Olympic Rower Competes in Mother's Memory

Even deep in her battle with cancer, Taylor Ritzel's mom urged her to pursue Olympics dreams.

Taylor Ritzel is a three-time All American and NCAA national champion in rowing. But the 23-year-old Yale University graduate said her biggest accomplishment yet will be fulfilling her mother’s dying wish by competing in the 2012 London Games.

Ritzel’s mother, Lana Ritzel, battled breast cancer for nearly two years.

By the time Taylor Ritzel graduated from Yale, cancer had stripped her mother’s ability to form tears or to speak. Still, she found the strength to whisper, “I want to see you at the Olympics.”

Lana Ritzel went through chemotherapy, but the disease spread to her bones and she died on Nov. 16, 2010.

Taylor Ritzel channeled her grief, trained vigorously, pushed herself and is expected to compete as the youngest member of the Women’s Eight Crew Team, a team that is considered to be one of the best crew teams in the world.

“Rowing has sort of been my outlet,” Ritzel said. “It’s funny, I talked to my college coach, Bill Porter, about it. He thinks, when this is all over, that is really when I’m going to grieve for my mom. And that could actually happen.”

Ritzel was a swimmer in high school, but began rowing when her mother scheduled a meeting with the Yale University crew team during her college search.

Ritzel said she is drawn to the sport’s complexity and demand for endurance.

“There’s so many different components to rowing well,” she said. “Just the grueling aspect of the training, we’ll do hours and hours of endurance training very similar to swimming. The hours you put in just for a 2K race is just incredible.”

Ritzel said her opportunity to compete at the Olympics is “unreal” and “something I never would have imagined.”

She said she will compete in honor of her mother.

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