"Before [rowing], I would just go home and do homework, hang out, and sometimes play soccer. I never worked so hard."
The work paid off for Darling.
Darling worked her way up to the Newport Aquatic Center's varsity lightweight eight. The youngest on the crew played a role in helping the girls' team place fourth this month at the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Darling's teammates included fellow Newport Harbor students, Taylor Chapin, Michelle Blumenkrantz and Kristine Sanders, Katie Rosoff of Sage Hill School, Krista White of Corona del Mar, Emi Harase, Emily Von Hoffman, and coxswain Sarah Zomaya.
"It was actually one of the best rows I ever had," said Darling, even though the conditions weren't ideal for racing.
Darling and her teammates faced thunder and lightning in the semifinals. Coach Jessica Meredith said the Newport Aquatic Center turned it up a notch due to the harsh conditions.
The Newport Aquatic Center finished its race before a five-hour delay took effect because of the bad weather. The crew waited for the next round, the grand final.
"It was nerve-racking," Meredith said.
Darling said she felt just as nervous when she made the jump from novice to varsity in the spring. She didn't expect it.
Darling didn't know anyone on the lightweight eight, except Chapin. The lightweight eight knew more about Darling's older sister, Cory, a Newport Harbor senior bound for UC Berkeley, who is on the varsity eight.
Chapin and Darling carpooled to practice six days a week. They rarely talked about their crews, until Darling earned a shot to compete for one of the seats on the lightweight eight.
Darling faced another competitor for the spot. The seat went to whoever helped the current crew finish with a faster time.
Once Darling won, Chapin introduced her to the rest of the crew. Darling thanks Chapin for making the transition a smooth one.
"It was really nice of her," said Darling, who's trying to figure out what's next for her after her first season concluded.
"I'm not sure what I'm going to do with myself."
Meredith said the summer workouts are right around the corner.
Two Newport Aquatic Center boys' teams finished third in their respective events at the youth nationals. The varsity four and varsity lightweight eight each took the bronze.
The varsity four included Corona del Mar's Michael Delahanty, the coxswain, Newport Harbor's Garrett Pickard and Ryan Box, and Newport Beach residents Rory Kew and Cameron Zachary.
The locals on the varsity lightweight eight were coxswain Alexa Moss of CdM, Newport Harbor's Gordy Box, Spencer Joyce, Alex Arthur and Stewart Newsom, as well as John Hold, a Newport Beach resident.