One of the most highly recruited athletes in Ventura County doesn’t even play high school sports.
Bridget Leire, a 5-foot-10 senior at La Reina High School in Thousand Oaks, is one of the top female rowing prospects on the West Coast.
She gave up swimming as a sophomore, joined a club rowing program at Lake Casitas and faster than you can say, “Blades down,” she found a sport to become passionate about.
“There’s an energy you feel when you’re in a boat with other people,” Leire said. “I loved how you’re working for a common goal to move a boat, to make it go faster and to win.”
Seven minutes 20 seconds. That’s the magic time that a female athlete needs to achieve on a rowing machine to receive a college scholarship.
It’s the strangest thing, relying on a machine known as an ergometer that measures the amount of work performed while pulling a lever. A football coach doesn’t offer a scholarship simply because someone runs a certain 40-yard time. A basketball coach doesn’t offer a scholarship because someone can dunk. A baseball coach doesn’t offer a scholarship because of how far someone can hit a baseball.
But in rowing, when an athlete records a time of 7:20 for 2,000 meters and word spreads among college recruiters, “It’s as close to a ticket as possible,” said Zohar Abramovitz, who coaches Leire at the Marina Aquatic Center in Marina del Rey.
Last June, Leire reached 7:18 on the ergometer, and she immediately became a much-in-demand rowing prospect. A scholarship in excess of $100,000 is what’s being offered to get her to sign a letter of intent on Nov. 9.
USC, UCLA and Princeton are the finalists.
“I can’t believe this is actually happening,” Leire said.
Last week, Leire was part of a team from Marina Aquatic that traveled to Boston and finished second out of 75 boats in the Youth Fours women’s category at the Head of the Charles Regatta.
Rowing has become a big deal for football schools looking to add female athletes and stay in compliance with Title IX guidelines. Seven schools in the Pac-12 have rowing programs.
There are only two high schools in California that compete in rowing, and both are in the Bay Area: Berkeley High and San Francisco St. Ignatius College Prep.
In Southern California, athletes join club programs to compete and train in rowing. Marina Aquatic has 120 boys and girls enrolled in its varsity program for freshmen through seniors.
As for why Leire projects as a top prospect in rowing, Abramovitz said, “It fits her personality. She’s a worker, and rowing is a working sport. It’s not so much a talent sport the way maybe basketball is. In rowing, it’s about how much you are willing to put into it, how much work you are able to do, and she seems to be very much suited for that.”
Rowing is a true team sport. Just because one or two individuals might be fabulous doesn’t mean that a boat with eight rowers will win.
“You’re only as good as the sum of your parts,” Abramovitz said.
Exhaustion and pain can be felt as rowers try to endure the physical and mental challenges, but that’s one of Leire’s strengths. She keeps her composure and has learned to overcome the question “Can I do it?” when the going gets tough.
“When you’re on the water and in a race, you have the same interior monologue, and if you go through it every single day and conquer that doubt in your mind, then you’re much more likely to do it during a race,” she said.