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The Bellingham Bandits From L to R: Abby Broughton, Ursula Grobler, Kristin Hedstrom, Victoria Burke
Q&A With Ursula Grobler and the Bellingham Bandits

     Senior World Championship Trials started yesterday to determine who will represent the U.S. in New Zealand in November.  Ursula Grobler has been causing quite a stir with her goal to win world championship medals in the lightweight double, single, and quad.  So far things are going well for Grobler.  She won her singles heat yesterday by 24 seconds.  She and doubles partner, Abby Broughton secured their seats in the double earlier this summer.  On Thursday the duo will be joined by Kristin Hedstrom and Victoria Burke in their attempt to qualify in the quad.  The four have been training in Bellingham, Washington this summer and have dubbed themselves the Bellingham Bandits.  JL has been happy to provide their squad with training and racing gear.


JL: How did the Bellingham Bandits come to be?  What's the significance behind the team name? Ursula, did you create the logo?

Abby Broughton: Kristin and Victoria came to join Ursula and me in August, and we wanted a team name for fun, because we were finally a team of more than just three.  Honestly, in the northwest spirit I wanted to be either the "Samish Sasquatch" or the "Bellingham Orcas," but "Bellingham Bandits" was a close third.    To me, I think the "Bandit" as our mascot alludes to the fact that we are tucked away in a remote lake in the corner of the country, training in a way that is different than what is being done in most places.

Ursula Grobler:
Yes I developed the look, but the name came from Carlos feeling like this is a refugee camp for rowers who really want to go fast but need a new system or place or person to take them there. So i think Kristin or Abby actually came up with the words Bellingham Bandits and I went to work on the design from that.

Kristin Hedstrom: I’m a big fan of having a team name and mascot, so I was definitely pushing for us to think of something good.  In the end it was between the Bellingham Bandits and the Samish Sasquatch, and we decided that as much as Sasquatch is unique to this area, it didn’t really fit us as well as the Bandits did.

Victoria Burke: I think there might be some different versions as to the significance of the Bandits name. I think the best and most appropriate version is that we were looking for a cool name/mascot that would go with either lake Samish or Bellingham where we are training. The Bandits was the best one we came up with, especially as we stumbled upon some amusing and silly bandit logos on Google images.

JL: Kristin, and Victoria, how did you decide to move to Washington for the summer?  Are you planning on staying?

I decided to move to Washington for the summer when the opportunity to row a quad with Kristen, Abby, and Ursula arose. I considered my options for making the senior team this year and rowing a quad with the three fastest lightweights in the country seemed like a no-brainer to me. Needless to say, I jumped at an opportunity to row and train with the fastest so that I could improve me speed and as I mentioned above I thought this was my best opportunity to make the senior team this year.

Kristin Hedstrom:
Carlos had talked to my coach at Wisco, Erik Miller, about his idea to build the quad with Ursula and Abby.  I trust Erik's opinion and so, after several talks with him, we decided that it made sense for me to come out to Washington and train with this group. Right now I'm focusing on Trials and NZ and will cross the "what happens afterwards?" bridge when I get to it.

JL: I've heard that you're all living together with very limited distractions.  What's daily life like training with the Bellingham Bandits?  Best parts?  Worst parts?

Abby: Daily life...well, it’s similar to the life of any elite rower, in that mostly we train, eat, and sleep, and we prioritize those three things.  The great thing about the setup here in Bellingham is that we are able to put those three most important components at the forefront, and I think that makes us faster.  I feel that if I am choosing to go for this big goal of winning Worlds and the Olympics, I might as well be in an environment where I can keep life simple and train well, rest well, and focus on nutrition.  I feel very fortunate and grateful that I am able to train here, for those reasons. The most difficult part for me, is missing my home and community of friends in Seattle, but at least I get to go home for visits periodically, and it’s close enough that sometimes my friends come up to check out the scene in Bellingham.  Also, I do feel very behind in keeping up with the news!  (Please inform me if there’s some big important thing happening out in the world, because it may be a few days before I find out!)

Ursula: We are very focussed with our energy being put into the right places with little distractions. We row 20km in the morning then eat, recover, another technical row, eat, recover, then a circuit/power workout on the rowperfects, eat, recover sleep. Repeat. I think the best part is living with like-minded athletes so everyone expects and encourages good nutrition, good sleep patterns, and good performance. Maybe the worst part is that we in our own little bubble.

Kristin: Daily life is eating, sleeping, and rowing...just a lot more of each one since Carlos drags us (kicking and screaming of course) away from TV, movies, internet, and all other things that qualify as “fun.”  But really, we keep it focused and serious on the water but have a lot of fun when it’s not business time.  The best part? Having the lake right there.  No commute to the boathouse and unlimited chances to go on the water and improve each day.  We’re lucky, that’s for sure.

