Gently down the stream

Dayton becomes Olympic rowing pick

By Katrina Eresman 

Photo: Rowers from the Greater Dayton Rowing Association carry their shell in after a race at the Midwest Championships 2014; photo: Joleen Cook

Saturday morning, my alarm goes off at 6:30. I pull myself out of bed, and drive 30 minutes to East River Road. I arrive at the Dayton Boat Club where I meet Trish Miles, a rower of national success who coaches the junior women’s team. We carry our shells down to the dock, and Trish demonstrates the basics before letting me climb in. Bare feet are secured at one end, body sits low to the water, and the sun shines down on you, warming away your chills.

The setting itself is worth the visit. Once you get past the initial struggle of body-mind coordination, your body finds its connection to the water, your legs power you along, and you’re off.

Rowing is right under our noses, and it’s bigger and badder than you think.

This summer, three forces joined together in Dayton, and with the support of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and U.S. Rowing, they made a major step for Dayton’s rowing community, and in turn, the city itself. Thanks to the combined efforts of Five Rivers MetroParks, Greater Dayton Rowing Association (GDRA) and the Dayton Boat Club (DBC), the city’s new program, Dayton Regional Rowing, was just sanctioned as the first and only Community Olympic Development Program for rowing.

“It’s a pretty big honor, it’s something that we were thrilled to get,” says Ed Walz, who is one of the board of trustees at GDRA. Walz has been rowing casually and competitively for over eight years. It was a collective passion for the opportunities within the Dayton river system and for the sport itself that fueled the three-year process. But everyone agrees, Five Rivers MetroParks’ executive director Becky Benná was the organizing force.

“I went to a meeting, learned all about it, came back and approached the rowing community about going after this designation,” Benná says. This was in 2012, and since then Dayton’s rowing community has been working with U.S. Rowing, developing this new, one-of-a-kind program.

Benná is passionate about Dayton’s outdoor opportunities, and believes in the program’s positive impact. “I thought it would be a great way to collectively work with the community to bring a designation that helps promote the river, helps get people outside, it helps us work with national organizations who could bring some resources to the community that we haven’t had in the past.”

The program will ideally raise awareness of rowing as an opportunity in the area, and the Olympic sponsorship will help support new and
expanded endeavors.

“We’re planning different kinds of outreach programs and having the USOC and Five Rivers behind the marketing will really help,” says Mike Miles, head coach at the DBC. Miles began coaching rowing in 1991 at the University of Dayton.

His main goal? Recruiting.

And then? The Olympics.

“We go to schools, we talk to kids that we see that look like they physically have the build for it and so it’s really grassroots recruiting,” Miles says.

One young lady named Molly Bruggeman is a former rower for DBC and is aiming for Rio. Miles says Bruggeman will be a guest coach this fall, and hopes that her story will inspire others.

He explains, “When she interacts with them, these young kids will learn, ‘wow, I can be good at this too, if I just work at it.’ Someone from Dayton that didn’t know she was going to be good at it and really put her heart into it and that’s what it takes.”

The designation creates the opportunity to have more development camps for kids, potentially from all over the country. And Bruggeman wouldn’t be the only guest coach. Benná tells me that they’re “hoping that by the end of the year, [they’ll] have some training scheduled with U.S. Rowing.” New resources might make it possible to have training programs and special events that will be run by “athletes who are Olympians.”
Benná says she hopes the program acts as “another piece of the pie when it comes to providing a vibrant outdoor community. We are the only rowing designated community in the country, and maybe kids will get involved in this, maybe adults could get involved in this.”

Of course, Dayton does offer options for adults. Both GDRA and DBC offer a Learn to Row program, giving men and women 18+ a chance to get on the water and try it. Walz, who began rowing after his son picked it up, is an avid proponent of the sport for all ages.

“This is just one of those sports that people continue lifelong,” he tells me. “I see competitors who are in their 70s and 80s at some of these regattas where we go. It’s a phenomenal sport and it’s low impact.”

The development of Dayton Regional Rowing has been a big step for the rowing community, and through a combined effort, the program continues to grow.

“We couldn’t do a lot of what we do without doing partnering,” Benná says, “and, to me, that’s a very big part of making great things happen, by working together for the community.” It is from the combined passions of multiple individuals and these three main groups that the Community Olympic Development Program for rowing blossomed.

In a similar fashion, Walz explains success in rowing can be attributed to teamwork. “You can’t be a star in the boat. The outcome is ideal when everyone works together, when everyone kind of pulls their weight, and everybody’s in sync.”

For more information, or to learn how you can get involved in rowing, visit daytonboatclub.org or daytonrowing.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Katrina Eresman at KatrinaEresman@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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