Community Rowing, Inc Featured Nonprofit, 3/28/13 3 for Thursday Edition
Boston’s Charles River is home to a vibrant boating and river sports scene. Any time conditions permit, one can find boats of all kinds pushing off from the numerous boathouses that dot the riverside. From college crew teams gliding in lockstep at dawn to recreational rowers enjoying a day on the water, all kinds of Bostonians go out on the Charles. To someone new to the world of rowing, however, or to someone who has adaptive needs, river activities can seem like something that only other people can do.
Community Rowing, Inc. (CRI), http://www.communityrowing.org, which opened the first public rowing club in Boston 26 years ago, aims to help everyone - no matter what their ability or skill level – get out on the water and enjoy rowing. From its airy boathouse in Brighton – the largest on the river – CRI, whose motto is “Rowing for All,” provides lessons, training space, and physical conditioning for all comers. Even if a person has never held an oar before, they can learn how at CRI. This kind of open membership is unique on the river, where clubs generally require new members to possess basic competency in rowing.
“We are very committed to sharing the benefits of rowing with everyone, and that includes people with mental and physical disabilities,” says Bruce Smith, CRI’s Executive Director. The club does this with a variety of inclusive programs, some in partnership with local health centers.
For its Military Rowing program, CRI, an approved USOC Paralympics Sports Club, partners with Boston’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Center and the MA Department of Veterans Affairs to serve disabled veterans with a roster of rowing, sculling, and crewing activities. The club features state-of-the-art equipment, including adaptive equipment, and a staff of coaches that work with the veterans. “Spaulding Rehab has been an amazing partner,” says Smith. “We're excited to bring the ‘hospital’ directly into the community, and to provide high quality programming with such a stellar partner in an environment that feels like a regular, day to day sporting activity.” In 2012, CRI served more than 150 vets with free programming. “We get inquiries from [VA programs] all over the country on a regular basis - most recently, from a VA in New Haven - because people see the benefits and want to get involved. “
Another unique program run by CRI is their Adaptive Rowing program, for all those who need a little extra help getting out onto the water. Another Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital partnership program, Adaptive Rowing features a team of dedicated volunteers called Adaptive Volunteers, who work very closely with rowers with disabilities. Smith calls the Adaptive Volunteers the backbone of the program. “We have as many as two volunteers per rower in some cases, and they help with logistics and instruction. Above all, the volunteers and the adaptive (or para) athletes build relationships, and that makes the experience truly invaluable for everyone.”
CRI also partners with Boston Children’s Hospital for the OWL (Optimal Weight for Life) program. This program gives teens the opportunity to join a competitive rowing team for fitness, fun, and friendship. This February, the OWL on the Water team had the opportunity to compete in the C.R.A.S.H.-B 2013 Regatta, an annual world indoor rowing championship competition, in front of 6,000 spectators at the Agganis Arena. The program inspires teens to exceed their personal best and for some, gives a feeling of accomplishment that they may not have realized from other team sports.
All of these special programs run in addition to the club’s roster of youth and adult rowing activities, events, and competitions. Of course, running a welcoming and inclusive club has its challenges. “The biggest challenge we have is in terms of reimagining the logistics of getting on the water,” Smith says, “and the intensive coordination it can take to make sure that athletes have a great experience.” In order to make sure that things run smoothly for everyone, some careful planning is required. “We don't want someone in a wheel chair to have to wait for twenty minutes on the dock while other athletes are getting into boats, so we've had to build a lot of new systems and engage a lot more people.” Each day, Smith must orchestrate a large team of staff, coaches, and volunteers so that everyone works together.
CRI is currently working on a process to share the knowledge they have gleaned “the hard way” with other rowing clubs and adaptive programs around the country. “We [also] do a lot of consulting for programs that want to build an adaptive program in their city or town.” Smith is excited about the future of CRI. “We have great equipment, and are looking to expand programming throughout the day as we grow. “