by Jen Whiting
Some paths to rowing are longer than others. But, for hundreds of athletes in New York City, the path has been shortened as much as possible by the efforts of Row New York.
Founded in 2002 with eight eager rowers and one boat, Row New York now serves over 2200 athletes and drives toward its mission everyday: “Through the discipline of rowing and rigorous academic support, Row New York transforms the lives of New Yorkers, regardless of background or ability.” Indeed, from their youth rowing programs in three boathouses throughout the city (Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan) that bring together “competitive rowing and rigorous academics,” to the adaptive programming they offer, to the Masters programs that allow hundreds of adult rowers access to rowing in the city, Row New York is fulfilling its mission.
During a late fall practice, Jackie Kleinhans, the Manhattan Youth Program Manager at Row New York, offered me a ride in her launch; I jumped at the chance. Kleinhans joined the Row New York staff after completing the Masters in Exercise and Sport Studies at Smith College and coaching at the club, collegiate and elite levels. I asked her if she had any hesitations about deciding to move to New York City to coach youth rowing instead of coaching at the college programs that had offered her jobs. Without missing a beat she answered, “The only question I had to answer was, at the end of the day, am I making a difference?”
The Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse is a gorgeous, floating structure in the Harlem River. Kleinhans took me through the boat bays upstairs to the erg rooms and offices that allow dozens of athletes to gather, train and build the community feeling that permeated the air inside the boathouse. “We have both high school and middle school athletes here. The high schoolers train five days a week and have one day of academics, the middle school athletes train twice a week and have two days of academics.” She stops, grabbing an attendance calendar from her desk to start making lineups, “This is practice for college,” she says, matter-of-factly, “Row New York is about doing well in all parts of your life.”
The walls of the gathering space where athletes stretch or warm-up before practice are lined with college pennants. Kleinhans explains that the pennants that are hanging in the room represent the colleges and universities the previous graduating class of Row New York are attending. “Our goal for these athletes is college. 100% go to college.”
Row New York is funded by many sources: grants, individual contributions, corporate support, and fees from Masters programming. The organization specifically seeks to overcome the opportunity gap, the unequal distribution of resources that impact many children in the city. They do so by providing their youth and adaptive programming at no cost to the participants and funding it through significant fundraising and development efforts. Additionally, a portion of their youth and adaptive programming is funded by the revenue from programs such as the Scholastic Rowing League and Corporate Team Building programs.
The coxswains at Row New York learn to navigate the Harlem River, giving them good practice for racing in water conditions that are challenging (the cement walls of the river reverberate the wakes made by passing boats back onto the shells).
As Kleinhans follows her athletes down the stairs to the boat bays to launch, she turns to me and says, “Coaching here is very rewarding.” She nods to the athletes who are carrying their boats to the dock. “You’re helping to change the trajectory of their lives.”
When the path to rowing leads to college, it's a path many people want to be on. Row New York is making that path available, everyday, to young New Yorkers who are willing to work hard, on and off the water.
Complete information about Row New York can be found on their website at rownewyork.org.