This week’s USRA Featured Athlete: Andy Baxter from Ashland, Oregon.
“I love the camaraderie of going into battle with my brothers.”
Andy Baxter isn’t hard to spot in a crowd. Towering over most others at 6’4″, you will recognize him instantly as the guy with the biggest smile on his face all day long. His infectious positive attitude and constant cheerleading for all teams competing makes this week’s featured athlete a favorite for all the paddlers to encounter. Andy is a raft racer for Team Sawyer, a master’s raft racing team that competed at the 2016 World Rafting Championship in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates and won a silver medal in the downriver, leading to a bronze overall. This was the USA’s first ever men’s master’s team to compete at a world rafting championship. Andy’s past is full of athletic endeavors, including owning a gym, inventing athletic equipment such as The Latitude, competing at the world level for master’s rowing, and training for and competing in the Olympic trials for the two-man shell in 2008 about which he wrote a book, Racing Yesterday.
USRA: How did you get started raft racing?
Andy: I was on a rowing team in college and then in the fitness industry. I kept competing in rowing later on. Because the rowing world is such a small world, you compete sometimes by getting the best guys you can for an event regardless of which team they rowed for. They’re called “rolodex events”. Through those I got to row and compete all over the world. I got to race in the A pair at the world games for rowing in 2005 in the master’s division, and we did well. We placed fourth. Then we won gold in the 4+ and 8+ masters at the world games in 2006. We decided why not – let’s give it a shot, and we started training for the Olympic trials for Beijing. I rowed with a friend, Steve Kiesling. After the Olympic trials, we kind of just hung it up. Steve lives on the Rogue River and spearheaded a project to return the land there to the Native Americans. He re-started the Salmon Festival there. We were [raft] racing together and there was no real structure. We were just having fun. We started the King of the Rogue races and raced that. We were just rag tag teams. Eventually we decided to put a real team together and compete. So we put together Team Sawyer with some great guys. Crazy Pete , Matt Dopp, Sam Drevo, Bryan Tooley and I all paddle together. Covey is too young to compete in our division, but he’s a great athlete and trains with us as well.
USRA: How did training for the Olympic trials rowing compare with training for the World Rafting Championship in Dubai?
Andy: Oh, it’s totally different. It’s a different type of exercise. Raft racing is so anaerobic – it’s all about short bursts. In rowing, it’s long periods of aerobic activity that just doesn’t stop. In terms of total volume and pain factor, rowing is very painful. With rafting you have this wonderful external stimuli that keeps you engaged. With rowing you’re just in that pain. But I love this type of camaraderie with the team.
USRA: Tell me about your work in the fitness industry.
Andy: I own a gym called Baxter Fitness Solutions. But I’m also a medical exercise consultant for rehabilitation exercises such as with post hip replacements. I’m an inventor. My new Power Cube is hitting the market in April. It’s a machine with a lifting power phase with no lowering load. Kind of like a rowing machine for power and Olympic lifting. It helps prevent injury in athletes. Another invention of mine is the Latitude which is a stationary bike in which you bicycle laterally in a figure eight. It provides strengthening and stabilization of muscles around the hips and knees, so it’s great for those types of patients as well as for athletes. We actually did a clinical trial with it in North Carolina with football players as well as hip and knee patients. I was also a strength coach for All American Rowing.
USRA: We’ve got another race coming up soon. There will be a portion where the teams run with the raft like in Dubai. Is your team ready?
Andy: We’ve been doing sprints at the boat ramp with weights to get ready for the run. But the run is rough. It’s hard being such a different height than the other guys when we’re all running with the raft. But the volume of our training is up and we’re strong. I’m feeling really confident going into this race.
USRA: Why do you do this?
Andy: I think pushing yourself to the limits physically is a spiritual thing. You’ve got to dig deep. Find your inner demons and express them. It’s all about being intrinsic in your motives. I find the people who get into sports like this for extrinsic reasons tend to do fairly poorly. It’s those that do it for intrinsic reasons that succeed. But really I just love the camaraderie of going into battle with my brothers.