Thursday, July 19, 2018
Sports

For twin graduates of Plant High, rowing is family affair

TAMPA — You know something is different — and exceptional and interesting — about Leonardo and Alexia Rojas within minutes of meeting them.

Is that a Spanish accent? Not quite.

It's Chilean.

And, yes, they are brother and sister. But who is older?

It's Alexia, but only by five minutes. Ah, yes, twins.

Monday afternoon they stood next to the boat house at the University of Tampa, tending to a long, thin boat. Within a few minutes in a dark corner between the stacks of boats, they pulled hard on "erg" machines, which simulate rowing. Under the whir of the machines, they labored through another strenuous workout.

They follow this regimen, which also involves rowing on the adjacent Hills­borough River, several hours a day, often before the crack of dawn. Every day. Always together.

"Sometimes," said Leonardo, grinning, "we don't get along. But mostly we do. Really, we get along very well."

Within a few more minutes of chatting, it's apparent that Leonardo and Alexia are not only two of the best 18-year-old rowers in Florida (Leonardo is a state champ and Alexia is a state runnerup), but they are also exceptionally intelligent.

In the fall, for example, Leonardo will compete for the rowing powerhouse at the University of Washington, where he will study biomedical engineering on a premed track to become a neurosurgeon.

Alexia will compete for the rowing powerhouse at Yale University, where she will study engineering on a premed track to become a pediatrician.

Yes, they will be apart for the first time in their lives — "Which I'm sure will be very strange," Alexia said — but they also have an interesting four-year goal tucked in the back of their minds that will help keep the bond tight.

The 2020 Olympics.

If they don't compete for America, then perhaps for Chile, which is possible because they not only have dual citizenship (they were born in Chile), but they also apparently have the genes.

Their father and uncle, Alejandro and Marcelo Rojas, rowed in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics for Chile, once in an eight-man boat and once in a two-man boat. And before Alejandro and Marcelo Rojas, there was their grandfather Vicente Rojas, who rowed for Chile in the Pan American Games.

Leonardo and Alexia are quick to point out, however, that their family — including brother Mauricio who also rows — never, ever pushed them into rowing. Heck, their father never mentioned it.

"We saw the medals our father had won, but we weren't aware what they were for," Leonardo said. "We never asked. He never said."

It wasn't until Leonardo and Alexia got to Plant High (after moving from Chile in 2007) that they got into rowing, and that was just because "they had a team and we thought it looked like something we might like to do," Alexia said.

"Our father wanted to give us what his father gave him, which was the ability to choose what we wanted to do," Leonardo said. "Our father said you have to want to do it. He couldn't make us want it."

Now Alexia and Leonardo can't get enough of the sport, a notion that has even rubbed off on mom, Ximena, who plans to start rowing for the first time after her twins move on to college.

"Everyone in our family is so passionate about it," Ximena said. "It's a bond. Now it is something I'm really looking forward to. I think it's something that will help keep us close."

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