Palmetto's Todd Chastain and Manatee's Jennifer Zebracki earn collegiate rowing scholarships

jdill@bradenton.comMay 11, 2014 

SARASOTA -- Rowing doesn't have to end with high school graduation.

Todd Chastain, of Palmetto, and Jennifer Zebracki, of Manatee, are proving that point. They have earned college scholarships to continue competing in what is the area's fastest-growing sport.

While getting two signings this season was big for the Manatee County Youth Rowing Club -- comprised of Manatee, Southeast and Palmetto high schools -- it's even more impressive that Chastain received a scholarship offer.

Most men's college programs are club-based, while women's rowers enjoy a more traditional setup.

"There are not that many varsity programs around for male athletes as there are for female athletes, because of the Title IX," Manatee County Youth Rowing Club head coach Trish Jackson said. "You can't get scholarships for clubs. It's only for varsity sports."

Yet Chastain found the right fit with Stetson University.

"It's a smaller school, but I like the coaches and I like the rowing program they've got set up," Chastain said. "So I'm looking forward to getting out there and rowing for them."

Zebracki is heading to Old Dominion University in Virginia.

"When I visited, it just felt like home," she said.

Both seniors got into rowing as underclassmen, with Chastain getting his taste of the water at the end of his freshman year.

He said he never thought he'd get a scholarship for rowing when he first started out.

But the dedication -- changing dietary habits and practicing constantly to get better -- is what paved the way for his collegiate chance.

"I've played a lot of sports, and this is easily the toughest sport," Chastain said. "This isn't just a sport, it's a lifestyle. I've given up a lot to be here. (Saturday), I'm missing prom to row my single. I've missed job interviews. I've flaked out on jobs. Everything has been given to this sport. When it comes to dedication, I want to give everything to this sport. When it comes to hard work, it's the lifestyle. Eating right. Not even meaning to, but instead of craving a doughnut, you crave chicken. ... That's where the lifestyle comes in."

The two rowers are competing at Nathan Benderson Park this weekend in the United States Southeast Junior District Championships, where they raced as individuals. But in college, the transition will be to bigger boats as part of a team.

However, that shouldn't be an issue for either as the Manatee County Youth Rowing focuses on giving aspiring rowers the experience of competing in various types of races.

"The single is my main boat, but I've rowed every single (type)," Zebracki said.

And in just a short few months, they'll both be taking that next step.

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