Palisades’ Jenna Thompson Rows on National Scene

By Ellis Becker
Special to the Palisades News

As the old yellow lights on the outside of the UCLA Marina Aquatic Center Boathouse light the courtyard, Pacific Palisades resident Jenna Thompson rolls open the gate to the facility and walks in.

She heads towards the large stone building, its walls lined with a dozen 60-ft. racing shells and various 20-to 30-ft. shells hanging from the ceiling. The boathouse, located in Marina Del Rey, is surrounded on one side by the marina itself, and on the other, the shallow and murky waters of Ballona Creek.

Jenna Thompson (center) and crewmates train at Marina del Rey. Photo courtesy Jenna Thompson
Jenna Thompson (center) and crewmates train at Marina del Rey. Photo courtesy Jenna Thompson

It’s nearly 5 a.m. on a school day in May. Thompson and her crewmates are in the midst of training for the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships. Representing the Marina Aquatic Center junior rowing team, or MAC, they qualified for the competition by placing third in the women’s varsity 8+ event at the U.S. Rowing Southwest Regional Championships. (The 8+ consists of eight rowers and a coxswain; the women’s varsity is the top women’s boat at the club.)

After her practice, Thompson will drive to Studio City, where she is finishing her senior year at Harvard-Westlake School. Then she will drive back to the Marina for an afternoon training session.

Thompson has spent thousands of hours in this boathouse since she started rowing her freshman year. Since then she has earned countless medals with MAC, the Penn Athletic Club Rowing Association and the U.S. Junior National High Performance Team.

She says that her rowing career really picked up in 2014 when she was invited to the U.S. Junior National Team’s high-performance summer training camp. There, she made the Varsity 8+ and placed third at the U.S. Rowing Club Nationals.

The following year, Thompson went to Youth Nationals with MAC. There, she raced in the Women’s Varsity 8+ her crew placed ninth in the nation. That summer, she raced with the Penn Athletic Club Rowing Association, and earned bronze medals in the Women’s Varsity 8+ and Women’s Varsity 4+ events.

In her senior year this June, and her last year at MAC, she again went to the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships, but this time was much more special.

“Making Nationals for the second time my senior year is something I take great pride in, not for myself, but for my boat,” Thompson said. “It was not an easy season, with injuries and other obstacles coming up left and right, but we persevered and pushed through the adversity which is, in my opin- ion, what the essence of rowing is all about.”

Thompson’s crew again competed in the Women’s Varsity 8+, this time placing eighth in the nation. Thompson sat in the stroke position, farthest to the back of the boat. As the stroke seat, her teammates followed her as she set the rhythm for the boat.

Despite her accolades, Thompson says her proudest achievement is more than just a medal.

“Being awarded Most Inspirational by my teammates and coach my junior year was a huge honor,” Thompson said. “Since it was peer voted, it was extremely special to me that I was able to touch my team in that way.”

Thompson’s many achievements gained her much attention, and she was recruited this year to row at Dartmouth for their women’s team.

“I hope to contribute to the team in any way I can. Rowing for me is all about combining individual strengths to create a powerhouse team,” Thompson said. “I hope to make a boat for the Head of the Charles Regatta, but mostly, I’m looking forward to bonding with my new teammates. I’ve met quite a few of them, and I can already tell that I’ve found a new family.”

Over the years, Thompson grew close with her teammates and coach Zohar Abramovitz. She says that some of her closest friends are from rowing, and her favorite rowing memories “always involve my teammates. One day, our wonderful coach, Zohar Abramovitz, surprised us after a successful weekend race with cookies and a compliment circle instead of a hard workout. It really bonded the team together and set the tone for the rest of season—founded on respect, hard work and a lot of love.”

On that school day in May when Thompson was preparing for the Youth Nationals, she was eager to return to the Marina boathouse for the afternoon training session. She was beginning to realize that after walking in and out of that boathouse for almost four years, she was going to be nostalgic leaving it behind for college.

She puts her things aside, pulls down a stationary rowing machine, and begins to row, happy to get back to work.

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