In seven months, Austin Lai, a rising junior at Oakland Tech High School, went from rowing novice to powering one of the fastest Under 17 (U17) men’s boats in the United States.
In June 2018, USRowing invited Austin, now a varsity rower for the Oakland Tech Bulldogs, to join the U17 USRowing Training camp in Sarasota, FL. These training camps are set up by USRowing to nurture competitive rowers aspiring to compete internationally with an eye toward racing in the Olympics.
There, Austin trained with top junior rowers from around the country and qualified to race in the men’s quadruple sculls (“quad” or “4x”–four rowers, each with two oars) at USRowing Club National Championships in New Jersey on July 13, 2018. It was an extremely competitive race; Austin’s boat won with a fast time of 6:42, making Austin and his lineup the fastest U17 quad in the country.
Watch Austin and his team cross the finish line first in New Jersey.
Austin is a gifted athlete who naturally took to rowing, after previous training with the Oakland Technical Mountain Bike team. Influenced by friends who were rowing in a local club program, Austin decided to join his high school crew and give the sport a try.
As a competitive and motivated athlete, complete self-determination feeds Austin’s spirit daily. While his mom had her concerns about him managing such a full schedule, Austin joined Oakland Tech Rowing with full commitment and proved it can all work.
As soon as he stepped into the boathouse, Austin showed natural athletic ability as well as competitive drive. “Even before he learned how to row, Austin asked to join the varsity team,” notes Ann Strayer, Head Coach for Oakland Tech. OT coaches took every opportunity to help him gain more experience and grow his skills: row all kinds of boats, with a variety of athletes, and compete locally and regionally to test himself and gain visibility in the sport.
“Austin’s success is a great example to the rest of the kids that hard work and commitment can bring extraordinary results. As one of the very few public high school programs in the country, we are extremely proud of Austin and are excited for what the future in this sport holds for him,” states Strayer.
Oakland-born and -raised, Austin is a middle child of a biracial family, raised full time by a single mom of three teenagers. The Oakland public schools and affiliated programs have nurtured his path to success in sports, music, engineering, technology, and business. The coaches at Oakland Tech Rowing supported his desire to compete with above and beyond involvement to make his participation in races possible, which led to the initial recruiting camp in Marin and a trip to USRowing SW Scholastics at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. All of this built the momentum into the U17 Club Nationals.