A Special Thank You to ‘D’

As many of you know, 5 years ago I went to my first Recovery on Water ROW practice and life has not been the same since. What a wonderful community to be a part of and such an amazing opportunity.

For me, one of the key constants in this awesome experience has been our amazing Programs Manager, Devlin. He has been such an integral part of ROW for more than 5 years and has meant the world to many of us. He was there at my first practice and my novice water intensive:

From my first ROW post: Row, Row, ROW Your Boat

By April 14th, with only 4 Erg practices and 1 pool practice of experience, I was registered for Row 1 Intro Week. 10-12 of us newbies erged at Headquarters on the 14th, met at the Clark Row House for pool practice the 16th and headed out on the Chicago River’s Bubbly Creek for the first time on the 18th.

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Coaches and experienced Row 2 & 3 members were there to help out the novices which was awesome, and helped make the introduction go smoothly. Not everyone made it out on the water that first (very chilly) day, but I did. Being out on the water for the first time was exhilarating and I had a goofy grin on my face the whole time!

What an amazing experience!

And he was there for my first water practices (before the new boathouse) and my first time spent in a launch taking pictures.

From Take Me To The River

We row out of Bridgeport, a funky, neat area near the stadium formerly known as Cominsky Park (where the Chicago White Sox play). There has been a push in the last 5 or 6 years to build a number of rowing clubhouses along the Chicago River and there is one planned for this area of Bridgeport; however, groundbreaking was supposed to happen this month, but has now been pushed back to September.


Yep, that is the building formerly known as the Sears Tower (currently the Willis Tower) in the background. The boathouse is supposed to be on this empty stretch of land.

In the meantime, ROW and a number of row clubs & teams (including the University of Chicago crew) store their boats in a fenced in area and gear in shipping containers.


We carry our boats down to the water each time we head out (with the novice ROW 1 group–my group–there is a lot of help from volunteers and coaches thank goodness) and can I just say the experienced rowers make it look almost easy to do. They are rockstars!!!!




The Eleanor Street launch site is on the South Branch of the Chicago River at the U.S. Turning Basin and the beginning of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which eventually links up with the Mississippi River. For anyone who has spent time in Chicago, this area is south of the Loop and China Town.

South Branch Chicago River

At the basin, the river is joined by a tributary, the South Fork of the river, which is more commonly known as Bubbly Creek. Bubbly Creek is a very stagnant stretch of water, but it is flat and smooth and perfect for rowing. This is the area we rowed on the first dozen or so times out, but a couple of weeks ago barges were left at the opening of Bubbly (one with New Orleans on its stern) and it has been very difficult to maneuver around so we have been going out on the South Branch instead, heading further south rather than towards downtown.


Off under the Ashland Avenue Bridge!

Here is a gallery of a few of my favorite shots taken from the water. I’m so impressed with what the experienced rowers (who except for one or two women never rowed before in their lives before joining ROW) can do!! These women are amazing to watch!

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I’m also fascinated by the peacefulness of the river in the midst of all of these industrial structures, both functioning and abandoned, and tried to capture that interplay.

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Wrapping up a beautiful night on the water, this picture combines the city, the river and the ladies of ROW….

IMG_1407Looks like I have a new favorite place to catch the sunset in Chicago. 🙂

He was also there when I caught my first crab, which happened to be at my first race, the Chicago Sprints:

From 4 x 10′

Set 2: Chicago Sprints

The sport of rowing is a great workout and an excellent way to develop community while working together as a team. That teamwork at the high school or collegiate level also includes working together to compete in races.  ROW isn’t only about breast cancer survivors learning how to row, getting a great workout and finding support through the shared experience of rowing. There is also the option to race together and there were enough of us ROW 1 novice rowers interested in racing together that we were able to put together a Novice Team of 8 for 3 races this season. Seriously???? Most of us are at the age where we are watching our kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews compete, not families and friends turning out to watch us race. When I raced in sailboats in my 20s and 30s, we had camaraderie, challenges, teamwork, etc., but people didn’t come out to see us race. This is different. And weird. And…

The first race we participated in was the Chicago Sprints, a 1000 meter race along the Lincoln Park Lagoon in early July. Those of you familiar with Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive have probably noticed the lagoon while driving between North Avenue and Fullerton.

