PICTURED ABOVE // The ‘Crew’ | Felicity Diamond, pictured second from the left, rows alongside her quad at the 2018 USRowing Central Youth Championship on the Oklahoma River on May 5. Photo provided by Felicity Diamond.
As her boat barrels past the last buoys at the Head of the Oklahoma Night Sprints, water spraying, face paint running and oars clicking continuously in a hypnotic rhythm, junior Felicity Diamond suddenly remembers exactly why she chose this sport.
“You can’t beat the feeling of going fast through the water,” Diamond said. “There is just nothing like it.”
Ever since she picked up an oar the summer before freshman year at Hockaday, Diamond hasn’t quit, as she has continued to row with both the Hockaday crew team and Founder’s Rowing Club over the past three years.
Whether it be conquering Bachman Lake or the erg room at her local gym, both mornings and afternoons, Diamond has rowing in her blood, and this upcoming summer, she will have another chance to develop her love even further at the Under 19 Oklahoma City National High Performance Program.
This past season, she was accepted into this prestigious program aimed to strengthen and inspire future collegiate and Olympic athletes.
The selective program is for “highly-motivated” athletes who desire to improve their boat skills and race performance through “intensive technical work, focused training, racing and competitions,” according to the U19 program.
“Many of my peers at other schools attended, so I knew about the program,” Diamond said. “Reilly Dampeer, the coach who runs it, reached out to me in the past, and my coach and I decided it would be the best option for me over the summer.”
And a good option it is, as most of the girls and boys who join the program have long-term goals of competing in World Championships and the Olympic Games, as well as being highly motivated in their sport.
“I wanted a highly competitive program to race and compete during the summer,” Diamond said. “I heard great things [about the program], and they compete in the highest regattas people my age can attend, such as Trials, U19 World Championships and The Canadian Henley.”
Diamond’s coach, Matthew Naifeh, has helped Diamond through this decision and knows a lot about the rigorous program.
“The opportunity is a pre-elite development program that brings together top U19 and U23 athletes from across the country to train for National Team Trials,” Naifeh said. “This is a regatta that appoints the winners of each event to the National Team that will compete at the 2018 World Junior Rowing Championships.”
Considered one the most competitive programs for teenagers of Diamond’s caliber, athletes are selected by their “rowing experience/accomplishments, erg scores and recommendations,” according to USRowing.
USRowing organizes the event and represents “the national governing body for the sport of rowing in the United States.” Even though it was formed by the merging of the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen and the National Women’s Rowing Association in 1982, records of rowing as a competitive sport are seen as early as the 1700s on the Thames River.
To qualify for the USRowing U19 Program, certain requirements must be met for either lightweight or openweight rowers. As an openweight rower, Diamond must row on the erg for seven minutes and 30 seconds or less for a 2,000 meter test known solely by rowers as a “2k.”
Considering an average 2k for a female high school rower hovers around eight minutes and 30 seconds, according to the rowing website, Elite Rowing, one can easily see how the program weeds out the weak.
Practices consist of Monday through Saturday workouts, including morning and afternoon sessions from June 10 to Aug. 12. The rowers spend their days at the OKC boathouse on the Oklahoma River, and their nights exploring Oklahoma City, leaving only their Sundays for rest.
Practices mirror the rower’s skills as it primarily consists of erg work, cross-training, core strengthening and lifting, as well as a ton of water time.
In the program, if you are lucky enough to be placed in one of the top boats, you have the chance to race at the Club National Championships as well as the U19 World Trials, both extremely competitive and high-level regattas.
This isn’t Diamond’s first rodeo, though, as she has conquered many regattas, including competing with the Southwest Region Team for the Youth Rowing Challenge at the 2017 World Rowing Championships in Sarasota, Florida.
Worlds was eye-opening,” Diamond admits. “When we saw amazing world athletes of such a high caliber around us, racing on the same river we raced on and hanging out near us, it inspired me.”
Back at Dallas’ own Bachman Lake, though, rowing with her fellow Founder’s teammates, Anna Glasgow, Julie Valois and Julia Knowles, Diamond and her teammates dominate in their quad. They won first at the 2017 Head of the Colorado (Pumpkinhead), the 2017 OCU Head of the Oklahoma Night Sprints, the 2018 Heart of Texas regatta and the 2018 Texas Rowing Championships.
Not only has the U19 program seen Diamond’s current strengths and future potential, so has her coach, Naifeh.
“Felicity is an extraordinarily diligent and self-aware person. She knows her strength, understands her weaknesses and she is constantly looking for ways to improve,” Naifeh said. “She is willing to dig deeper than anyone else against whom she competes. ”
A fellow teammate and Hockaday student who has rowed with Diamond since the fall of 2017, sophomore Sarah Beth Kelton, also knows of Diamond’s hard work and dedication to the sport.
“[She’s] strong both physically and mentally,” Kelton said. “She always just adapts and finds another way to get things done, which I find really inspiring.”
Both Diamond and Kelton share the same view that being a rower takes extreme willpower.
“The most important thing that a rower has to have is the mindset,” Kelton said. “Sure, it helps if you’re tall and strong, but it really matters if you’re willing to push yourself and intentionally make yourself hurt every day.”
Even though this might intimidate some juniors, Diamond is well accustomed to the rowing lifestyle. As a ‘95 Northwestern University alumna, Diamond’s mom, Suzy Diamond, rowed at the collegiate level for her school.
“I always knew I wanted to row because my mom is such an amazing rower,” Diamond explained. “She did really well in college, and my love for crew stems from my mom.”
This summer, as Diamond makes her way up to Oklahoma City, following in the footsteps of many other great scullers of the past, she hopes for only one thing out of the program: “a chance to achieve my goals,” Diamond said.
Story by Paige Halverson