ALEXANDRIA, VA-They came from all over the region, pouring into Alexandria City High School (ACHS) to compete in “Erg Sprints,” an annual indoor rowing event. “Erg” is short for “ergometer,” an indoor rowing machine.
Saturday’s (Feb. 3) massive event was one of the largest in recent years, drawing over a thousand registered athletes – including high school and college students, amateurs and elite rowers, para-athletes, and senior citizens to the high school’s gym. And, at the conclusion, the host happened to be a top scorer.
“It was a phenomenal diverse crowd,” Bridget Lowell, one of the organizers, told The Zebra Press in the final hour of the event. (Lowell is mother to Ryan, an ACHS freshman.) “It’s not just for students. Many adults are competing as well. I spoke with one man who is in his 90s. I asked someone else, ‘What race were you in today?’ He replied, ‘Thirty-minute race for very old men!’ ”
Erg Sprints started small and has ballooned over the decades. It is held at ACHS each year. This year, for the first time, the high school crew program partnered with USRowing to host the country’s largest indoor rowing championship.
“USRowing is proud to recognize Alexandria as an official host site for our indoor national championships because we have confidence in the rigor of this competition and the integrity of the results,” said Jules Zane, head of Member Services for the United States Rowing Association. Zane served as the organization’s official representative at the event.
Stacy Chittick is president of Alexandria Crew Boosters. “This annual event started as a small little fundraiser in competition with a few local high schools,” she said. “It has grown substantially since 1986.”
She praised the “dedication and passion of our parents and volunteers” who turned a little fundraiser into a major regional event. Chittick pointed out that the Titan Rowing Team was one of the largest groups with close to 140 students competing.
One of those students, Abigail Altenburg, is a senior at ACHS. She has been involved in crew since her freshman year. On Saturday, she captured Silver in the Parent-Child Relay with her mother, Debbie. She also took home Silver in the 2000 Meter Relay.
Altenburg’s mother was not part of a crew team in high school. But she has attended many races and regattas, witnessing her daughter’s dedication to the sport for three and a half years. Last spring, she and her husband, Larry, went to the Alexandria Scholarship Fund Gala. One of the silent auction prizes was indoor rowing lessons. She won and began learning the sport this summer. The 50 year old also made a decision: She would compete with her daughter in the Parent-Child Relay. It would be the final chance before Abigail heads off to college in the fall. She will be attending Washington State University on a crew scholarship.
“I said to Abby, ‘Do you want to do this mother-daughter relay with me the day before my birthday?’ ” Debbie recalled. “She joked, ‘It’s your birthday present, Mom!’ Five hundred meters is a very tough sprint so I joked that this was my stress test. If I made it through, I was going to be okay at 50 because I can do this!”
Most students who competed in Saturday’s races are also on the crew team. Stacy Chittick mentioned that indoor rowing conditions the students during the off-season. As a result, they will be in good shape out on the river when outdoor rowing starts up again next month.
“On erg and water, you are pushing with your legs, so it’s good cross training,” she explained. “The major difference is that on erg, you are by yourself, [whereas] on the water, you are part of a nine-student crew.”
Abigail Altenburg was asked what propels her to arise at the crack of dawn to practice and compete on the river?
“I love the feeling you get when you’re pressing really hard,” she said. “You feel that lift and speed,”
Proceeds from Saturday’s event were donated to the school’s Crew Boosters program. Ergs were auctioned afterward.
Also of note: ACHS student Macon Malone captured bronze in her 20-minute event. She was also a member of the ACHS team that placed third in the 2000-Meter Relay. Her team included Addie Davenport, Kaitlin Chittick, and Hannah Mikilop.