Sculling. Coxswain. Regatta. For the uninitiated, the language of rowing can be difficult to parse. But if you’re ready to build your vocabulary, muscles, and circle of friends all at the same time, rowing might be right for you. You don’t even have to be an early riser to join the club.
The Greater Columbus Rowing Association (GCRA) was founded in 1984 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the sport of rowing. The central location on the Scioto’s Griggs Reservoir provides rowers across the city with a place to get on the water, before or after work. Open to all levels and abilities, with new rowers, adaptive rowers, and competitive rowers welcome, the GCRA has provided dynamic opportunities for Columbus- area residents for 35 years.
Rower Jan Rodenfels, whose lightweight quad team took home the cup at this summer’s Midwest Sprints race, started as a runner, and said that rowing requires concentration and coordination that she hadn’t needed before, even when competing in marathons. As a writer and motivational speaker, she had multitasked during her runs, planning and preparing with every mile. “With running, I could work in my head,” she said. But rowing put a stop to that. “You are working in your head on the stroke, as well as all your major muscle groups. It looks easy but it’s challenging, synching up [with other rowers]. Oars have to go in and come out together.”
Learning to row was more difficult than Rodenfels had anticipated. One of her early coaches cautioned the team that as they learned new skills, “Our problems will multiply like rabbits.” Rodenfels focused on learning one or two things at a time, as trying to put everything together immediately was simply too much. “I had to think Swan Lake at the beginning instead of rock and roll,” she explained. In other words, her primary focus was on getting smooth and perfecting her form before worrying about speed. “I could add the rock and roll when we could start moving fast.”
She extolled the benefits of rowing for beginners. “You use legs, arms, [and] back… You really develop your muscles and cardio system.” She cautioned that because the sport is so demanding on your body, having a good coach from the beginning is key. That way, you’re taught the correct way to do things from the onset. “You don’t want to have to undo all the bad moves you’re making.”
BROUGHT TO YOU BY
The schedule, too, can be a challenge, particularly when trying to coordinate with other busy members of a team. “We’re supposed to be out at 5:30 [a.m.],” Rodenfels said. “We’re out at 7:00 [a.m.], 8:00 [a.m.], whenever we can get all of our different boats in and coordinated.” And while the early mornings can be difficult, there’s something to be said for getting exercise while watching the sunrise on a boat with your friends. “It’s a beautiful sport.”
It’s also open to everyone who’s past their years of college eligibility. “Master’s rowing starts at age 21… all the way up to people in their 90s.” Even if you’re not a morning person, there’s room on the boat for you. Rodenfels said many club members practice in the evenings. Physical limitations can be accommodated as well. “We have a paradaptive program at GCRA that’s all done and supported by volunteers. We encourage anyone who would like to try it to go on our website and sign up.”
Still not sure it’s the sport for you? GCRA offers corporate learn-to-row activities that businesses such as Cardinal Health and even the Columbus Blue Jackets have taken advantage of. It’s a good opportunity to dip your toe in the water—whether you choose to take that advice literally or not.
New members might take up rowing for teamwork, exercise, fresh air, opportunities to travel and win awards, or all of the above. Whatever your motivation, Rodenfels recommends starting with a learn-to-row class, and getting ready to enjoy the ride. “When you do it, it’s so beautiful,” she said.
In mid-August, GCRA members headed to The 2019 USRowing Masters National Championships in Grand Rapids, MI and took the gold. Follow their journey and find out how to get your crew on at columbusrowing.org.