To prepare, we learned to ‘feather’ our strokes and had extra practices added to our schedule where we practiced in the seats we had been assigned by Coach Sheena. We didn’t race until Sunday, so I went up to watch ROW 2 & 3 racing on Saturday to not only show support for our more experienced rowers, but also to check out the course.

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It was ROW 1’s turn on Sunday.

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Our race on Sunday turned out to be an epic fail. And an epic win. Early in the race, my oar came out of its oarlock and in trying to get it back into its proper place, I caught a crab, where the oar handle comes back at my chest and I had to duck. We had rowed a 1000 meters up to the start without incident, so I was in shock when everything fell apart. I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry because I was so embarrassed that something like this had happened to me. But this is where the epic win came in. Our coxswain wouldn’t let me quit. She calmly had me and Margaret in the stroke seat hold up so that I could get myself together while the other 6 members of our team continued to stroke towards the finish. It worked and by the time we passed our support group, we were back to stroking in unison.

We finished as a team. Nowhere near a record time, but we finished. While waiting to dock, I started to melt and feel like a horrible failure. I never wanted to row again and wondered what insanity made me think that I could row in the first place. But then a funny thing happened. We got to the dock and all of the coaches congratulated me on finishing and catching my first crab and not quitting. They told stories of their own major rowing mess-ups and somehow managed to put my catastrophe in context. They made me realize that it’s not all about the race or winning, but persevering through the mishaps and challenges that inevitably happen. The accomplishment is in finishing and seeing the race through. I ended the day on a positive note, a win. And appreciated what being a member of a team can actually represent.

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I have learned so much from Devlin and have tried to incorporate his coaching style and delivery in to my own teaching and coaching. His positivity, story telling ability, and use of the sport of row to teach life lessons has really resonated with me. One example is in the importance of showing up:

The thing is, over in Recovery on Water’s rowing land, we had our winter team meeting a couple of weeks ago where the coaches laid out this winter’s off-the-water training schedule. It was a cool thing actually (ROW is just one of the many things I want to write about), complete with special incentives for team participation and distances rowed on the Erg machine. One of the things our coaches are always talking about is the importance of showing up and this was reiterated at the team meeting. Sometimes we will show up and things just aren’t clicking for that practice or we will lose focus and our times will go all over the place. But if we show up, we do at least get in a workout and we have the possibility of making it a good one. If we show up, we might be able to connect with our teammates (a definite positive), gain insight from our (cheerleading) coaches, or get out of a negative mental state that we are inhabiting through the physical and mental act of rowing.

Sometimes showing up, putting one foot in front of another, putting fingers to keyboard, giving kindness to someone (or ourselves) is crucial.

Another example is the concept of breaking down challenges into manageable amounts which is what you must do in a 2K race, as well as many life situations:

From A Love Letter to My Fabulous ROW Coaches

2 years ago, I did 2K training for the first time and was blown away by the impact it had on my fitness level. For the first time in my life, I felt like an athlete. Not just someone who was working out regularly and active, but someone in training and serious about reaching the personal best fitness level possible. Someone who was being coached and encouraged to do her best. I could not have done that training on my own and remember just how motivating Coach Devlin was that first winter in helping a group of us prepare for CIRC. While life had taken me a bit off course and sideways after racing in CIRC 2016 and I was not able to maintain the high intensity of training, being active with ROW has remained a constant.

Where would we be without our Coach Devlin? Such an asset to the team–even though I’m sure he frequently feels like Tom Hanks’ character in “A League of Their Own”! 🙂

Devlin is moving on to new adventures this week and while I am going to miss him immeasurably, I realize that he has left an amazing legacy with his impact on ROW. It wouldn’t be the same organization we have today without his influence. Through his leadership, he made sure the regular programming of indoor and water practices ran smoothly (as well as ensured things got fixed!), coaches were encouraging and incredibly supportive, and his mad skills were brought to special programs like Power 10 Camp, Bike 4 ROW, and St. Patrick’s Day Sprint for ROW.

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I am deeply grateful for your friendship, Devlin, and you will be deeply missed.

2 thoughts on “A Special Thank You to ‘D’

  1. Pingback: Perspective | Searching for EMWA

  2. Pingback: Keeping it in Perspective | Searching for EMWA

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