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Kids in East Oakland club to compete in national rowing competition

OAKLAND, Calif. - The Oakland Strokes, a rowing club in East Oakland, is sending nearly 70 kids to its national competition in Florida next week. One particular young man was recruited to the club in middle school, and he is excited to row in the big competition.

Giovanni Grajeda, known to his friends as "Gio," has been waiting all year for this.

"We started off really strong in the beginning of the year, and we’re still going strong, getting fourth place for Regionals," he said. Fourth place at Regionals placed his boat for the Youth Nationals, competing in the U-16 division.

The high school freshman at Alameda Community Learning Center has been rowing for two years, joining the Oakland Strokes through a middle school recruitment program called STEM to Stern.

"We’re getting kids from East Oakland which is our service area, we’re at the Tidewater Boat House which is off High Street," said Carla Jourdan, who oversees the STEM to Stern program for the Oakland Strokes. It’s a national program with the goal to get kids who would not ordinarily be exposed to rowing a chance to try it, providing transportation after school and help with homework.

"Traditionally, rowing doesn’t look like me, so I want to be the person that helps kids realize that rowing could look like them, Jourdan said, a rower herself.

As a Mexican American, Gio is underrepresented in rowing.

"There was really no difference from how my peers saw me against my other peer who may be a different color," he said, highlighting that he was welcomed with open arms. Gio rows in the two seat position, near the back of the boat. He said teamwork on his eight boat is the key to success.

"If you’re connected to your teammates and you guys are all friends, it’s easier to move the boat along," he said.

When it comes to nationals, this is a chance for college scouts to see kids shine, but Gio says he is most excited to make new friends from all over the country. He said he’s going to keep rowing until he can’t row anymore, hoping one day for the opportunity to compete in the Olympics.

"If I do end up reaching that level," he said with a smile. "I would definitely take that opportunity."

On Thursday evening, a trailer will be loaded up with 9 boats, as the truck makes its way to Florida for 69 kids to compete in Youth Nationals next week. Gio is hoping his boat takes home a trophy.

To get involved in the STEM to Stern program, visit oaklandstrokes.org or contact Carla Jourdan at carlajourdan@oaklandstrokes.org.