MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Switching gears now, we are going to bring you the story of another remarkable young American. As all eyes turn to London for the start of the Summer Olympics, we've been talking with some of the athletes you'll be watching. For the most part, we caught up with them as they put in those final hours of training for what may be a once in a lifetime chance to compete for Olympic gold and glory.
Today, we speak with Robin Prendes. He is a member of the U.S. Rowing Team and is hoping to lead his boat of four to the medal stand this summer.
Robin, welcome. Congratulations on everything so far.
ROBIN PRENDES: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: So how did you get interested in rowing? It's not the most accessible sport, if I can put it that way.
PRENDES: Yeah. That is true. Well, it was all very serendipitous. It started when I was about 12 years old and my parents moved to a new place, and it was very close to a lake where a doctor actually had a rowing club and my dad saw the rowing boats pass by and it reminded him of the Cuban National Team, which is where he's from and where I'm from. And the Cuban National Team trained in Varadero, Cuba, where I lived. And it reminded him of Cuba and he suggested that I try it, and that's how it started.
MARTIN: Do you have any memories of that? I remember that - I think you came to the United States when you were 6. Right? Your family...
PRENDES: That is correct. Yeah.
MARTIN: ...came when you were six. Right. So do you have any memories of what he was talking about, seeing boats on the water or anything like that?
PRENDES: I don't think I ever saw one of the races, but the national competition was actually - it passed by the beach in front of our house, so...
MARTIN: So what does it take to be good at your sport?
PRENDES: A lot of things, I would say. Definitely, perseverance and hard work, but I would say the most intricate part is stamina and good cardiovascular system.
MARTIN: And you are - you have a lightweight - you're in a lightweight category, if I can call it - even though you're not that lightweight, but you are - but I think a lot of people have this image of rowers as being kind of like bodybuilders, in a way, you know, really kind of thick and super strong up top, but there are different weight classes. Right? As I understand it.
PRENDES: Well, there's just two. There's the lightweight, which is a 154-pound boat average and then there is just heavyweight, which is everyone else.
MARTIN: Everybody else. So is your weight a concern? Is keeping underweight a big preoccupation?
PRENDES: I think, as long as I don't gorge or eat too much in the off-time, I should be fine for racing.
MARTIN: What does it take to make the Olympic team in your sport? What standard do you have to meet?
PRENDES: Well, the way we made this for this year was throughout a selection process and training camp throughout the whole year and, with lightweight rowing, it's always very close. So, the way they select a boat is seat racing, in which they put one person in the boat and then they switch other guys and see which combination is the fastest. And I think there were a good number of very strong contenders in the training camp leading up to the selection, but I think what made this boat was sometimes just the four guys flow together and there's just something about their technique that just makes the boat go faster.
And it's not always necessarily the fastest four guys, but the guys who can move the boat the fastest together.
MARTIN: Interesting. And you don't use a coxswain and four. Right?
PRENDES: Not in our event. No.
MARTIN: Not in your event. You don't. You don't. So - and you're the lead. Right?
PRENDES: I am the stroke man. Yeah.
MARTIN: You're - so stroke man. You're in the first, so you set the stroke rate. How do you do that?
PRENDES: Well, usually, with training, we do a good amount of racing pieces and there's no real set stroke rate for that and, in the race, we just try to mimic whatever we went the fastest during practice. That and some communication with the two-seat of the boat, who makes calls during the race, and just motivational calls or strategic calls. And, depending on what he tells me to do, what he feels, I just trust him and I change and do what he says.
MARTIN: It's interesting, isn't it? I think, just watching the sport from a distance, it's hard to just kind of see how much communication and strategy is involved, you know, isn't it?
PRENDES: Yeah. Well, definitely try to keep the talking to minimal, since we're all exerting as much power as we can, but - yeah. It's definitely essential, especially in close races like lightweight rowing where the top six boats are probably within a second or two.
MARTIN: Do you find that other kids kind of look up to you? I mean, I just wonder if you feel that, any special responsibility, you know, coming from your background, being an immigrant, being a Latino, to kind of represent the sport to people who perhaps have not been introduced to it.
PRENDES: It's definitely - I've definitely noticed that, especially now, after I've made the Olympic team. Back home, my high school coach is still coaching at the Miami Beach Rowing Club where I rowed, and a lot of kids from Miami Rowing Club and Miami Beach Rowing Club want to get to know me and a couple of my friends coach there, as well, and every now and then, they send me pictures of them wearing either Princeton shirts or some sort of shirt that's associated with something I've done in the past.
MARTIN: How excited are you about going to the Olympics?
PRENDES: Oh, it's definitely pretty exciting. I think it hit me once we crossed the finish line. I yelled pretty loudly and splashed some water, but ever since we got back to the states, it's been pretty much back to business.
MARTIN: Are your folks going to get to go?
PRENDES: Definitely. I don't think they'll miss it for the world.
MARTIN: And you're going to march in the opening ceremonies?
PRENDES: Unfortunately not. Rowing is one of the first events and our preliminary race is the morning after that.
MARTIN: That's so messed up. That is terrible. Well, thanks for telling me so I won't be looking for you.
And, finally, before we let you go, you mentioned, you know, stamina, discipline. Certainly, work ethic. Certainly - and you've certainly got to watch your diet. I'm sure you're throwing off a lot of energy, so you probably have - you know, you probably have to take in a lot of calories, but you certainly have to make sure that your weight sort of is maintained so that you can maintain your weight class.
What are you looking forward to when all this is over?
PRENDES: I'm definitely going to - so rowing is done the first week, so I'll definitely be looking forward to just enjoying the Olympics and watching other events and seeing the American team do well, hopefully.
MARTIN: Fish and chips, chocolate ice cream sundae, banana split? Come on.
PRENDES: Oh, food-wise. Yeah. Well, I'm a big fan of burgers, so I'll try to consume as many of those as I can in the following week.
MARTIN: I think you might be in the wrong city for that, but we'll keep one warm for you back here at home. Robin Prendes is a rower. He's a member of the U.S. Men's Lightweight Four. He joined us from Oklahoma City, where his team is preparing for the upcoming London Olympics.
Robin, thanks so much for joining us. Congratulations and good luck in London.
PRENDES: Thank you for having me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.