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Published: 02/02/2007

Catching waves with Essex Rowing Club

By Alison McGonagle
Correspondent

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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.

For more information, check out www.essexrowing.org.

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