The day could not have been more perfect to be on the Indian River Lagoon. Saturday, November 18, I joined a small group of people at the Vero Beach Rowing boat launch for a special treat. Coach Jenn Junk came all the way from Chicago to give us a rowing lesson and share the story of her rowing program for women who have experienced breast cancer, Recovery On Water. Ten years ago she co-founded the program, which started with a handful of women and has grown to have multiple chapters spread around the Chicago area. After experiencing her expertise and enthusiasm it was easy to see why she has built a meaningful program.
I was delighted to join the 9:00 AM group of rowers, and the weather could not have been more perfect! The lagoon was completely still, inviting us to practice rowing skills in the best of all possible conditions. Coming from Chicago, Coach Jenn was reveling in the warm temperature (she laughed at our comments that it was a cool morning) and beautiful scenery. Right away she noticed two big differences between her program and ours. Her group can’t row year-round like we can, so several months are spent working out on stationary rowing machines. The second major difference was the water quality. Jenn’s rowers use the Chicago River, which is very polluted compared to our lagoon, so a boat tipping over in that water could mean exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Saturday’s shell was filled with cancer survivors only — no high school rowing team members (our fabulous volunteers) to balance any mistake we might make. The pressure was on. Our coxswain Bob helped guide us down the canal and into the lagoon, while Coach Jenn and Jay Knoll of Vero Beach Rowing accompanied us in the motor boat. The water was like glass and the sun was bathing us as Coach Jenn worked with 4 of us at a time, doing a series of skill-building exercises. I was starboard side #5 listening carefully for whatever instructions came my way, which included not talking (me, talking?).
It was immediately obvious that Coach Jenn knows her subject, loves sharing her passion for rowing, cares about each rower, and makes corrections with tact and humor — all signs of a good teacher. Her enthusiasm is infectious and she uses changes in voice tones to emphasize a point. This was especially noticeable when she made the distinction between how to work the oar above and below the water. In a light voice Coach Jenn told us that above water the oar is held lightly, and moves at a slower, steady pace than below water. Here her voice became deep and loud as she instructed us to be firm, fast, and aggressive under water. The contrast was so great that I had a moment of laughing instead of rowing and lost my rhythm.
Between Coach Jenn and Bob we completed our small group exercises, and then we were rewarded with the opportunity to row in unison back to the dock. Bob gave us encouraging remarks and when Coach Jenn would raise both hands and yell, “That’s what I want to see! Looking good!” we knew our skill levels were improving. We achieved that emotional high that comes from being in complete harmony and working for a common goal. Two hours flew by, and when we glided up to the dock we were aware that our full-body workout had been wrapped in so much fun that doing it again was appealing (well, maybe not immediately, but certainly in a few days).
Saturday afternoon at the United Way of Indian River County offices, Jenn gave a presentation about how her program started and has evolved. Her openness and humor enlivened an informative and enjoyable lesson about how relevant and meaningful programs grow. One of the most important points we all agreed on was that rowing is so much more than just moving the boat. Rowing is a medium for improving health on all levels. Since our program is open to caregivers as well, the people who helped us through the tough stuff now get to share in the fun of exploring a new water sport. This is an opportunity for developing new friendships while also building personal confidence and self-esteem. We leave our busy calendars behind and, nurtured by nature, our perspective is renewed. Quiet time in nature feeds our soul. We emotionally de-stress. We experience the beauty and harmony of working and problem solving together. We encourage each other and we have the satisfaction of a job done to the best of our ability.
With Jenn’s ideas clear in our minds, we now have the opportunity to look at our program and decide in what ways we want to grow. There’s nothing like an inspiring story to get our creative energies motivated. Coach Jenn enjoyed her time here so much that she is considering bringing some of her students here in March for a week of rowing Florida style. That means we might have another opportunity to row with Coach Jenn ourselves. I’m certainly ready to do that again!
Until Next Time – Sylvia