By Bob Keisser Sports Columnist
Posted: 04/08/2012 10:08:39 PM PDT
Twelve years ago, you could have found Sherri Kline at the U.S. National Rowing Training Center, putting in three-a-day workouts totaling about 24,000 meters. There would be 6,000-meter sprints, three times the official distance of all rowing events.
There was interval training. There was weight training. There was the relentless rhythm of the stroke, 32-to-42 times a minute.
It was the kind of grind any athlete with an Olympic dream, from the rower to the runner, could understand and tolerate no matter how difficult it was. Kline had the dream and the performances to back it up.
In 1999, the three-time U.S. national team performer was part of the U.S. quad team (four rowers) that won the world championships. A year later, she made it to the Olympic Trials, but did not secure the one lonely bid the U.S. has for each rowing event in the Olympics.
And then she “retired,” at least from elite rowing.
“After all of that effort, you sort of feel like it’s time to live a normal life,” Kline said last week. “The volume and intensity is very stressful.”
So the former Sherri Kiklas married, and began working in dental ceramics, and put her energy into cycling and triathlons, for fun and recreation.
Today, you can find Sherri Kline at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, where she and partner Rachel Stortvedt will compete in the lightweight double sculls at the National Olympic Selection Regatta – chasing the dream again, but with a difference.
Last time, she was 29. Now she’s a 41-year-old veteran, one of the oldest rowers at the trials. Last time, she put in mileage like someone on a daily drive from Long Beach to Lake Elsinore. This time, she’s added the fun, and with no less success.
In 2010, a year after getting back in the boat, she competed in the quads at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, the largest rowing event in North America, and her team won the world championships. Last year, she finished second in the Pan Am Trials in the singles.
Now she and Stortvedt are taking aim at the London Olympics. If they win the Chula Vista event, they qualify for the world championships in May in Belgrade, where a top-four finish would send them to London. The pair, who prepare out of the boathouse at the Pete Archer Rowing Center with the Long Beach Rowing Assn. (LBRA), form one of the top entries in a deep women’s doubles field.
After leaving the sport behind, the Long Beach State graduate returned to it in 2009 after a visit to see some LBRA friends at the boathouse. A social occasion piqued her interest once she saw the likes of former Olympian Joan (Lind) Van Blom and other veterans racing, and beating, younger rowers, and putting up world-class times.
“People were enjoying themselves, but this wasn’t just soccer moms trying out a new sport. It was pretty cutthroat,” she said. “And kind of magical.”
She competed in the Beach Sprint Regatta, an annual event on the indoor rowing machines (they’re called ERGs, and they’re more important to rowing as a batting cage is to baseball), and won her division. She got in touch with a coach, former British rower and coach Ian Simpson, and began working at a dedicated but not frenetic pace.
“No double days,” she said. “I have a full-time job and I’m married, but I can find the time to work out. I’m having the kind of fun I didn’t have in 2000. I’m enjoying the work we’re putting in.
“I think the work I did years ago taught me to be efficient and gave me a foundation. The difference now is me. I have a different perspective. The camaraderie here at the boathouse, the coaching pace … it’s too much fun.”
“When I met Sherri, she was a recreational rower,” Simpson said. “But once she got back into competition boats, she started to think about it seriously. She had a tremendous base from her background, and her confidence grew as she got into better shape.”
There was also the quick success. The Canadian Regatta win in 2010 was Kline’s first race in her second try in the sport. When she finished second in the singles at the 2011 Pan Am Trials, she thought she might focus on the singles.
But the fourth-place finisher was Stortvedt. They had raced together and Simpson thought they’d be powerful in the doubles. They started training together soon after.
Stortvedt was a volleyball player and track athlete in high school but thought sports was behind her when started college at UC Irvine.
Then she was urged to attend an open tryout for the woman’s crew team, and made it as a walk-on.
“I fell in love with the sport,” she said.
She continued to row for fun and fitness when she went to graduate school, but began to take it serious again in 2009, about the same time as Kline. Their partnership took off when Stortvedt and her husband left Orange County and moved to Long Beach so she could train full-time.
“There was a time when I first met Sherri and we said it might be fun to race together,” she said. “So to be headed to the Olympic Trials is just a dream come true. In a different situation, I might have given the sport up.
“We know the competition is deep, and you’re always asking yourself if you’re fast enough. But each time we hit the water, we believe we can win this.”
Kline had a similar path to the sport when she first came to it. She wasn’t into sports when she was at El Toro High School, but saw a sign about rowing tryouts when she enrolled at Orange Coast College.
The school was launching its women’s program. From there it was a simple jump to Long Beach State’s crew team, which worked out of the LBRA boathouse, and then enough success to become a member of the U.S. national team.
Now she’s back, maybe not as relentless as before but possibly more successful. Not all Olympic dreams end. Sometimes, they’re just deferred.