“You can’t be unhappy in the middle of a big, beautiful river.”
This quote from American writer Jim Harrison (1937-2016), known for Legends of the Fall and essays on the outdoors, sums up the feeling among members of the South Bend Scullers and Paddlers about the past year’s Community Learn-to-Row and Masters Rowing programs. As South Bend resident Sarah Nerenberg commented, rowing brought about a “noticeable increased level of joy in at least one 50-year-old.” Sarah is a former college rower who joined several other ex-crew team members and a handful of eager novices for weekly Masters Rowing on the Saint Joseph River.
When the University of Notre Dame began planning its new boathouse five years ago, the fate of the old boathouse was unclear. Positive feedback and increased participation in club rowing, however, underscore the importance of continued support by South Bend Parks and Recreation. For the last two years, the South Bend Boathouse has been a hub of activity that has brought more recreation to the river and surrounding parks, showcases the natural beauty found in the urban landscape, and enhances the image of South Bend as a youthful, vibrant city.
Residents ranging from high-schoolers to retirees; Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, and IUSB faculty and staff; and other working professionals participated in this summer’s Learn-to-Row and Masters Rowing programs. Led by Jill DeLucia, who rowed for Notre Dame in the ‘70s and coached the varsity women’s crew team in the ‘80s, the Masters group met on Monday and Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings from late May to the end of October to row the eight and/or quad. (The eight is a “sweep,” with eight rowers taking one oar each, while the quad is for sculling, with each rower using two oars.) Only the diminishing daylight hours and cold temperatures kept intrepid rowers from continuing to bring out the boats.
In addition to organizing Masters Rowing, Coach DeLucia enlisted Notre Dame Women’s Rowing coaches Martin Stone, Marnie Stahl, and Teresa Logemann to offer the second summer of Learn-to-Row on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Newcomers to the sport learned proper rowing techniques, boat-handling and terminology (port, starboard, riggers), and lingo (“way enough,” “let it run,” “square up” and the dreaded “catching a crab”). Some learned how to “cox” the eight and quad, steering the boats and guiding rowers safely up and down the river, especially through traffic that included ND crew teams, fishing boats, and kayakers. Sharing the language and experience of rowing cultivated a strong sense of belonging to a community among participants.
Membership in the Boathouse grew from 43 in 2016 to 55 in 2017, and use of the Boathouse nearly tripled between 2016 and 2017. The three-week Learn-to-Row sessions had full attendance (24) in both 2016 and 2017. Masters Rowing, which was new in 2017, had 18 regular participants, including crew veterans who competed at Florida Institute of Technology, Oklahoma State University, Rutgers University, University of Chicago, University of Notre Dame, University of Texas at Austin, and even teams from Lisbon, Portugal (Clube Ferroviário de Portugal and Associação Naval de Lisboa). In support of programming, the Boathouse became U.S. Rowing compliant for safety gear and protocol. Other accomplishments include acquiring a new four/quad and a new set of oars; negotiating a lease agreement for equipment from Notre Dame; and hosting a checkpoint for the annual Urban Adventure games.
Other measures of success are perhaps intangible, but more meaningful. Both the Masters program and Learn-to-Row promoted enthusiasm not only for the sport of rowing, but a greater appreciation for the jewel that is the Saint Joseph River. Rowing on the Saint Joe, residents were treated to up-close views of the flora and fauna along the river banks, and breathtaking perspectives of the city skyline. Moments such as these enrich the quality of life in the community.
Rowing, too, provided an added attraction for riverfront businesses. Onlookers at the Crooked Ewe and the Oaken Bucket often cheered on the rowers, who pulled their oars a little more perfectly in rhythm as they passed.
Rowing brought together community members from different generations and walks of life – student, doctor, lawyer, business person, teacher, stay-at-home parent, retiree. The ritual of taking an eight out of the Boathouse, placing it in the water, and readying the oars (and at the end, taking it out of the water, removing the oars, and placing the boat back in-house) is a metaphor for community-building at its best. Residents of varying backgrounds and abilities learned to be in sync with others – all hands on deck – to accomplish a goal.
Pedro Vincente, a visiting fellow at Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute who competed for the Portuguese national crew teams, as well as the University of Warwick and University of Oxford, captured the spirit of the community rowing experience: “It has been a wonderful experience to join the group of rowers at South Bend Scullers and Paddlers. The group was very welcoming from day 1 – it made me feel part of the community almost instantly. The team was very well organized (thanks to Jill and colleagues). The group is excellent as a social experience, as well as a fantastic way to keep in shape. I must add that the river location is very beautiful and the water is almost always in perfect conditions.”