Casitas Rower Profile
Nancy Rahnasto Osborne
Inspired by her son, a mom takes up rowing
On a recent Sunday morning at Lake Casitas, a mother and son pushed off from the dock in a recreational sculling boat and headed out for a row in the cool sunshine. “Mom” is new rower Nancy Rahnasto Osborne and her son is Alex Osborne of the United States National Team, who is currently undergoing selection trials for a seat at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. (Update: Alex Osborne, U.S. Olympic Team Bio.)
This was Nancy’s first time in a boat with Alex, having only taken up the sport after seeing its impact on her son’s life. Alex had never been in a boat until college, when he walked on to the rowing team at Stanford. From there, he earned a spot on the men’s national team and now competes at the world championship level.
Impressed by his transformation not only as an athlete, but as a person, Nancy realized the sport of rowing had much to offer her as well. Her desire to learn evolved through dinner table conversations with Olympian Elle Logan to meeting senior veteran competitor Barbara Colven of Ojai. Now a year into her own rowing career, Nancy has made rapid progress and races as a Novice Masters rower with Casitas Rowing. She has a dream of not only teaming up with Alex in a parent-child double at Head of the Charles, but of forging her own path into the rowing world from what she considers the advantage of a fresh start in middle age.
And that first row on Lake Casitas with her son? Nancy was ecstatic: “It was like a dream. He is sooooo smooth. No jerking the boat. Just comfortable power. I am sure he was paddling at about 5 percent! He was a great coach there in the 1 seat. He told me to focus on keeping it smooth and straight.”
Read our Q&A with Nancy below.
Q: What was your impression of rowing based on Alex’s experience at Stanford and on the National Team?
A: Rowing is a very competitive sport that requires a whole lot of training. More time on the erg (rowing machine) than the water. You have to be dedicated to it. You train to do one thing– to win races. You aspire to be the strongest member of your team, and work together in the boat to make it the fastest.
Q: At what point did you decide to try rowing?
A: By the middle of Alex’s freshman year, I wished I had rowed at Harvard. At his races I began to think, wouldn’t it be something to row at the Head of the Charles someday. I pulled the trigger on that idea after having dinner with Alex and Elle Logan in Princeton two summers ago. She already had her first Olympic gold medal, a couple of world rowing championships, NCAA gold, etc. The conversation somehow switched from their summer U.S. team experiences to my interest in the sport. I said I was thinking about learning to row because it would be amazing to row in the Head of the Charles before I die. Elle exclaimed “Oh my god, I want to race there when I am in my 90′s too, but you’d beat me. Your body is fresh if you take up the sport right now. Mine will be worn out. Definitely start classes.” Alex said, “Yeah mom, you should do it.”
So with that endorsement, I signed up for 5 sculling lessons at Marina del Rey. I was so spastic. I loved it, but was afraid of everything, especially the boat traffic. Thought I might continue there until I looked at the Head of the Charles results in the 60+ age groups to see how many women competed and where they were from. That’s where I discovered Barbara Colven of Ojai with Casitas Rowing. I immediately went to Casitasrowing.org and signed up for the January 2011 Learn to Row.
Q: Impressions of that first Learn to Row?
A: I hadn’t been to Lake Casitas in about 15 years, so I wasn’t even sure where it was. Drove there and waited in line for the gate to open in the dark, bought my day use ticket. I was amazed at how coaches Eric and Wendy got the 24 of us on ergs, then into eights. I wasn’t terrorized like I had been in the single. And Lake Casitas was just so beautiful. When it was all over, I looked at the lake and said to myself, “this is home.” On the way out, I converted my day-use ticket to an annual pass.
Q: How often do you row?
A: Since last April, I’ve been on the water at Lake Casitas 4 times a week, 3 of those with the team. I continued sculling 4 times a week last summer in Massachussetts with Orleans Sculls and Sweeps, coached by Al Flanders. Both he and his wife Antje won their age categories at the Head of the Charles a couple of years ago. The waterway has a number of zigs and zags with buoys marking the course. It’s a great place to practice for the Head of the Charles. And it is just as scenic as Casitas.
Q: What goals have you set for your rowing?
A: Because I’m 58, I will never be the strongest woman on any team with younger rowers. But, I aspire to be at the top of my age group and to beat women younger than me. I have barely raced yet, so I don’t know how successful I can be. I’m going to reset my goals year by year as I progress and test myself. Right now, I’m just operating with the premise: if I train right, I will succeed.
Q: How has rowing changed your life?
A: At five months into rowing, my weight had dropped about 15lbs without me trying. I have lost another 8. Rowing has changed how I view my body. I respect my body more, eat better and drink less because I know that alcohol impedes muscle recovery. I reached the height of 5’10″ at the start of the 7th grade. And I was pretty much my current weight. This was 1967. The era of Twiggy. So most of my life I have felt like I was just too big. So when I was introduced to women rowers at Stanford and on the national team, I thought to myself, wow… if only I had done athletics when I was younger. But I am glad that I saved it for now. As other friends my age bemoan birthdays, I look forward to them because each year gives me a more favorable age handicap. I am in this for the long haul because I see how I am getting muscle back that aging had taken away. Rowing will help keep me healthy and strong.
I still want to be racing when they have to create the supreme veteran category for 90 year olds so it will be waiting for Elle when she gets there.
Q: Impressions of the Casitas club now that you’ve rowed awhile?
A: Casitas Rowing is a wonderful supportive and encouraging group of rowers. I like the fact that when I show up for practice, I never know if I will be in an 8, quad, double, who I’ll be rowing with, or if I’ll be out there in a single racing everyone else. Or, even be assigned coxswain duty for the day! I love that unknown. It keeps me fresh. Good practice for life. You never know what can happen, you just have to do the best with it. I am appreciative that Casitas has a decent fleet of training and racing boats. They do get a lot of use. I am pleased that I was able to find a gently used Fluidesign mid-weight Elite to call my own.
Q: What’s it like to watch Alex’s career now that you are a rower yourself?
A: Now that I’m a novice masters rower, I am all the more amazed at my son’s rowing accomplishments. My husband and I are incredibly proud of everything about Alex–academic achievements, jobs and who he is. Rowing was just another sport he tried, but this one he was really good at. He told me about the erg training and tests, and I thought, well this is what he does. Now I know how extraordinary his investment in his success and his rowing accomplishments are. He’s one of the best in the U.S., trying to be one of the best in the world. It humbles me and makes me appreciate how hard I need to work and wonder if I am capable of that commitment.
Q: What does Alex think of mom following him into the sport?
A: He thinks it is great because he sees how I have gotten fitter. He gave my husband Al and I heart rate monitor watches for Christmas 14 months ago. He has agreed that at some point way in the future, he will be willing to do the parent/child double at the Head of the Charles with me! Imagine that?
Q: Any chance Al will take it up?
A: Al supports what I do. He does 30 minute pieces on the erg. Little chance we will get him out at the cold, crack of dawn to lug boats and oars to a frosty dock, and get on the water. Al was born and raised in hot steamy Panama!
By Barbara Hoyt for Casitas Rowing