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Rowing club aims to sustain community fitness through programs for juniors, adults

The Grand Rapids Rowing Association’s assortment of courses gives people of all skill levels a means to improve physical and mental strength through rowing.
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Upcoming GRRA Programs and Events

Fall Junior Varsity Rowing: Begins August 31

Fall Junior Novice Rowing: Begins September 1

Rowing Biomechanics Presentation: September 2

Learn to Scull 305: Begins September 8

Learn to Row Day: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. September 12

Learn to Row 107: Begins September 14

Learn to Row 108: Begins September 15

Intermediate Rowing 203: Begins September 15

/Rob Shea

/Rob Shea

The Grand Rapids Rowing Association (GRRA) will offer programs to help interested adults and teenagers learn the basics of rowing this fall.

One such activity is Learn to Row Day on September 12. The free, open house event gives adults and children over 12 a chance to test the waters and gauge their interest in the sport.

Rowing can seem like a daunting activity to the inexperienced, but GRRA members say it often rewards more than it punishes. Take it from Kevin Spreier who, after breaking his ankle in February, decided to take a learn-to-row class with the GRRA in April.

“They didn’t tell me that you have to carry the boat out of the boathouse and bring it back in,” Spreier says. “That turned out to be excellent therapy for my ankle because it forced me to walk on it with everybody else on uneven terrain. I really had my doubts the first couple of nights, but after six weeks, twice a week, I was keeping up with everybody and it was no problem at all.”

Following the class, Spreier became a member and learned how to scull (row with two oars). Now he’s training to compete in a sculling marathon in October.

“I’m 55 and I’m fitter now than I ever have been,” Spreier says. “I’m rowing four times a week and I’m focused on getting to the marathon and being able to accomplish that.”

Though regattas are significant to the sport, the GRRA offers rowers the ability to focus on other aspects of rowing, like exercise and recreation. Even while Spreier trains for his marathon, he takes time to enjoy the scenery rowing up and down the river.

“The Grand River is in a really pretty spot,” he says. “There’s houses and parks and all sorts of birds and I love getting out in the morning when the water is smooth and glassy and it’s quiet.”

Rob Shea, junior coach and communications director for the GRRA, says the club wants to make the fitness side of rowing available for more people.

“There’s a lot of competition, but beyond that we want to make the sport available to other people who may not be looking at it purely competitively but are looking for the health and fitness aspects as well,” Shea says.

In an effort to bring more diversity and inclusiveness to the club, the club is launching a new program in the fall called G-Row, directed by Shea. Named as a play on Grand Rapids Rowing and helping youth “grow,” it is focused on promoting the fitness, health and wellness aspects of rowing to high schoolers.

“We want to encourage more low income families to participate in junior rowing,” Shea says. “We are now offering the novice program for juniors for free so that the registration fee is no longer a barrier for getting involved in junior rowing.”

Prices for other programs range from $45 (three sessions of a member’s adult learn to scull class) to $300 (the fall season for a varsity junior rower). A yearly membership can be as low as $100 for a college student and as high as $400 for a family.

Kelly Tenbrock and her family bought a family membership after taking learn to row classes in the spring. Compared to the more expensive cost of her daughter playing club volleyball for three months and considering what a membership provides, she believes the membership is worth the cost.

“My whole family can go down and row whenever we want to,” Tenbrock says. “I think it’s reasonable when you look at the prices you pay for other things.”

Tenbrock feels that rowing has had positive effects on her family. She’s noticed her children feel more confident, her husband enjoys the challenge and her family overall has a common activity and talking point. Her own experience with the club has been positive as well.

“The learn to row class is just phenomenal, and the social part of it has just been really cool,” Tenbrock says. “The people are very welcoming and friendly and a lot of times after rowing on Monday and Wednesday nights they go out to Vitale’s and hang out a little bit.”

For those serious about learning to row and getting more involved in the sport, Tenbrock recommends going through the six week course instead of the single day.

“They just take you step by step what you need to do, so I wouldn’t be afraid to try it,” she says. “It makes it really easy to learn, yet it’s something you can continue to do and always build on.”

More information about classes and events can be found on GRRA’s website. Registration for the junior programs and adult classes can be accessed through the events page.

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