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Northern Michigan rowing team qualifies for nationals

Northern Michigan rowing team qualifies for nationals

LEELANAU COUNTY, Mich., (WPBN/WGTU) -- Despite their lake being covered in ice until the beginning of May, members of the Lake Leelanau Rowing Club Junior Team beat out teams from across the Midwest, and are now heading to nationals.

On May 19-20, the team traveled down to Cincinnati for the Midwest Junior Rowing Championships. Competing against 40 teams and more than 500 entrants, 2 Lake Leelanau boats finished in the top three. Qualifying them for nationals next month in California.

“One of the best feelings," said rower Katie Gronek as she thought back to her finish in Cincinnati. "Elizabeth and I started crying once we hit the finish line.”

Gronek and her teammate Elizabeth Saunders are rowers on the Lake Leelanau Rowing Club Junior Team, and compete together as doubles. Their boat was one of the club’s two boats to qualify for nationals.

The teams coach Megan Kuehm saw their potential as a team and put them in a boat together. She says qualifying for nationals is a huge achievement, especially considering most of their practice was inside a gym while their lake was still covered in ice.

“I give these guys a lot of credit," said Kuehm. "What I've noticed with them is they've really learned a lot inside and we carried it outside, without there being nearly as many strokes as we would have wanted.”

Kuehm says the competition will be intense, and they may even compete against future Olympians. In the meantime on Lake Leelanau, the girls aren't worried. They're practicing hard and giving it their all every day, because they know first hand what it feels like when hard work pays off.

“The last 500, Gronek called out ‘we're going to nationals!' And that just made the sprint worth it," Saunders said, reminiscing on her qualifying finish at the Midwest Championships. "We had the distance on the boats behind us and there was open water, so having that feeling of everything you worked for all winter, all summer… it was a great feeling."

“Just the feeling of all of the hard work we put towards. The weight training, the awful sweating where you just want to die," Gronek said with a laugh. "All of that goes through and you finally know that that's what you worked for."

Saunders is also competing on the club’s other boat, a quad with rowers Lauren Breederland, Maddie Medler and Natalie Heitman.

Before the team competes in nationals starting on June 7, they need help with travel costs. The added cost for travel, equipment and lodging is about $8,000.

You can donate on their GoFundMe here.

The team is comprised of rowers from all over the Traverse Bay area.

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