Western Albemarle senior Dani Lucas had her life all planned out. She was going to play Division-I college soccer, and her dream school was Stanford University. Those plans changed early in her high school career.
"My sophomore year, I tore my ACL playing soccer for the first time," she says.
During her recovery period, Lucas started rowing with Western's team to stay in shape for soccer. But after returning to the field, just two practices in, she suffered another setback.
"At the end of my sophomore year, I tore my ACL again, and so that was pretty much it.
Her soccer career was over after three ACL surgeries, but her rowing career was just beginning. Two years later, Lucas has become one of the fastest female high school rowers in the country.
"She has the tenacity and the willingness to commit to long, hard practices and stick with it," said Western's interim rowing coach Tom Von Hemert. "She's done that with incredible grace and beauty."
Her teammate, junior Ashley Gale, says Lucas is like the team mom, but also a determined and inspiring rower. "She always works hard. She's never stopped, even when she's hurting. She pushes others to do well and just has a positive attitude."
Last weekend, Lucas took second place at the Stotesbury Cup, the world's largest high school rowing competition. This weekend, she's head to the Scholastic Rowing Association of America (SRAA) Championships, in Camden, NJ. Her second place finish at the Stotesbury Cup has given her more motivation heading into Nationals.
"I want to win. The girl who beat me at Stotesbury will be there, even though she's from Canada, and I want to beat her."
Lucas has one more race after Nationals, but her rowing career doesn't end there. She'll be rowing in college, becoming a Division-I athlete just like she planned -- at Stanford University. She says she'll never forget the day she found out.
"I cried. I was actually at a swim meet at the time and I opened my email and was like, 'oh my God, oh my God,' and just kind of screamed."
Just like her road to becoming a rower, her journey to becoming a Cardinal rower wasn't easy.
"It was definitely a long process. I started the end of junior year just emailing everybody and saying, 'can you please consider me? This is where I want to be and I know it.'
"They started getting mostly interested when I joined the Junior National Team over the summer, and ever since it's just kind of fallen into place."
"It's an inspiration to the other rowers," said Von Hemert. "All of the other rowers would say, 'I want to do the same and have the same kind of success that she has.'"
Injuries forced Lucas to change course from the initial path she had pictured. By committing to rowing, she found a way to fulfill her dreams despite the many setbacks she faced.
"It's everything I've ever wanted. Stanford is my dream school, and I couldn't be happier."