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What this weekend's National Rowing Championship brings to the Gainesville community
Beginning at noon today, 75 colleges from across the country will be represented in the National Rowing Championship (NRC) at Lake Lanier Olympic Park.
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Rowers practice rowing the course at Lake Lanier Olympic Park on Thursday, May 23, 2019, leading up to the NCAA Rowing National Championship starting on Friday. - photo by Austin Steele

The traditions continue on Memorial Day weekend at Lake Lanier.

Beginning at noon today, 75 colleges from across the country will be represented in the National Rowing Championship (NRC) at Lake Lanier Olympic Park. 

The annual Memorial Day weekend event starts Friday from noon-5:30 p.m., Saturday from 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday from 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

The event is free (with a small parking fee) and food trucks and concessions are set to line the site.

Robyn Lynch, the organizer of the event, looks forward to this weekend every year, specifically because of the influence it has on the Gainesville community.

“The economic impact is tremendous,” she said. “There are 1,500 athletes plus their families. All of the hotel rooms are full. They go to the restaurants, they buy gas, they go shopping.”

Jay Singh, the owner and general manager of Gainesville’s Guest Lodge, is just one of many business owners that experiences an influx of economic growth as a result of the NRC.

“It has put us on the map,” Singh said. “It’s what Gainesville is — an outdoor community. (There’s) a lot of good venues and good places around; it highlights that better than anything else could.”

What was once an underutilized facility, the Lake Lanier Olympic Park continues to be a fixture of the rowing community, specifically within college athletics. 

For more than a decade, Singh has sold out his rooms to NRC competitors. Most of his patrons are returning customers, including two top 10 nationally ranked schools — No. 5 University of Michigan and No. 10 University of Virginia. 

“I think it’s the passion of our team,” Singh said of why the same schools return every year. “It’s our team meeting the expectations of their team.”

The relationships with the rowing teams were inherited when Singh bought the Guest Lodge in 2005. He prides himself in cultivating relationships and has developed and nurtured the bonds ever since.

“When a phenomenal group of people comes together, phenomenal things start to happen,” Singh said. “Over the years, ACRA has turned out to be a great event.”

Mark Rothstein, the University of Michigan rowing coach, and Singh made a pact years ago that has turned into a documented Facebook tradition. 

“I’ve got about 10 pictures with the Michigan coach,” Singh said. “We just made a funny tradition that everytime he wins a trophy, we take a picture with him holding a trophy.”

To accommodate the ever-changing entertainment landscape, Singh has incorporated fast wireless internet for students who come with homework and has installed cornhole, horseshoe and spikeball to the pool area for those wanting to unwind. In the past, the staff has even turned the conference room into a yoga studio to fit the athletes’ needs.

The NRC’s effects continue throughout the year economically, and it’s people like Singh who keep them coming back.

“Other coaches around the country talk to eat other and will ask where’s a good place to train, and they’ll say Lake Lanier,” he said. “Then they’ll come here. I think there’s a much bigger long term economic impact.”

The impact trickles down to Singh’s personal traditions. When he gets a chance to withdraw from the lodge, he attends the annual event alongside his son. 

“It’s good to look at a bunch of young people working together for one goal, and that’s what creates a team,” he said. “They’re putting their differences aside and becoming a team.

“It’s a lesson we can learn as a city, as a business and as individuals.”

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