Finding My Safety Net

I attended Northern Michigan University, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, for my undergraduate studies. It is a beautiful, yet isolated, place, within walking distance of Lake Superior, and because of its isolation, there was always a concerted effort while I attended to have a very strong student affairs program with lots of concerts, performances, movies, lectures, intramural sports, and activities for students to be active in outside of our coursework. There were systems in place to bring people together and keep students, as well as the greater community, active and supported.

My favorite professor during this experience was historian Dr. Jon Saari. He taught my Junior/Senior Seminar: Historical Thinking and Writing, a course on China (nearly 2 years after the Tiananmen Square protests) called Approaching China, and a course that opened my mind to the ideas of looking at the world through multiple lenses and making bridges to those we see as the ‘other’ in the Third World in Historical Perspective. Dr. Saari was also my academic advisor and when I was nearing graduation, I remember vividly discussing my possible post-graduation directions with him. I knew I wanted to teach abroad, but I would be the first generation to do so in my immediate family (I have one great-grandfather who immigrated to the US in 1914, but I never met him) and no one was paving the way for me, so I was definitely cautious about the whole thing. Dr. Saari was the one who suggested I explore Peace Corps opportunities because he recognized that the Peace Corps offered a recognized program with a 25+ year track record at that time, with protections in place and a guiding hand for those new to living abroad.

A safety net.

And he was right. Peace Corps did offer formal, established programming and systems in place to help new volunteers adjust to their new worlds. Surprisingly, Peace Corps offered me safety nets not only as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but also as a Recruiter returning to my Michigan hometown after my service, when I relocated to Chicago when PC closed the Detroit office, and when I moved out to Los Angeles for a couple of years and became very active in the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community there.

I got used to safety nets being in place to catch me when I fell or things went sideways. I got used to being a part of communities that looked after one another like families do.

Was I in for a rude awakening when breast cancer made its appearance in my world in December 2011, while Terry and I were 2 and a half years into our adventure in New Orleans. 6 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated NOLA, everything was still very much in rebuilding stage and finding the security of a strong safety net wasn’t going to happen. Don’t get me wrong; I received excellent care by my medical team in New Orleans and knew that I could receive additional care and second opinions at MD Anderson Medical Center in Houston; however, there was not a community of friends or ‘bonus’ family in place to support me and help guide me along the way. Something was missing.

A safety net.

Fast forward 3 years and a move back to Chicago. I was still looking for something that I truly needed and was missing. I didn’t realize I was seeking a support group that moved or an athletic endeavor that offered emotional, as well as social, support. I didn’t realize that I was missing a community that understood what I was going through with breast cancer or could become my ‘bonus’ family.

But lucky me, I found it with ROW.

I have now been a member of Recovery on Water for nearly 6 years! This wonderful organization has definitely been my safety net during some very challenging times in my personal life and continues to be even through this time of COVID.

The programming ROW has created this year without our being able to do what we love most–being on the water–is a true testament to the strength and fortitude of this amazing team. Since March, ROW has taken everything indoors and offered indoor erg exercise classes 7 days a week; yoga classes; a bi-monthly book club; nutrition classes for survivors; body weight and kettle bell classes; and special team building programming for our newest members of the team, our novice rowers.

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The pictures this year haven’t been quite as dramatic as those when we are racing in the Chicago Sprints or rowing on the South Branch of the Chicago River at sunset with the Chicago Skyline behind us, but the camaraderie of being together, offering support to our teammates and receiving it in return, of finding inspiration to exercise and push ourselves a little harder than we each would by ourselves, of being a bonus family for one another, is still there even on the Zoom screen.

Unfortunately, while ROW programming has been able to adapt to dealing with COVID, this pandemic is definitely impacting Recovery on Water’s bottom line. This year, we couldn’t go out on the water for the annual Sprint for Recovery or hold our annual November gala–both crucial fundraisers for this vibrant organization. If you normally make a donation for ROW during the year but have not this year, please consider doing so tomorrow on Giving Tuesday. If you have never donated to ROW, but have thought about it, here is your chance!

And if you know of someone who might benefit from the safety net of Recovery on Water, pass on ROW’s information.


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