Mon, Jun 24 2019

Published: 02/02/2007

Catching waves with Essex Rowing Club

By Alison McGonagle

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Soccer has ended while the popular winter sports of basketball, indoor track and hockey simply don't interest your high-school-aged son or daughter. He or she may be picky about exercise, choosing only to get off the couch to do something when friends call. As a parent, you want your child to do something physical this winter besides answering the phone and playing video games.

Why not catch the wave locally, as the sport of crew is catching on. The Essex Rowing Club, based at Brooks School's Danforth Gymnasium in North Andover, is now offering teens a rowing program (you have to be at least 13). Beginner and classes for the more experienced are also offered. The club will offer similar classes for adult rowers this summer.

The teens say the sport doesn't hurt their bodies the way some sports do. Rather, crew builds endurance and teamwork.

"It's strenuous in that it builds endurance, but is not high impact," said Alex White, a senior at Andover High School, who is taking the class. "The practices are not hard on your joints. It doesn't hurt."

Nicole Vecchi, another Andover High senior, is also dipping the oars at the Brooks' indoor pool.

"It's not at all like lifting [weights]. It's a really great program," she said.

Both teens got a taste of crew on the Merrimack River last summer with the club. The Essex Rowing Club got its start through the Greater Lawrence Boating Program which is located on the banks of the river in Lawrence.

The crew chief is Travis Gardner, an accomplished rower who got his start at alma mater University of Florida. A crew coaching job followed at Michigan State for two years before he traveled east and landed at the boathouse in Lawrence and now, Brooks School. Currently, he runs The Essex Rowing Club and coaches a Boston College women's crew team.

He said much of the sport's appeal is that it is so low impact. Adults enjoy it as much as the teens as some rowers with the group are over 60-years-old. There is very little running or non-rowing related workout at his practices as it's just a great program to get in top notch rowing shape, Gardner said.

Gardner also has an appealing location as teens do not need to get to the Charles River in Boston for a crew club.

"This is the first time many local teens will be able to participate in a seasonal, competitive rowing program near home," Gardner said. "And, we're a club, so anyone can join."

Gardner said 22 teens from greater North Andover and southern New Hampshire and four adults took part in the first indoor rowing session at Brooks, which was held before Christmas. This session, the group is gearing up for a Feb. 25 indoor racing event in Boston that draws teams from around the world.

Intimidating, yes, but also a great introduction to a great sport, Gardner said. Even in winter when the river is off limits, rowing indoors gets rowers excited about the sport, he said.

To work around the winter climate, using the indoor rowing facility at Brooks is perfect for rowers. Like many top, private high schools Brooks has had a crew team for years. A wooden plank divides two pools of water, like lap lanes. The pools run parallel to the plank, where eight complete rowing setups are mounted, just as they are on a crew boat. The oars in the water offer the rowers true practice, just like they were on the Merrimack River, where competitions take place when spring arrives. In addition, the facility offers rowing machines.

A long-time popular sport at Ivy League universities and top private high schools - Phillips Academy in Andover also has a crew team and a boathouse on the Merrimack River - the price is not cheap. The program for teens costs $435 while a new spring program will cost $745, which covers the costs to take part in local regattas. Teens said the cost is okay with parents as crew is getting more popular among them.

"It's something to get me off the couch," said Julie Massaro, a junior at Masconomet High School in Topsfield who practices at Brooks. She also plays soccer and softball, and was referred to the program by friends and soccer coach.

"I grew up next to water, and I always saw rowers," added Kathleen Leighton, also a junior at Masconomet. "My mom thought I would be good at rowing after she read about the program in the paper. It's also something colleges look for."

Both girls plan to participate in the spring program, and can see themselves rowing in college, while Alex White plans to take the skills he is learning when he trains for Army enlistment.

Port? Starboard? Gardner said teens and adults can easily find out by taking a rowing class with his club.

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