GREENWICH, Conn. – Like many recent high school graduates, Greenwich’s Galen Hughes spent her summer working. The difference is the June graduate of Greenwich Academy picked up a gold medal instead of paychecks.
Hughes won gold with the U.S. Women’s Four at the World Rowing Junior Championships earlier this month in Lithuania. After finishing second to Germany in its first race, the U.S. crew coached by Liz Trond of Norwalk’s Connecticut Boat Club improved vastly in the final. Hughes and her teammates flew past the Germans and won by .38 seconds over Italy. Germany finished third.
“After the first race, we knew that we had the potential to improve,’’ Hughes said. “Our sprint wasn’t very good in the first race. And it’s a whole different caliber of racing in international competition. We settled in during that first race and we didn’t have that fire. We had it in the race that mattered, though.”
Hughes said the pivotal point came halfway through the 2,000 meter race. “The boats were all pretty close together, and at 1,000 meters we made a move and kept responding. I remember at the halfway point having complete tunnel vision and looking at the girl in front of me. I said to myself, ‘Yep, we can’t be pulling any harder.’’’
The Junior World Championships were the first international competition for Hughes, who will attend Princeton University this year.
“I’m a very superstitious rower,’’ said Hughes, who did not attempt to make an international team last summer. “I don’t like to tell myself I’m going to make it because you never know. People were telling me I’d make it and I was like sure, whatever. The last day before the teams were announced, I had a bad day at practice and thought that’s it. Then she ended up naming the team and I was in the first boat. I couldn’t have been happier.”
“When you first meet her, she’s 6-feet, 2-inches and long, so that immediately draws your eye,’’ Trond said. “It was nice to find a matched body with all of the other girls. But she’s also very fit. She runs seven or eight miles a day, and she’s a very gifted athlete. That’s what I noticed about her.”
Hughes played basketball for five years at Greenwich Academy, but made the decision early that rowing was going to be her sport of choice in college. She’s headed to one of the nation’s elite women’s programs at Princeton. The gold medal at the Junior World regatta provides a confidence boost that she can be a contributor early on at Princeton.
“It definitely helps my confidence,’’ Hughes said. “It’s scary going to a team like that. Everybody is so good. "But we’ve been doing 30,000 meters of practice a day. I don’t think anything in college can be much worse than that.”