Everywhere you looked at Griggs Reservoir in Columbus on Saturday you saw Blake Haxton. His name was on a Vespoli 8+ raced by his alma mater, Upper Arlington High School. His competitive nature was on display in the side-by-side, 5,000-meter headraces that the regatta comprised. Blake himself shook hands, took photos and spoke with countless athletes, parents and spectators on hand for the fifth annual regatta that bears his name.
UA Head Coach Chris Swartz said the regatta was founded to showcase the top youth rowing talent in the Midwest in honor of Haxton, who during his senior year of high school lost both legs—and nearly his life—to a rare flesh-eating bacteria.
A standout rower and captain at UA, Haxton returned to the racing circuit this year, winning a hammer in the open men’s arms/shoulders event at the C.R.A.S.H.-B. erg sprints and then placing fourth during his first trip to the world rowing championship in Amsterdam.
Regatta organizers for the invitational seed crews based upon their finish from the previous year. Two boats at a time are aligned at the start and begin the head race together, which means some crews are neck-and-neck, dueling it out for a full 5k.
On Saturday, Cincinnati Junior Rowing Club clearly was the quickest team, winning 15 of the 25 events. Neither club nor scholastic teams approached their speed in the top eights, as CJRC won the first, second and third varsity eights in both boys and girls categories.
St. Louis Rowing Club finished second in each of the boys’ varsity eight events, with Cleveland’s St. Ignatius High School one to two lengths in back of them. On the girls’ side, Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Rowing Association earned silvers in the first and second eights, taking a bronze in the third eight to Cincinnati’s 3V and 4V.
The novice eights, however, stirred up results. Westerville Crew’s girls handily won their event, nearly 49 seconds ahead of second-place Dublin Crew. St. Louis edged CJRC by seven seconds in the boys’ novice eight.
A chilly morning thawed into a picturesque afternoon with sun, temperatures in the 70s and a mild crosswind setting the scene.
Haxton was joined at the regatta by fellow UA alum and U.S. national team lightweight eight stroke Andy Weiland. Throughout the day a steady stream of people kept the pair busy answering questions and taking pictures.
Five years into its existence, the Haxton Invitational is becoming one of the top fall youth races for Midwest crews. And just like Haxton’s young national team racing career, it bore many signs of good things in the years to come.
Full results from the Blake Haxton Invitational can be found here.