Victoria: Daily life training with the Bandits is a pretty ideal training lifestyle. I grew up in a house with no T.V. so I don't really notice that we don't have it. I'm not sure what Carlos's intention was for not having TV...whether or not it was for his personal interests or to keep us from those distractions....but the internet is vast these days and I still manage to find any t.v. shows I might want to watch. Otherwise we do the usual training camp life style that is a mixture of eating sleeping and rowing. We are usually on the water every morning by 6 am for a 20k row. We then rest and eat and usually train one or two more times during the day. We often have sit down dinners together which is really fun and family like. We mostly follow the Paleo diet for our training and we sleep in altitude tents. Some downsides are that the tents often make it hard to sleep which is why napping during the day is key.

JL: You are in a unique training atmosphere- how does it feel to train with a group of such ambitious, hard working teammates?

Abby: It’s an honor and is very inspiring to be with a coach and small group of teammates who are so courageous, ambitious, and able to keep the big picture in mind.  I feel that we believe in each other and ourselves to the extent that we are confident we can achieve whatever it is we choose to do.  We work hard enough and have such focused and specialized coaching that it is almost impossible for doubts to come through and knock us off course. 
Plus, it is fun and exciting to be doing things differently and to see the positive effects after months of hard work.

Ursula: it has added benefits of keeping things more on track and raising the intensity. i'm really enjoying what everyone brings to the table.

Kristin: I feel fortunate to have been surrounded by hardworking teammates while training at Wisconsin over the past few years and also here in Bellingham.  I love having teammates that push me to perform my best every day, every workout, every stroke. 

Victoria: At this point I have probably taken it for granted that I live and train with people who are as ambitious and hardworking as I am. When I first got to Bellingham it was appreciated and when I reflect on it, it is really nice to be with a group that is so motivated, including our coach who is just as motivated as we are to achieve our goals.

JL: What have you guys been up to in your spare time?  Or would that be better put: "spare time"?  Any favorite memories you'd like to share?

Abby: Hiking and being out in the mountains is one of my favorite things, and I'm so happy that I'm living in such a beautiful part of the country so I could do some cross-training in the woods this summer!  I'll never forget the vibrant wildflowers near the Mt. Baker glacier we saw this summer. Picking 34 lbs of blueberries with Kristin was definitely a highlight, as well as visiting the Bellingham Farmer's Market.

Ursula: I really had a great time in Amsterdam racing against the big names like Karsten, and Napkova. It was fantastic to beat Karsten in the semi-final at the Holland Beker.  Then I went to South Africa to visit my family, and it was great watching a Spain soccer game live, and later for them to become the champs... I came back to the USA with a vuvuzela!

Kristin: I had a great time hanging out with friends in Madison and Chicago while I was training in the Midwest early on in the summer. I allowed myself three days of vacation with my family after elite nationals and it was great to spend time with them.  Since arriving in Washington, I've loved the team activities.  My favorites have been hiking and trying out racing kayaks at G-Man's cabin, but I still haven't fulfilled my goal of jumping off the bridge on the lake.  It's getting late in the season, so I might just have to go do it one of these days.

Victoria: When we have spare time we really try to take advantage of it and do fun things like the farm tour, berry picking, going to Seattle to see all the sights....really Ursuala tried to show me every single cool thing in Seattle in one day and it was pretty exhausting. We also go the farmers markets held in the local towns and go hiking... although usually that is a workout. Kristen and I also hit up Woods Coffee shop that is on the bay in Bellingham for some relaxing afternoons of just reading or catching up with emails etc.  I think one of my favorite memories is doing part of the farm tour in the Bellingham area where we went to a Bison farm, Apple farm and dairy farm.


JL: Ursula, you have a very ambitious goal to win three medals at worlds this year.  How did you make the decision to go for three?  How does it feel to attempt something nobody has tried before?

Ursula: Carlos believed in the training we had been doing, and he approached me with the dream. Let's see what happens. There are lots of risks and logistics, but also lots of excitement too.

JL: I enjoy keeping up with you on your various blogs (3 Medal Challenge, Bellingham Bandits, and RowStarProject)- what is the purpose of your blogs and how has it helped you?  Do you get much feedback?

Ursula: On the Rowing Illustrated boards there is a lot of feedback. The blogs were to inspire and encourage more involvement in the rowing community and amongst other athletes and sponsors. We need to make funding happen somehow and we want to share this journey in conjunction with funding.

Abby: The blogs...well, honestly I acknowledge that all the blogs are a bit much and personally it's hard to remember to create posts.   However, I think it is important people know that the purpose of our blogs is not to make people annoyed or think we are arrogant-the bottom line is that we need support, both financially, and through getting people excited about what we are doing, because we can't sustain this momentum without help.  So, the more people feel like they are a part of our journey, hopefully the more inspired they will be to support us!

