C J Risak
His parents finally convinced him, even though it wasn’t something that remotely interested him.
"I actually did a summer camp that I didn’t want to go to," Alex Lofton said. "I saw it and said, ‘Oh, it’s rowing, that’s lame, why would I want to do that?’
"My mom and dad were saying, ‘Go ahead and do it. If you do it, we’ll never ask you to do another sport again.’"
As fate would have it, they never had to. Because the sport that looked "lame" at first appearance very quickly became Lofton’s obsession.
The Citrus High School senior remembers that beginning six years ago.
"So I went and did it, and the next thing you know I ended up loving it," he said Monday as he officially accepted a scholarship to attend Stetson University, located in DeLand, and compete on its rowing team.
The mere fact that he’s receiving a scholarship for rowing is certainly rare; Citrus athletic director Larry Bishop could not remember any former Hurricane receiving one in this sport. One reason for that is it isn’t a Florida High School Athletic Association sport.
That means athletes must compete for club teams. Lofton was fortunate because that camp he attended before entering high school was organized by the Rowing Organization of Citrus County (ROCC), which started operating in 2003 and maintains its now brand-new boathouse on Lake Henderson.
That’s where Lofton was on that very first day.
"The first time I went out, I went out in a fat training single or something, it had floaties on it and everything," he recalled. "I went out and I just fell in love with being out on the water, everything just fell into place at that point.
"It was amazing. ... I just sat there, and I wasn’t supposed to go out as far as I did, I ended up going out really far, and the coach was yelling at me to come back, but I was just so into it."
He still has trouble pinpointing the exact reason for the sport’s attraction.
"It was pretty cool, I thought it was, because it was something different," Lofton said. "It wasn’t the typical sport like football or soccer — which, I mean those sports are great, but there was something about it I fell in love with."
It helped that one of his initial coaches was Terry Davison.
"I just kind of stuck with it," Lofton said. "Then, at that point in time, we had a coach named Terry Davison come in and he kind of took us in, he trained us up.
"He just kind of built us up at this point, he really helped me, he was an influential part of my career. He’s still my coach now, with South Orlando Rowing Association."
He did pretty well with those young recruits.
"My sophomore year we went to states and ended up winning our four," Lofton said, referring to the ROCC team’s win in the Boys Junior 4x at the FSRA (Florida Scholastic Rowing Association) Sweep Championships in 2015.
Lofton was just starting to become adept in the two types of competitive rowing, sweeps (each rower holds one oar) and sculls (each rower has two oars). But that first major victory suddenly refocused Lofton’s attention.
"Once we had that win in the 4s, that’s when it kind of clicked and I thought, ‘Hey, I could probably take this somewhere,’" he said. "At that point, my coach came up to me and said there was a college coach there who was talking about our race, about our 4s win.
"From then on, I just kind of worked on it, and here I am."
That work includes time spent both on the water — Lofton followed Davison to the South Orlando Rowing Association, where he currently coaches — and in the gym. When on the water "two or three times a week," Lofton’s usually on Lake Henderson.
The three-times-a-week gym sessions last up to two hours and include work with weights, circuit training and time spent on the rowing machines. It’s a sport that requires premium strength in all parts of the body, as well as extreme endurance.
"When I first started (rowing), I was a bit on the chubby side," he said. "So I definitely had to make a big change in diet and fitness. I lost a lot of weight and then gained it back in muscle, I built myself back up."
Stetson has offered rowing as a collegiate sport since 2006, and it’s something that requires year-round training, simply because the season starts in mid-October and stretches into May. The Hatters’ schedule for 2016-17 had 12 events, starting with the Head of the Charles, last Oct. 22-23 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Head of the Hooch, last Nov. 4-6 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
It finished with the Florida Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships, March 30-April 1 in Sarasota, and the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships, April 15-16 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
If Lofton’s training was tough before, it will only get more intense — and Lofton can’t wait.
"I’m just really excited for the training schedules, I’m really excited to take it to the next level," he said. "I’m looking forward to it."