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Published: 02/02/2007

Catching waves with Essex Rowing Club

By Alison McGonagle
Correspondent

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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."

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