Bethel native Ricky Vandegrift is one step closer to realizing his goal of competing in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
The 18-year-old man recently returned from France, where he was a member of the U.S. crew that nearly won the ParaRowing LTA Mix 4+ World Championship. Team USA finished as runner up to Great Britain by just 0.26 seconds.
It was the second straight year Vandegrift helped lead Team USA to a silver medal at the World Championships. After rowing in the two seat for the squad last year in Amsterdam, Vandegrift was on stroke this year on Lake Aiguebelette.
“I trained a lot harder at home to be a lot better this year,” said Vandegrift.
The future is bright for Vandegrift and his teammates. The foursome range in age from 18 to 22. Most of their world competitors were in their mid- to late-20s. Vandegrift expects to compete at the Paralympics in Rio next year.
“It’s motivation for next year,” he said of competing at such a high level against more experienced rowers. “I’ve got a lot of room to grow.”
Vandegrift competes on the coed team with rowers who have the use of their legs, trunk, and arms. His left leg was amputated below the knee when he was 18 months old and he has adapted through a variety of prostheses ever since. He has become one of the world’s elite rowers, competing locally with Cincinnati Juniors and spending summers in Boston training on the Charles River with his USA teammates.
He is now a student at U.S. Grant Vocational School studying welding. His school has been understanding of his training and competition schedule. He wakes up each morning and trains on his own at Harsha Lake in East Fork State Park, and missed the first two weeks of school to compete in France. He will compete in Columbus and Tennessee with his local team this fall, and will try out to qualify for USA’s Paralympic team early next year.
“Sometimes it’s hard, but I just take it one step at a time and focus on what’s next,” said Vandegrift.
Competing against the best LTA rowers in the world takes extreme discipline and focus. Vandegrift said that he has always had those qualities, but credited his coaches at each level, from his beginnings with the Clermont Crew to his current squads, with sharpening and strengthening that mentality and preparing him for the highest levels of competition.
“It is big going to Worlds, but you treat it just the same as a race at home,” said Vandegrift. “You get in the boat and you try to beat the teams you’re competing against. Everything that I’ve done with Clermont Crew and Cincinnati Juniors has prepared me.”