LaDarren Landrum poses for a photo after being named the Next Olympic Hopeful for the sport of rowing on July 30, 2018 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
When LaDarren Landrum left Season 1 of Next Olympic Hopeful last year without being chosen a winner, he knew that wasn’t going to be the end of his story with the competition or his desire to become an Olympic athlete.
He trained and worked throughout the year to prepare himself for Season 2 of “Milk Life presents, Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful,” and when he arrived in June at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he was determined to treat each and every test as if it was the most important one he’d ever take. As one of 90 athletes competing for eight spots in national team training camps, he believed with that approach the rest would sort itself out.
“That’s probably the best way I can put it, I just gave my best in everything,” said the 24-year-old from Spartanburg, South Carolina. “Me personally, I feel like as elite coaches they know more about your athletic ability and potential, especially for me coming from a background where I didn’t play a sport, they knew better than me what would be a good fit. So I went in with that mentality. I came to win. The sport didn’t really matter this time. I guess I had something to prove to myself.”
Landrum proved something not only to himself but to plenty of others as well. He was chosen as the winner in rowing, one of eight sports in which the national governing bodies hoped to find athletes with Olympic potential. The Marine Corps reservist is now immersing himself in training and learning a new sport of which he previously knew very little.
“I didn’t even know rowing was a sport,” he said. “I’m serious, I thought it was a club thing. I didn’t know anything about rowing at all.”
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LaDarren Landrum trains at Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful on July 28, 2018 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Landrum is quickly learning.
He has already been back and forth to some training camps, he said, and is in the process of moving to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site, so he can train full-time.
“I’ve been doing a lot of technical work because I came in completely ignorant of the sport,” he said. “It’s way tougher than people think it is. You look at rowing and think it’s really simple, and it’s not. It really is not.”
First of all, Landrum said, rowing requires a lot of efficiency. You have to not only be strong and powerful, he said, but you also have to be efficiently strong and powerful. The sport is also heavy on cardiovascular endurance and requires a strong set of lungs. Core strength and balance play a big part, too.
Landrum has been working out on rowing machines, in the tank at the training center in Oklahoma City and on the water.
“I went into it with a kid mentality where I was just going to try to move this boat,” he said of getting on the water for the first time. “I flipped it a few times and got back in and kept going. Flipped again, got back in and kept going.”
For now, Landrum doesn’t have any short-term goals of when he’ll begin racing. He’s just dialed in on the process, he said, and trusts in his coaches that when he’s ready to take that next step they’ll let him know.
Landrum sees the opportunity in front of him as more than just his own shot to one day compete at the highest level in sport. He sees it as a platform to share his story — Landrum didn’t always have it easy growing up and was actually homeless before he joined the Marine Corps — and spread a message of positivity and resiliency.
In the same way he said people look up to him and hold him to a higher standard as a Marine, people worldwide do the same with Olympic athletes.
“Being a Marine I might inspire a few people, a good bit of Americans because I served their country,” he said. “But as an Olympian you have the opportunity to inspire the world. I don’t take that lightly. I still have to go and compete and make it to the podium and make it to the Olympics, but this is a good start.
“I already have people hitting me up on Facebook who I’ve never met in my life saying they saw the (Next Olympic Hopeful) show and my story really helped them. That’s what it’s all about. Not everyone can relate to success, but everyone can relate to struggle. There are different levels of struggle, but everyone knows what pain feels like. Not everyone knows what success feels like. That’s why I wanted this platform. That’s really what I hope for is my story to be that light at the end of the tunnel for a whole lot of people.”
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.