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Orange Coast College's David Grant receives rowing's top U.S. award

Orange Coast College's David Grant receives rowing's top U.S. award
David Grant, shown at the Orange Coast College rowing center, accepted USRowing’s 2018 Medal of Honor for “extraordinary feats” at a ceremony in New York on Thursday. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The man who transformed Orange Coast College into an unexpected force in rowing, battling head to head with the likes of Notre Dame and Michigan, has received his sport’s highest American award.

David Grant accepted USRowing’s 2018 Medal of Honor for “extraordinary feats” at a ceremony in New York City on Thursday.

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Handed the reins of a bare-bones program in the early 1960s, Grant built Orange Coast into the only community college in the nation that has competed with larger, four-year schools for most of the past four decades.

Though it seemed like a quixotic mission in the beginning, he believed rowing was a good geographical fit.

“This wouldn’t sell in Barstow,” Grant told The Times last summer. “This community likes water sports, likes young people involved in those sports.”

Orange Coast has won 11 national titles and, in 1985, became the first American crew invited to compete in China. Last summer, it made its 11th appearance at the prestigious Royal Henley Regatta.

While guiding his teams to victories in 80% of their races, Grant served as a professor and president at the college. He was also on the coaching staff for the 1984 U.S. Olympic team before retiring from the sport in 2002.

"I try to teach these kids that you can be powerful physically and still not be a good rower,” Grant said on Friday. “Mental power and discipline are the keys not only to being a good oarsman, but to being a success in whatever is undertaken.”

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