ROWING ASSOCIATION OFFERS REGATTA IN COMSTOCK PARK
The Grand Rapids Rowing Association is inviting everybody to spend some time on the Grand River with them to watch and cheer the rowers at their Grand Regatta 2019 State Games of Michigan Saturday June 22, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at their boathouse 291 North Park St. N.W. near Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park. Five-year club member Beth Szymczak said this is one of the club’s premier events and a favorite with rowers in the mid-west region. There will be Masters/Open races in the morning and Junior Novice, Varsity, and Collegiate in the afternoon. For more information go to www.grrowing.org
The 70-member club hosts events that are open to the public throughout the summer at the boathouse such as Free Row Days - the next one is August 10. Some members are assisting with and participating in the 2019 USRowing Masters Nationals Championships at Riverside Park on Monroe Ave. August 15-19. There will be rowers from across the US as well as other countries. The public is welcome and encouraged to come and cheer the rowers. There will be a beer garden featuring local craft beer.
Szymczak, said the club promotes wellness through their programs and welcomes everyone – all ages and levels from those who have never rowed before to those who want to be a coxswain, that’s the person who steers the boat or the pilot. They offer lessons year round for eighth to twelfth graders, as well as adults. They also offer corporate rowing and team events. She said rowing is a great cardio exercise and strength training, but beyond that there’s the teamwork and socialness. The sport is nonimpact, works the core, and really is for all ages, she said.
“At this summer’s Nationals (at Riverside Park) you will see people in their 80’s,” she said.
“They might have trouble carrying a boat to the water (other participants help them), but they can compete.”
Rowers kind of get “in the zone” when racing making it “a wonderful escape,” said Szymczak. “There’s so many things to think about. If you’re in a race you’re expected to be on your best for your boat, for your crew. When in a boat, even practicing, you don’t get to just stop. When rowing you have to stay moving with everybody else.”
The 110 by 170 square foot boathouse they lease houses the boats (that can be up to 70 feet long), oars (up to 12 feet long), life jackets, and other equipment. In the upstairs there are rowing machines. Students start on the machines to learn the mechanics of rowing before getting in a boat. All this equipment is expensive, so the non-profit club is always finding ways to fundraise and involve community businesses. The club has a “wonderful coach who fixes things” said Szymczak. Additionally many rowing members assist in repairs and maintenance.
“As funds allow, the club would like to add an adaptive rowing program for people with disabilities, as well as a program for veterans and cancer survivors like other clubs have around the country,” said Julie Bennet, the club’s communication director, adding that the club relies on the support of community businesses and donors.
Rowing has a long history in Comstock Park. According to the group’s web site the first records of rowing in Grand Rapids are from the 1880’s, and the first boathouse for the city’s rowing club was built in 1910 at North Park St. NW and Monroe Ave. That boathouse was destroyed in a fire in 1960. Interest in the sport on the Grand River declined until the club began reorganizing in 1986. High school programs were added in the 1990’s. Rowers continued to paddle out of the basement of the devastated boathouse until it flooded in 2002. The structure was demolished in 2005. For three years, the boat club and its programs operated out of a fenced-in area just south of Fifth Third Ballpark until their current boathouse was constructed to a usable condition in 2008.