It was summer in Beijing, and nearly every day a thunderstorm beckoned.
But on Aug. 17, 2008, the sun was shining on the U.S. women’s rowing “eight” team, which ended a 24-year drought when they won the Olympic gold medal.
Lindsay Shoop was one of the women in the boat. Born in Virginia, she moved to South Florida five years ago to be closer to the water and along the way, become Barry University’s assistant rowing coach. In her first season, Barry captured its first national title in NCAA Division II women’s rowing. She’s hoping for a repeat this year.
Shoop knows the exhilaration of victory.
“When we hit the water, we were like a shark,” said Shoop of her Olympic crew, which consisted of eight rowers — each with one oar — and a coxswain barking out the orders. “We were so synchronized — every stroke was so sweet and so focused.
“From my perspective in the second seat, I had a bird’s-eye view of the race, and I felt we had it … but I didn’t stop rowing until we were almost going to run over the dock. I wanted to make sure.”
During the race, Shoop blocked out all outside noise. Her ears were ringing as the blood rushed to her major muscles.
“All I was thinking about was gold,” Shoop said.
Shoop’s parents, Paul and Vali, were in Beijing that day.
“We followed her to Japan, London, Munich and then Beijing,” said Vali, who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. “If you hang onto that girl’s coattails, you will go for a ride.”
BARRY’S GOLDEN GIRL
Beth Desmond, a senior at Barry, said her “jaw dropped” when she learned an Olympic gold medalist had been hired to help head coach Boban Rankovic, who rowed for Serbia and finished eighth in the 2000 Olympics.
Besides bringing new techniques, Shoop, who will turn 34 this month, showed the rowers her gold medal and uniform from that race.
“We were starry-eyed,” Desmond said. “I had never met an Olympic gold medalist before in my life. Now I have one as my coach.”
Shoop would have never made it to the medal stand — or to Barry — if it were not for University of Virginia rowing coach Kevin Sauer.
Shoop grew up on her parents’ 27-acre ranch in Charlottesville, where the family still has five horses.
As a child, Shoop played Little League against the boys and grew up to be a high school volleyball and basketball player. She had scholarship offers to play Division II college volleyball and basketball … but nothing for Division I.
Determined to attend the (Division I) University of Virginia, Shoop quit sports and focused on academics.
But Sauer knew the Shoop family — Vali had been his dental hygienist for years — and he tried to convince Shoop to try rowing.
Sauer had tried to recruit Shoop when she was a high school senior — and as a college freshman. And sophomore.
Finally, in January of her junior year, Sauer bumped into her at the UVA pool.
“I was almost mad,” Sauer said. “I said, ‘Dang-it, Lindsay, it’s about time.’”
This time, the sales pitch worked.
At 6-foot-1, Shoop had good height for the sport, and was athletic.
Everything else, Sauer believed, could be taught.
Shoop, though, had her doubts. In fact, after showing up for her first practice, she nearly walked out when she realized there were about 60 other tall and athletic women on the team.
“There were two sets of double doors,” Shoop said, recalling the gym where she met her fellow UVA rowers for the first time. “I went through one of them, and it got loud. I’m thinking: ‘Oh my gosh, there are a lot of people. What am I doing here?’
“The only reason I stayed is that it would have been awkward if they saw me walk in and then walk out.”
Becoming an Olympic gold medalist after taking up the sport in her junior year of college is rare. No one on her U.S. team started as late as Shoop, who took up the sport in 2002, became an All-American in 2003 and 2004 and an Olympic gold medalist in 2008.
Shoop didn’t excel only at the Olympics. From 2006 to 2009, Shoop won six gold medals, including three at World Championships and two at the World Rowing Cup.
Life in South Florida
Shoop, who majored in Spanish at UVA, hasn’t slowed down.
After her retirement from rowing, she spent two years as an open-water rescuer for the Miami Fire Department. She’s also a certified lifeguard, a Coast Guard boat captain and a water-safety instructor.
Before she starting rowing, Shoop weighed 200 pounds. She now weighs about 155 pounds on her 6-foot, 1-inch frame.
During rowing season — August to the end of May — Shoop wakes up at 5 a.m. and rides her bike about six miles from her Surfside home to the Barry campus in Miami Shores. She doesn’t own a car.
Shoop, who was inducted into the National Rowing Hall of Fame in 2014, plans to start work next year on her master’s degree in exercise physiology. She still keeps in touch with the women from her boat.
One of the women, Anna Goodale, said she and Shoop are “soul sisters” for life. When they were competing together, they figured out how to make a boat move fast, and they paired up for training runs.
“She’s the best story-teller I know,” Goodale said. “When we would run, I just had to ask her one question, and she would tell a great story for the rest of our eight-mile run.”