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
Boathouse: 622 E. Gorham St.

Camp Randall Rowing Club
Brittingham Boathouse: 601 North Shore Dr.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Yummy Sprout is a wonderful resource

After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?

Mama Madison: Tips and tricks for baby air travel

As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.

Mama Madison: Apple-picking time

The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.

Mama Madison: Baby feeding recommendations

I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?

Heartland Farm Sanctuary helps animals that help kids

Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.

Mama Madison: Back-to-school confidences

Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.

Mama Madison: Does back-to-school really mean a whole new wardrobe?

This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"

Mama Madison: Next generation of bloggers

Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.

Mama Madison: Returning to the workforce

This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.

Triathlons raise money to teach kids healthy habits

"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.

Mama Madison: Kids will find their own passions in their own ways

"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."

Vital work is being done at the Lussier Community Education Center, from community-building to STEM skills

"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."

Mama Madison: Parental dice rolls?

Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."

Mama Madison: What constitutes a keepsake?

As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.

Operation Fresh Start's Youth Conservation Corps helps kids, and kids help parks

Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.

Mama Madison: Summer stress solved by yoga

The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.

Mama Madison: The greatest fans of road repair

Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.

Mama Madison: The alarm sounds

As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.