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Manhattan Beach Teen Rower Ranks Among Best in the World

Mar 11, 2021 01:06PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Sydney Huber - Photo via Huber family

Manhattan Beach teen Sydney Huber has earned a place among the top rowers in the world - that's right, the world - for her age group. What's even more amazing is that she's been doing it all from her living room.

This spring, a series of national and international competitions that allow rowers to compete in real time from their homes, on WiFi-connected rowing machines, have given the 15-year-old a chance to shine despite the pandemic.

In early February, Huber was the fastest racer at the Americas Continental Qualifier in the Under 19 category for the Women’s 500 meter sprints.

That win earned her a spot at the World Indoor Rowing Championships on February 24. There, she placed 16th in the Women’s Under 19 500-meter race, despite being one of the youngest competitors in that field (and the only American to qualify for the race).

Then, just this past weekend, she took a top 10 finish at the US Indoor Championships in the 2K event with a personal best time of 7:35.1. Her RowLA quad team took 1st place in the 500-meter relays with a time of 1:51.5, besting the next team by the relatively huge margin of 3.3 seconds.

Not bad for an athlete who just started rowing three years ago.

"I definitely didn’t think I'd ever get to that high a level of competition," Huber said after the world championships. "It's been a little bit crazy."

Balancing School and Rowing


Huber took an interest in rowing while participating in the Junior Lifeguards program. She saw a flyer advertising the RowLA program and decided to give it a shot. After her first trial day, she was hooked. 

Before the pandemic, her training consisted of both outdoor (in the Marina del Rey harbor) and indoor rowing on an ERG rowing machine. (Photo of RowLA team via Huber family; Sydney Huber is in the foreground.)

But when the pandemic shutdown began, the practices and competitions shifted entirely online. Her team practices together on Zoom while rowing at home. For competitions, the athletes hook the machines up to a computer that uploads their time and other stats.

All told, Huber practices around 16 hours per week - an enormous commitment considering she is taking six classes at Mira Costa.

"With this schedule, it is not easy. It's six days a week and an average of three hours per session, and they need to work by themselves at home," said her RowLA coach, Henrique Vieira Motta, a champion rower from Brazil. "You need to have a lot of discipline, but I think she handles it well."

One of her biggest challenges yet was rowing at the international competition, which took place at 3:00 a.m. on a Wednesday. Fortunately, Wednesday mornings at Mira Costa are reserved for SEL (Social-Emotional Learning) classes, which don't start until 10:10 a.m. - so she was able to get some sleep after the race and make it to her SEL class on time.

Indoor Vs. Outdoor Competition


The energy is also different during indoor competition, where you are only aware of your competitors on a screen, without a crowd or audience present.

During the international competition, Huber was able to "see" her competitors in real time, watching the leader and seeing who was directly ahead of her and behind her.

Meanwhile, her family served as audience members, cheering her on in the living room. (The family dog also senses the tension while Huber is racing. "Our dog is very excited when everyone is jumping in the living room and yelling," Huber said.)

Nevertheless, Huber is looking forward to returning to rowing outdoors on the water with her teammates once again.

Motta said that the team has been doing so well with the unusual circumstances at home that he is confident that they will come back even better and stronger when they return to regular practice and competition.

If the girls are doing well at home, I know they will do even better in person side by side," he said. "The energy is so much different."

Huber has her eye on the 2021 US Rowing Youth National Championships, which is slated to be held as an in-person race in June in Florida. However, she is waiting to see how the plans for that race roll out, depending on the status of the pandemic by that point.

Beyond high school, Huber is looking at rowing in college, and she is keeping her eyes on an even bigger long-term goal: rowing at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Motta said that she is still young and there is plenty of time ahead, but she clearly "shines" as a rower. "I think that whatever she wants to reach, she will succeed," he said.


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