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Norwalk's Demko Finally Finds Her Sport on the Water

NORWALK, Conn. – Three years ago, Brien McMahon senior Caroline Demko seemed an unlikely candidate to continue rowing in college. She had limited exposure to the sport, no passion for competition, no athletic drive.

But that all changed when she joined Norwalk River Rowing Association . Now, Demko is bound for Boston University, the former college home of another McMahon alum, Olympian Dan Walsh . And she could end a long drought of NRRA rowers failing to qualify for the U.S. Youth National Championships.

Demko and Alex Stonehill, a classmate at McMahon who will continue her rowing career at Duke, are among the top competitors in the Women’s Youth 2- at this weekend’s Northeast Regional championships in Worcester, Mass. The top three teams advance to next month’s U.S. Youth Nationals in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

It is even more surprising given where Demko was just a few years ago. She tried rowing at Saugatuck Rowing Club in seventh grade and quickly gave up. “My dad kept telling me, ‘You need to do a sport,’’’ Demko said. “I just would not have it. I tried a lot of different things. Nothing stuck.”

Her father, Mike, a former rower at Princeton, gave her another shot with the NRRA when she was a sophomore. This time, it took hold. “It’s such a different skill set,’’ Demko said. “Being on the water in Norwalk gave me a much different perspective. I saw things I hadn’t seen before. I was so focused on my school work and that carried over into rowing.”

Demko still focused on her studies at McMahon but found time for rowing, too. She and Stonehill have been among the steadiest girls for NRRA. They served notice they mean business in the Long Island Junior Championships earlier this month, when they won their event by more than 16 seconds.

“We had just launched when the boat flipped (due to an equipment issue) and we had to swim back to shore,’’ Demko said. “The water was freezing. We had about 15 minutes, and we weren’t sure we were going to try it again. I said we’d come all the way down here, we might as well race.”

She has done more than just row with the Norwalk club. Demko has been in the club’s rowing for teen mothers and peer-to-peer programs. “That’s the thing that’s most rewarding, helping others find the sport,’’ she said. “I’d see some of these girls every day in school and think, ‘What do I have in common in them?’ It’s really nice to be with these girls. It was really cool for us to look at each other in a different environment. We’re really not that much different, after all.”

She hopes to extend her career with the blue and red colors of the Norwalk River Rowing team with a top-three performance this weekend. She and Stonehill are looking to become the first girls from the team to earn a national bid since 2005.

Demko's decision to join the Terriers came just last month after considering a range of schools. “The rowing program there was the difference,’’ she said. “You can’t beat Boston in a lot of ways. Rowing is one of them.”

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