Different strokes: Youth rowing clubs teach teamwork

Alex Cox used to be a three-sport student-athlete. But that was before the 18-year-old Middleton High School senior joined the Mendota Rowing Club's juniors program two years ago: "I dropped all of those sports to row," she explains, before a two-hour Saturday morning indoor workout at Bernard's Boathouse in James Madison Park.

Her story echoes those of many teenage participants in junior rowing programs at the long-established Mendota Rowing Club and the upstart Camp Randall Rowing Club -- which occupy opposite sides of the isthmus but strive to make kids better athletes, better teammates and better people.

"Rowing is a team sport that's very, very demanding, physically and mentally," says MB Blanding, head coach of the CRRC juniors program and a UW rowing alum who coached the women's crew team at Columbia University for five years. "There's something about being part of a group of people and going through the highs and lows and everything that it takes to reach a certain goal together that is very powerful -- and empowering."

"I absolutely hated this sport my first week," says Georgia Curry, 18 and a CRRC captain. She's just finished a two-hour-and-15-minute practice session on Lake Monona one cool weeknight in April. "Muscles I didn't even know I had hurt, there was new vocabulary that was almost like learning a new language, and I felt like I was doing everything wrong. The hardest work I've ever done physically has happened here. But I stuck with it, and I'm so glad I did."

Unfamiliar with how to even hold an oar just a few years ago, let alone what phrases like "shooting a slide" and "catching a crab" mean -- the 80 or so junior members of the MRC and CRRC compete against each other and teams throughout the Midwest. Some of the older kids have been courted by crew coaches at the UW, the University of Texas, Harvard and Dartmouth.

"I don't want to promise a ninth-grader that he or she is going to get a college scholarship," says Hal Menendez, coach of the MRC's junior boys' team and, like Blanding, a former Wisconsin rower. "But we do let kids know that there are opportunities in college that could come to them as a result of rowing -- if not a scholarship, then possibly an edge in admission to an exclusive school."

The MRC and the CRRC (which is in partnership with Madison School & Community Recreation) are composed of kids from high schools in and around Madison. Among only a few organizations in the state to offer youths the opportunity to row, their mission statements vary slightly. The CRRC emphasizes competition a bit more than the MRC, but both spend summers seeking new members for their fall and spring seasons.

The CRRC will host an open house on Sunday, May 7, from 7:30 a.m. to noon at the recently expanded and renovated Brittingham Boathouse on Lake Monona. Both clubs also offer two learn-to-row sessions in June and July for high school students. Participants in the June learn-to-row programs will have the opportunity to taste competition June 24 at the Badger State Games on Lake Wingra.

Because neither club receives financial support from area high schools or other organizations, membership fees and travel costs add up quickly. In fact, it's not uncommon for annual expenses to reach $2,500. Both organizations offer financial assistance to rowers in need, but Menendez and Blanding say they'd like to develop more opportunities for a greater variety of kids.

The high price of rowing makes junior rowers take their responsibilities seriously. "You have to have the will to work," says MRC member Griffin Petersen, a sophomore at Madison West whose older brother, Justin, rowed for the U.S. Junior National Team and now rows for Syracuse University. "I didn't have that. I was pretty lazy before I started rowing."

Mendota Rowing Club
608-257-2739
Boathouse: 622 E. Gorham St.

Camp Randall Rowing Club
608-220-5406
Brittingham Boathouse: 601 North Shore Dr.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Earth Day awareness

It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.

Mama Madison: Parents should know and understand school codes of conduct

I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.

Helping your kids stick with music lessons

Some clever-clogs is playing Rachmaninoff on the piano at a party, and there it is again, that oft-heard adult lament of lost opportunity from a dejected onlooker: "I wish I could play. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit music lessons. I was just a kid -- how was I to know?" It's a reasonable complaint.

A summer camp quiz for parents

If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.

Mama Madison: Lessons in dining out

I know, in the grand scheme of things, that my kid issues, when it comes to dining out, absolutely pale in comparison to those of parents whose kids have special needs. Many kids, especially those who are on the autism spectrum, are disturbed by changes in their routine, or anxious around noisy places. They may not be able tolerate waiting for a table or standing in line. So unfortunately, many of these families just avoid eating out at restaurants altogether.

Mama Madison: Natural vs. un-natural parenting

It's weird to admit this, especially in a city surrounded by as much outdoor beauty as Madison. But frankly, I'm just not that into nature. I'm more of an indoor kind of gal. Give me an afternoon at the Chazen or the Wisconsin Historical Museum over the Arboretum or Olbrich Gardens any day.

Mama Madison: Theatrical talent close to home

Lavish costumes, gorgeous sets, a full orchestra and a concession stand where nothing cost more than two bucks and you have a pitch perfect experience at the theater. Oh, and did I mention the ticket prices were just $10 dollars apiece? One could afford to take the whole family for a live theater experience for less than an evening at the Lego movie would cost including popcorn.

Mama Madison: Race to shame

I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.

Hancock Center addresses bullying through body movement

It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders -- 10 boys and six girls -- enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.

Mama Madison: Get in the picture

Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.

Mama Madison: Welcome to the Parenting Olympics

Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.

Mama Madison: Facebook's instant nostalgia fix

Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.

Mama Madison: The kindness question

Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.

Toddlers take to tablets

Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.

Mama Madison: Science or study hall?

This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.

Mama Madison: MTV provides a teachable moment

In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.

Mama Madison: Planning for the MLK holiday

In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.

Mama Madison: The long vacation

It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.

Mama Madison: Cheating 101 at Middleton High School

Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school.

A mindful way to parent: Keep it in the moment, and take a deeeeep breath...

Breathe in, breathe out. Have you ever been in the heat of a parenting moment with these words ringing through your head? Then you're on the right path toward mindful parenting.


Emails from Isthmus Parents feature event highlights, story links, site updates, and occasional special offers from trusted sources. Name and email address are required. Thanks!