowing well together to do our best,” Trey said. As a single, Zed has to do both of these jobs on his own.

Trey got into rowing in sixth grade, after his brother joined ROCCS. For Brenden, he was introduced to rowing in 2017 at a ROCCS summer camp. “I fell in love with the sport,” Brenden said.

The duo placed in states and went on to regionals. “We got third place, so we’re guaranteed a spot to race at nationals,” Trey said. “I’m nervous but very excited,” Brenden said. 

As Trey and Brenden get closer to graduation, they’re beginning to consider post graduate plans. Both rowers hope to compete at the collegiate level.

At their last practice, June 8, the rowers met at the boathouse on Lake Henderson. They grabbed their boats and oars and walked them down the docks to the water. 

Before getting in the boat, the rowers must ensure the oars are secured with a “collar,” which prevents the oar from slipping out of the oarlock and into the water. Then, they take off their shoes, step into the boat and secure their feet into built-in “shoes.”

The seat in the boat slides back and forth. “You’re essentially pulling your body to lever the oar through the water,” Carly said.

Once on the water, the rowers typically warm up with 2 kilometer and 5 kilometer drills. “We usually row up toward the 5,000 meter mark at the end of the lake and do pieces up there,” Brenden said. Reza and Carly use a megaphone to communicate the drills. When Carly said, “Your workout today is…” they know it’s time to listen up.

After training for the 2 kilometer season since January, the team hopes to keep it going until August for the world championship. “You want a long season,” Carly said. “They’ve worked really, really hard to get here and to be able to go to nationals is amazing for them.”

Hannah Sachewicz is a reporter for the Chronicle. She can be reached at 352-564-2929 or hannah.sachewicz@chronicleonline.com.