Santa Rosa’s Silas Stafford says he “miraculously” found his sport at age 18. After college he pursued it instead of a career, even sleeping under a pool table one hot summer in Princeton, N.J., so he could endure endless hours of team rowing.

Last February, Silas damaged a rib and in the spring found himself cut out of his desired event, the U.S. Rowing Team’s eight-man crew. Desperate to make the U.S. Olympic team, he paired up with Tom Peszek of Farmington Hills, Mich., and together they won the right to compete in the two-man boat competition in London.

On Sunday, Silas returned to his hometown and told what it was like to become an Olympic athlete.

Speaking to a large crowd at First Presbyterian Church, he shared the incredible adventure: the three years of deprivation as a jobless athlete; the intense competition by roughly 80 athletes who annually seek 20 slots on the national team; and the amazing experience of competing in London and getting to meet and briefly live with top athletes from around the world.

In a world where gymnasts, soccer players and a host of other athletes start out so young, it was striking to consider that Silas didn’t take up rowing until someone invited him as a freshman to join the club team at UCLA. He soon found he had a great talent for the sport and went on to row for Stanford and Cambridge universities.

After college he paid his dues during three years training for the U.S. Rowing Team. It certainly sounded like it was the survival of the fittest. And it’s not to receive much glory from the masses. The rowers, he said, know their exploits won’t make it on NBC. They do it because they love it.

At the Olympics, Silas was showered with special treatment, including bags and bags of free, designer-brand athletic clothing. But the real thrill was getting to row against and later hang with some of the best rowers in the world. Sharing the closing ceremony with such athletes was a crowning highlight.

He hasn’t closed the door on trying to go to Brazil in 2016, but he says it’s time to start looking for work. (His studies have been in geology with a leaning toward energy extraction.)

If you meet Silas, don’t say “bummer” when you learned he placed eighth in his event. It’s what people typically tell him. But he said it doesn’t do justice to the three years of intense struggle to make the U.S. team or the unforgettable experience of being an Olympian. He doesn’t have any regrets.

I gave it all I had,” he said.


Here is a video made two years ago where Silas talks of his efforts to become an Olympic athlete, a dream now fulfilled.

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