Entering high school, Avery Salumbides didn’t care much for sports. There weren’t any she really enjoyed, and she said she wasn’t particularly good at any of them.
Having exhausted a slew of other options, her mother encouraged her to try one last sport: rowing.
“I really liked it,” Salumbides said.
And look where it’s taken her. The Santa Monica High School senior will continue her rowing career at Dartmouth College, the prestigious Ivy League school in Hanover, New Hampshire.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “I really fell in love with the sport over the four years that I’ve been playing it, so it’ll be really cool to continue at an elite level.”
Salumbides expects to join the Big Green heavyweight crew as a coxswain, the boat’s vocal and logistical leader. Instead of using an oar, the coxswain typically makes steering decisions and shouts commands to the rowers.
Salumbides hopes to improve in her craft under Dartmouth coach Wyatt Allen, a former Virginia rower who joined the U.S. in two Olympics. She said she’s been in touch with the program’s coaching staff since her sophomore year at Samohi.
But Allen won’t be the first coach with Olympic experience for Salumbides, who has benefited from the guidance of top-tier competitors in the sport in recent years.
Salumbides has developed her skills under the tutelage of Katelin Snyder, who is training as a coxswain on the American national team for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Snyder, who was a member of the celebrated rowing program at the University of Washington, has excelled at the international level, leading the U.S. to gold at the World Rowing Championships in each of the last three years.
Salumbides has also trained under Marcus McElhenney, an American coxswain who earned a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He won gold at the 2009 World Rowing Championships and the 2011 Pan American Games.
“What I see in Avery is her herculean determination to improve and learn from the best,” McElhenney said. “There is little to no coaching available for coxswains in the sport of rowing. But instead of just settling, she sought out us National Team and Olympic coxswains. … She tackled any challenge that we tasked her with and she truly succeeded.”
Because Samohi doesn’t have a rowing team, Salumbides learned the sport at Marina Aquatic Center in Marina del Rey. But the Roosevelt Elementary and Lincoln Middle schools graduate said her peers traveled to support her anyway.
“Samo has a really special population because it’s so diverse,” she said. “It’s so accepting and filled with spirit. Even though I don’t do a school sport, people come to my things.”
Of course, Salumbides isn’t just going to Dartmouth for rowing. She said she plans to study government and politics, the extension of an academic journey for which she’s been preparing throughout high school.
Salumbides founded the Samohi chapter of Junior State of America, a national organization that promotes leadership, debate and civic participation, and she’s also served as president of the school’s World Affairs Council chapter. She studied abroad in Beijing in 2013.
For Salumbides, getting up early for practice every morning will be difficult on cold East Coast days. But she acknowledged that the opportunity to join a storied rowing team will be worth it.
“It’s not too bad,” she said.