JL: Describe the team dynamic- i.e. if you were a boy band who would be the sensitive one, the goofy one, etc.?

Abby: I love our team.  We are all positive, hard working, so focused on our goals, and I think we all contribute equally and fully, but in our own unique ways.  For example, while one of us is cooking a delicious meal, the others may be working on a fund-raising project, cleaning up the house, or grocery shopping.  I’d like to think that I’m the goofy one, but I’ve caught glimpses of everyone’s goofy side over the past couple months. 

Ursula: Funny analogy since I really hate boy bands, but I get your drift. Our characters are actually all quite similar. Perhaps that's why there is no drama and we get along so easily. Abby can get a little goofy at times with her flying artichokes, and Kristin keeps a good laughter in the house. Vic is full of questions, and i guess I'm the serious side.

Kristin: I kind of wondered what the dynamic would be like before I arrived.  I’m not great with the specific boy (girl?) band names but here’s how I take it, and why not go in lineup order:
      Abby is the goofy girl who you’ll frequently find drawing photos of flying artichokes and taking her goat figurines on hikes so she can take pictures of them in their “real element.”  She is always the first one downstairs in the mornings, getting ready for practice.  Often the leader in power workouts, you’ll know she’s working hard when you hear her grunting from the stern.
      Ursula is the humble, hardworking, fearless one.  Ursh gets work done like nobody you’ve ever seen, often when you’re not looking.  We’ll be throwing around the idea of making a Bandit logo and an hour later Ursh is printing out several possibilities she’s whipped up without even telling us.  Aside from the all-important logo creation, her hard work is obviously carried over to rowing.  She’s the proof that what we’re doing is building speed and success. 
      Me - The quad would probably describe me as the one who is always dragging them to go swimming with me after sweaty land workouts.  I take practices seriously so I tend to be described as “all business” on the water but I’d like to think I provide some of the fun and laughter outside of practice.  But of course, you’d have to ask my teammates for a real read on the situation. 
      Vic is the always curious, always questioning, but always trusting bow seat.  She understands the work she’s gotta do and does it, while always wearing her trusty ten layers of longsleeves (she’s permanently cold!).  She’s got an inner fire that we only see during special times, and I’m excited because I think we might get to see it later this week.
      Carlos is our passionate leader. You’ll never forget how much he loves rowing and everything having to do with it.  His blog ( is proof of this.  He’s posting about five times daily and  it’s only growing.  One other thing about Carlos: once you get him going on jokes (outside of practice time, obviously), he’s unstoppable and he has us crying with laughter regularly.
      Overall, the group works very well together and the way we push each other and work as a team has been exciting to see over the past couple months.  

Victoria: I'm not really sure what our boy band dynamic would be. We are all pretty level headed and get along well. I think Abby has the potential for most goofy, Kristen is probably the most daring since she insist on jumping into the lake after practice when it's 60 degrees, (well since I'm a baby about being cold this is daring to me). Ursula tends to be mysteriously industrious, as before we know it we have JL unis that she has secured for us, or shows up with some donations that her sponsors gave us for our open house we had a few weekends ago.

JL:  As Trials draw near how are you feeling about the upcoming racing?

Abby: I don't have much to say other than I haven't been this excited to race in a while! Should be a fun week of racing!

Ursula: Ready and excited.

Kristin: I'm excited about it, for sure.  It's been a while since any of us raced and I think we're all itching to let loose on the course. 

Victoria: I think we are all excited about the upcoming racing. We have been training on our own in Bellingham so I think we are all ready to get some racing in against real people and not just a gps.

JL: The new Bandits unis look great- how do you like rowing in them?  Is there any other JL gear you're particularly fond of?

Abby: I'm especially happy with the color, and I like the JL "swirl" on the back.  Oh, and I like it when I'm rowing behind Ursula because I get to stare at her initials on her back:  "UG."  THANK YOU JL!  It's such a fun and very much appreciated opportunity to get to design and sport such nice gear!!!!

Ursula: The mix of fabrics is so slick. The white long sleeves have a cotton feel and then a slick line where the print is on the sleeves. Then JL made a one piece for me that is super sweet.  Tights and a uni connected is perfect for me. I always wear warmer gear so this is new item is magic.
    Again thanks to Joline for the collaborative creative environment wherein we created the uni's. Her dedication to get it right was great. She sent mini color samples as well. I appreciate all the input.

Kristin: Love them!  I really like the material on both the unis and longsleeves.

Victoria: The new unis are great. I Love rowing in them and have no complaints. The long sleeves look great too, and will be perfect for racing on an early late September morning.

Lou Kinder - September 29, 2010