Try-It-Out Day Aims to Push Rowing into Mainstream

Festivities Saturday, in the Wharf District

Morgantown Dominion Post
3 June 2011
By Devon Unger

Row, row, row your boat quickly down the Mon.

The Monongahela Rowing Association is preparing for the second annual National Learn to Row Day on Saturday. MRA members will be at the boathouse in the Wharf District to give demonstrations and allow folks a chance to go out on the river.

Festivities will be held at 40 Donley St. from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday (rain day is Sunday). It is free and open to everyone age 10 and up.

(Because of the nature of the sport, MRA cannot accommodate individuals with certain disabilities and reserves the right to prohibit an individual from rowing.)

MRA President John Duarte said he hopes the day will help publicize the sport, which has a long history in Morgantown but doesn’t receive much attention.

“Rowing was the first collegiate sport at WVU. MRA was started in 1966, and has been in continuous operation since 1975,” he said. “Rowing is a great sport. Morgantown has a great river. It puzzles me why we don’t have more activities on the river.”

According to the MRA website, local newspapers reported rowing on the Mon River as early as the 1880s, and WVU’s first yearbook had pictures of men’s and women’s crew teams from 1894. WVU now has men’s and women’s crew teams. The women are fully supported by the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and the men’s team is part of the WVU Sports Club Program.

About 50 people, ages 10 to 67, came last year. MRA started a youth program in the fall, and Duarte hopes events like Learn to Row Day will help get young people interested in the sport.

Duarte’s goal is to generate enough interest to form a club team, made up of high school students, who would compete in races around the region.

He said the possibility of getting a scholarship has encouraged more youth to look into the sport, but MRA has had a hard time getting a coach to stay with the program.

“This year I think we have more youth involved than before,” he said. “This is a volunteer program; the hardest thing is getting a coach to commit without being paid.”

Duarte said the transient nature of Morgantown adds to this difficulty because coaches with rowing experience often will come to attend WVU, spend some time with the organization and then leave town once they have completed their degree.

MRA also holds “Learn to Row” courses during late spring and summer. The classes offer everyone a chance to learn the sport.

“A rowing shell is not like a kayak, it takes a little knowledge,” Duarte said. “The Learn to Row course is about 12 hours of instruction.”
Barbara Linn joined MRA with her husband last year, and said she was surprised by the strength and skill the sport requires.

“I sail, canoe and kayak, but this isn’t like anything I’ve done before,” she said. “It was a lot harder than I thought.

There is a definite coordination you have to learn. If you catch an oar, it’s very easy to end up in the water.”

She said that along with the fun she has had rowing, it has provided her with a relaxing, unconventional way to get in shape.

“It’s an all-over exercise. It’s 75 to 80 percent legs, but your arms and core are also involved,” she said. “It’s very serene and peaceful on the river. You get to see wildlife; it’s a really unique experience.”

The course costs $300 — $150 for the course itself plus a $150 fee to join MRA, and members must be able to meet some physical requirements.

Course participants must becomfortable in the river, be able to swim, carry 30 pounds, and get into and out of the boat without help.

There are two main types of competitive rowing styles, sculling and sweep. In sculling, rowers use two oars, one in each hand, and use four, two, or one rower without a coxswain. In sweep, rowers use an oar in groups of two, four or eight and may use a coxswain, a nonrowing team member who steers the boats and helps synchronize the rowers.