Stroke by stroke
Amador senior Taylor Veit taking her passion for rowing to UCLA
For the majority of Amador Valley and Foothill seniors, life is pretty simple right now.
It's their final semester of high school, where school is mixed in with plenty of sleep, as well as a busy social calendar. They grudgingly get up for school each morning, but thoughts of sleeping in on the weekend are the carrot at the end of the motivational stick.
Then there's Amador senior Taylor Veit, who is far from your average senior and her weekly schedule -- weekends included -- would make the majority of teenagers in Pleasanton wince.
In less than two years, Veit was taken the world of competitive rowing by storm, going from a complete novice to a person who's earned a scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles.
And it's taken a complete change of lifestyle, along with plenty of sacrifice.
"I used to be a person who slept in, but not now. I'm an early bird," Veit said.
To be successful in any sport, obviously it takes a tremendous commitment, but rowing takes it to a whole other level.
During the school week, Veit starts school at Amador at 7 a.m. each day, which means she's up around 6 a.m. After getting out of school at 2 p.m., Veit rushes home to change, then heads out to Oakland where she trains with her club team, the Oakland Strokes.
By the time practice is over, she finally gets back to Pleasanton around 7:30, where it's time for dinner and homework. If everything goes according to plan, it's lights out at 10 p.m. before she's up early starting everything over again the next day.
At least she's got the weekends to relax, right? Wrong.
On Saturday, practice starts at 6:45 a.m. and runs until 11 in the morning, followed by another practice Sunday morning. Once the season gets going, the weekends are full of competitions in places like San Diego, Long Beach, Sacramento and home on the Oakland Estuary.
This is Veit's schedule pretty much throughout the year.
The typical teenage life of worrying about what happens next on "Jersey Shore" or some other teen-flavored reality show get lost in the shuffle. Then again, it's probably a good thing.
"Being an athlete, you really have to be on top of things," Veit said. "It's all about being really organized and having a set schedule."
Getting started in rowing came about rather innocently for Veit. It was the summer before her junior year when her family went on vacation to Florida.
While visiting an aunt in Florida who is a competitive rower in the Master's division, Veit tried a rowing machine at the boathouse where her aunt's club trains. The result was like a fish -- or boat -- taking to water.
"After just a couple strokes, she told me I was a natural," Veit said. "She told me I should take up rowing."
Once back from Florida, Veit enrolled in a rowing camp put on by the Strokes and she was hooked.
"I really liked it," explained Veit, who played soccer growing up, then tried volleyball in high school. "I liked the other sports I had played, but they weren't the same as rowing. It was something different, but I felt it was the sport for me."
Initially, it was an even bigger commitment for Veit. She didn't have her license when she began rowing for the Strokes junior program, so she took BART in each day.
"My mom would pick me up after school and I would change clothes in the car on the way to BART station," said Veit, laughing.
Once she got off BART by Jack London Square in Oakland, she would run from the station down to the boathouse. When practice was over, she would run back to BART (many times when it was already dark), then take the train back to Pleasanton. Pretty mature stuff for a junior in high school.
"It wasn't your perfect, Pleasanton-bubble type place," Veit said. "It was a little bit iffy sometimes, but you learn the smart things to do when you're on BART by yourself. It was alright -- it gave me a sense of independence."
By midway through her junior year, Veit had her license, but was nervous about the drive on Interstate 880 with so little time behind the wheel.
"My mom went with me a couple of times, then I got used to it,'' said Veit. "It's made it a lot easier."
If you've ever watched rowing during the Olympics, you see the physical toll which it takes on the athletes. At the junior level, they race 2K (about 1.5 miles), which takes six to eight minutes, depending on the quality of the team.
There's no time to rest as it's physically taxing from start to finish.
"There's no substitutes, no time outs," Veit said. "When we have 250 meters left, we're giving it everything we've got. When you cross the (finish) line, it's an amazing feeling. You're so exhausted, but it's a glorious feeling."
But the physically exhausting nature of the sport aside, being out on the water has a soothing effect on Veit.
"When I'm on the water, it's a different feeling," she said. "It's relaxing and nice. When I'm rowing, that's the only thing I'm thinking about. All things that happen in school or anywhere else, I can just forget about and row."
In just 18 months, Veit's abilities have made some noise in the rowing community. Still battling back from an injury, Veit is working towards a spot on the Strokes varsity 8-boat for the upcoming season. Her commitment, along with her potential, was very attractive to UCLA who offered a scholarship.
"She's got a solid resume," said UCLA coach Amy Fuller Kearney. "In rowing, we recruit a lot on potential and Taylor has all the right attributes. Making that commute to practice each day shows the commitment we're looking for.''
Kearney was quick to point out rowing is a sport where the college programs are willing to bring in people with little or no experience, then mold the athlete into a championship caliber rower.
"We look for the right body type, the right attitude – how devoted and determined they are," explained Kearney, who is a three-time USA Olympian and in her ninth year at UCLA.
What the Bruins' staff is looking for seems to fit right in with how Veit is approaching next year's college season.
"You tell yourself where you want to be and what you're going to do to get there," Veit said. "You have to show them you can do it."
A big plus for Veit in attending UCLA, a program which has won several national titles and is also among the elite in both the PAC-10 and the nation each season, is the school doesn't put a ton of pressure on freshmen.
"We really try not to expect anything (from the freshmen)," Kearney said. "We like to think of ourselves as facilitators. We say here's your goal and here's what we can do (to help). We give them what they need and watch what they can do."
After going from never having been on a rowing team to earning a college scholarship in less than two years, there seems to be no limit for Veit. Maybe some day Pleasantonians will see her in the Olympics?
"I just like to think about things as they are happening," Veit said. "I will row for four years at college because I like it and that's what I want to do. If I work hard enough, maybe after college I can think about something like the Olympics. I just want to keep working hard."