THE OARS ARE SHIPPED AND SO ARE THE CHALLENGERS—around 1,500 high school athletes comprising more than 350 crews and representing 150 teams from across the country gliding into Sarasota this month for the 2017 Youth National Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park. Running June 9–11, the event will showcase not only the nation’s top young talent in the world of rowing, but Sarasota’s up-and-coming reputation as a rowing destination.

Photo 1

“This event really hits on all cylinders as to why we’re here in the first place,” says Robert Sullivan, president and CEO of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates, which oversees Nathan Benderson Park. The premier youth rowing event in the country, the competition puts Nathan Benderson Park on the national stage and Sarasota in the spotlight, reaping economic benefits from increased tourism and travel. Hosting in 2015, the event brought 1,993 competitors and 4,991 spectators for a combined economic impact in the area to the tune of more than $6 million. And this year, with the completion of a new finish tower equipped with guest services, a patio eatery and state-of-the-art equipment and facilities for judges, Sullivan sees Sarasota becoming a rowing center for the country.

Photo 2

“We think it is already,” he says.“Coaches from all over the country were saying, ‘Let’s just leave this event here forever,’” says USRowing Events Manager AJ Dominique, III, of the 2015 response. “It’s a real testament to the park and the staff and the effort that this area has put into the sport.” Between the jumbotron, the finish tower and Regatta Island, the facilities and amenities at Nathan Benderson Park are top-notch, he says, and spectators will have ample room for multiple angles as competitors find all they need to perform at their best. And keep an eye out for the path running alongside the track, where coaches mount bicycles and ride and shout down the lane with their team. Says Dominique: “Sometimes that’s almost as entertaining as the competition itself.”