Cut out for crew
Shawn Scholl hopes to row himself into the 2004 Olympics in Athens
September 13, 2003
Shawn Scholl’s got the wife and kids. He’s got the master’s degree in exercise physiology. He’s already bought a house and owned a business, so really all that’s left to do is make an Olympic team.
And, at 39, if Scholl rows up to his capabilities at next summer’s U.S. Olympic Trials, he has a shot at that, too.
“I kind of feel like this might be my time to do it,” Scholl said. “But my family and I also want the journey to be fun. I see a lot of people do a sport at an elite level, and as soon as they are done with the Olympics they quit … for them, it becomes more about the end result than the journey.”
Scholl’s journey toward Athens began more than three years ago on an indoor rowing machine while he was helping cardiac patients rehabilitate at the Wellness Center at Kremmling Memorial Hospital.
Scholl noticed that the quadripedal motion — usage of all four limbs — in rowing was similar to that used in Nordic skiing, so Scholl decided to take up rowing to help train for skiing.
A friend in Winter Park stepped in and told Scholl about the worldwide popularity and competitiveness of indoor rowing. Someone living in Northwest Colorado could pull a score on an ergometer, or rowing machine, post it on the Internet and compare it to other rowers from around the world.
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The U.S. Rowing team coaches also use “erg” scores to select athletes for their national team, or at least compile of list of athletes to take a closer look at, so Scholl and his friend decided to turn their “erg” scores in for evaluation.
The next thing Scholl knew, he was finishing up a national skiing competition in Heber City, Utah, packing up his car and driving to Colorado Springs. He had been invited to test his abilities against the members of the 2000 Olympic team months before it left for Australia.
At his first national evaluation in front of U.S. coaches, nearly four years ago, Scholl pulled a 6,000-meter score that beat every male national team member by 10 seconds, leaving an impression on everyone, including himself.
Scholl was born and raised in Kremmling and has been an elite athlete throughout his life, most notably as a world-class decathlete, a Olympic Trails road racer and a U.S. national-level Nordic skier.
In rowing, uncommon as it is in Northwest Colorado, Scholl finally may have found the sport best suited for his 6-foot-1, 215-pound frame.
“I think that after the coaches saw how physiologically good I was, they thought I could be a world-class rower, and I bought into it,” Scholl said. “Some of the other sports, I thought I could be really elite but was wondering if I was ever going to be good enough to do it. … The coaches feel like they can teach people to row, but they can’t teach physiology. Just because you can row doesn’t mean you have a really good engine.”
With encouragement from U.S. coaches and national team members, some more than 10 years his junior, Scholl approached his wife, Stephanie, about the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
At the time, the Scholls owned a home and Big Shooter Coffee in Kremmling. Shawn was working for the hospital, and the couple had daughter, Tabor, now 6, as well. Tyler, nearly 3, was born during the training process.
The Scholls saw their family and their assets as reasons to pursue the Olympic goal rather than reasons to toss it aside.
Because Scholl was not a rower by trade, he needed to be on the water learning and practicing 300 days a year. That can’t happen in Northwest Colorado, so the family rented out their house, sold their business, quit their jobs and focused on Scholl’s Olympic training and preparation last year.
“That befuddled a lot of people,” Scholl said of he and his wife’s decision. “We were like, ‘why not?’ We’ve gone around the country two or three times with our kids. It’s like Chevy Chase in those (National Lampoon) movies. It’s been good because it’s exposed the kids to different things, and Steph is obviously my biggest supporter. If she wasn’t into it, there’s no way I would have done it.”
Stephanie Scholl, 41, is an accomplished runner herself, and has even taken to the rowing machine, posting a time among the best in the world for women in her age division. The active lifestyle she and Shawn led before their marriage eight years ago has not slowed.
Stephanie Scholl said she always has admired her husband’s inner drive to be the best.
“He can always compete, but not at this level,” she said. “I figured we’d give ourselves a time frame and have the rest of our lives to make money … the journey has to be worth it, and it’s been worth it. I haven’t let myself think about (the Olympics) much because it’s such a big risk and a big shot. I know how much he wants to do it for us, but I want him to do it for him.”
When Scholl was rowing in Georgia, Michigan, Massachusetts, San Diego and Phoenix over the past three years, his family was there. Sometimes they were running. Sometimes they were playing in the park. Sometimes they were carrying his oars to the water. Tabor and Tyler like to carry their dad’s oars, dad said.
Scholl has his own $6,500 Filippi single scull, which he uses to train solo on Northwest Colorado lakes and reservoirs, but eventually he will need to find a partner.
Scholl said his best shot at making the 2004 Olympic team would likely come in the pair competition, and he has several people in mind.
His personality meshes well with many of the nation’s elite rowers. Most of the U.S. team members or aspiring team members are recent college graduates from schools with powerful crew programs, such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
Scholl has little in common with them, but he’s thankful to have met each one. Even if he doesn’t make the U.S. Olympic team next summer at the Trials, rowing has introduced him to new people and taken him new places.
“I’ve learned the journey is more important than the end,” Scholl said. “If I make the Olympic team, that’s great, and I might, but if I don’t, I won’t say it was a waste of three years of my life. I’ve met so many people and seen so much. I think you can still have a lot of success and keep everything else in your life.”
With the wife, children, graduate degree and home in Northwest Colorado, maybe Scholl, at 39, isn’t taking the conventional path to the Olympics.
But he is following the one that’s right for him.
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