Teaching the next wave of rowers
Youths as young as 10 years old learn to row at three clubs in Niagara Region
Despite rowing on different waters, and the friendly competition between athletes, three Niagara Region rowing clubs are all in the same boat when it comes to their learn-to-row programs.
The goal of Niagara Falls Rowing Club, Welland’s South Niagara Rowing Club (SNRC) and St. Catharines Rowing Club is to introduce youths aged 10 to 16 to the flatwater sport before they enter high school.
“The majority happens at the high school level, and so we try to get them a little bit oriented to the sport and introduce the sport a few years before that,” said Tony Arcuri, president of the Niagara Falls club.
“They learn what the sport is about. They see another sport besides soccer or basketball or baseball.”
Throughout the summer, the clubs host junior rowing summer camps to teach students the basic rowing stroke, water safety, boathandling and proper technique.
SNRC president Kevin Fuller said the club’s ideal scenario is to develop young athletes before they join a competitive team.
“They’re learning the basics of the rowing stroke, general skills and stuff to row the boat prior to them joining their school team,” he said.
Camp participants are required to pass a swimming assessment before registering for classes. The test is administered through the clubs or a local YMCA by qualified lifeguards.
Arcuri said swim requirements have become more of a priority in recent years with clubs wanting to make sure young athletes are comfortable in the water.
The requisite swimming skills are minimal, but the clubs want to make sure rowers are equipped with basic competence in the water.
For SNRC in particular, the swim test ensures athletes can tread water and swim at least 50 metres.
“In our case then you can be anywhere in the water and be able to reach shore with our waterway,” Fuller said. “Our waterway, in the worst case, is 100 metres wide so 50 metres is the furthest you’d be from the shore.”
Marion Markarian, director of youth rowing at the St. Catharines club, said its younger rowers wear a “banana belt style life preserver” at all times for safety.
“(The lifebelt) goes around their waist so their arms and legs aren’t encumbered in any way so they can row,” Markarian said. “So when they do their swimming test, they do it with the banana belt on there’s no way they can go under.”
In addition to the swimming test, the clubs have coach boats and safety boats on the water with the youth programs should anything happen.
For all three clubs, an important part of their youth program is about giving back. Athletes who once participated in the camps now volunteer or work at the club, helping the next wave of rowers learn the sport.
Arcuri, who retired in June after 30 years teaching at Saint Paul Catholic High School, had a leading role in creating and developing the rowing program at Saint Paul, as well as other high schools in Niagara Falls.
He knows from experience the benefits of paying it forward.
“Someone gave to you when you were learning, and now you can give back to someone else,” Arcuri said. “That’s the philosophy we try to instil in the club, so it starts to become a life lesson as well as a rowing lesson now. Something we take pride in.”
Fuller said learning from people who went through the program is not only beneficial to learn-to-row participants, but it also provides more experienced high school rowers with an opportunity to be in leadership and mentorship roles.
“I think (helping youth rowers) gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride in seeing other athletes achieve based on what they have taught them, so it’s a nice circle,” he said. “I think it’s important for them to give back and to show the up-and-coming athletes they’re role models.”
Niagara Falls Rowing Club will host its final youth session Aug. 12 to 23, weekdays 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. In September and October, it will introduce weekend camps.
SNRC will hold its final summer camp weekdays 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Aug. 12 to 23.
Fuller said the club will run a weekend learn-to-row program in the fall, acting as an accelerated summer camp for Grade 9 students looking to join their school rowing team in the winter or next spring.
St. Catharines Rowing Club’s final learn-to-row session of the summer will be 9 a.m. until noon weekdays, also Aug.12 to 23.
“Someone gave to you when you were learning, and now you can give back to someone else.” TONY ARCURI Niagara Falls Rowing Club president
Abi Benard, front, and Daniella Murdoch, both 13, practise in a doubles scull in South Niagara Rowing Club’s learn-to-row program.