Alena Criss shines on world stage

Local Sports

BALDWINSVILLE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Over the course of the past two years, Baldwinsville native Alena Criss has gone from the basketball court to the water. In the span of about two months, Alena went from the United States to Japan.

“I remember our first practice on that [Olympic] racecourse, I just realized I’m in Tokyo, I’m racing against Australia, Germany all these other countries and it was just so surreal. It was so cool,” says Alena Criss.

“I’m so proud of her. Because never once did I have to remind her or encourage her to go work out she did it on her own. Everything that she’s accomplished so far is her own doing,” said Shelley Smith, Alena’s Mom.

Criss earned her way on to the Under 19 United States Junior National Team back in July by impressing at tryouts, something she and her family did not expect.

“They were shocked! We didn’t believe it, it happened all so fast,” said Alena. 

“It’s overwhelming. It’s hard even process what’s really going on it took a while for it to sink it. It was pretty awesome,” said Smith. “We had no expectations when she got invited to these camps. We’re like ‘ok, go have fun no expectations’. We didn’t think anything would happen. Then she was placed on the US team and the rest is history.”

She and the squad then traveled to Tokyo for the World Rowing Junior Champions held at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic site. She raced three times and her squad finished fourth in the Junior Women’s Coxed Four.

“I remember before our first race, my coach for the USA team he’s like ‘when you put on that uniform you’re representing your country’. I remember just putting it on and I was in shock. It was a symbol of me representing my country first of all and just all my hard work I put in over the past two years and it finally paid off,” said Criss.  

Her journey is pretty surprising considering how she first got into the sport.

Alena Criss, “I started CrossFit when I was 14 and the coaches really noticed I was good on the rowing machine and said ‘hey you should really try out for crew’. So I thought about it and I did this learn to row program over the summer and I just loved it.”

When Alena can’t get in the water, CrossFit training has been a helpful substitute. She can use the rowing machine, or as she calls it the erg, to simulate the rowing motion but with other exercises, she can prepare her body for the upcoming rowing season.

“We do a lot of back squats and lifts which really strengthens the movements for rowing. So that kinda just helped me build that good foundation for when I actually row in the water, row in the erg,” said Criss.

“We row for calories and we row for distance so she can maintain her good form that she learned at rowing,” says Julia Kamide, one of Alena’s CrossFit coaches. “Well now incorporating weights and pulling movements and things like that. So overall her fitness level will go up and hopefully, she’ll build more muscle that will also help her be a better rower”

Alena will become a collegiate rower when she heads to UConn this Fall, but she will not rule out a chance to put her country on her back once again.

“I’m just really excited to see where I go in the next couple of years and if I can make it happen with the Olympics and Under 23 team,” says Criss.

For more local sports, follow Darius Joshua on Twitter @DariusJoshuaTV

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