Local Rowers Thrilled for Team USA

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Probably the most spellbound local viewers of NBC's broacast of the U.S. "Women’s Eight" crew winning a second straight Olympic gold medal in rowing Thursday evening were members of the oldest women's rowing club in the world.

Numbering more than 450, they range in age from 14 to 91, and many of the most senior members are still actively on the water.

They belong to the "ZLAC" Rowing Club -- the acronym, derived from the first initials of the club's four founders back in 1892 -- which is housed along the north shore of  the sweep in Mission Bay known as Sail Bay.

The founders' modern-day counterparts are upholding a proud tradition of athletic excellence and competitive fire, and the women still row at least once a week.

Some are so accomplished, career-wise, as to have shells – rowing boats – named after them.

ZLAC members who call themselves as "The Eighties Ladies" and "The Ancient Mermaids" have gathered for one of their semi-monthly luncheons at which the topic of rowing is always high on the discussion menu.

Seeing Team USA's entry in the Women's Eight finals race away with another Gold Medal was no surprise to them.

"It's such a thrill to see these wonderful women out there performing the way they do," said ZLAC member Annette Frank, 89, recalling that the club's Kelly Mitchell won a silver medal as coxswain of the "Women's Four" competition at the 1984 summer Olympics.

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"We've come a long way."

ZLAC members have won at least a dozen Olympic medals over the years, and it's expected that future members will add to the collection, because the club's resources are invested in junior members who can start rowing there  in their freshman year of high school.

It's a society that takes enormous pride in seeing Team USA's women rowers not only compete at the highest level. But win.

"They've got to be willing to train, train and train even though it hurts," said ZLAC Marsha Thaxton, whose daughter rowed in four Olympiads.  "When they're training, in the seat races, they do all kiinds of elimination to get into that boat."

 Added Annette Frank: "I think the secret is dedication. They all work hard. They focus.  They have one thing in mind, and that's to improve their rowing and be the best." 

These ladies not only still row, but they keep up with fitness training on a slew of ergonomic exercise machines in the workout loft over the boathouse, which might help explain the longevity of so many ZLAC's members.

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