Mamatoga Loves: Saratoga Rowing Association

A couple weeks ago the kids and I got the chance to check out Saratoga Rowing Association. Located just before the bridge on Saratoga Lake, we got to the boathouse just in time to check out a girls practice. While Finn got in on the action of warming up with the girls team I got some information about the program from Eric Catalano, the Executive Director at Saratoga Rowing. One of the great things about rowing is that kids can start rowing as young as 8 and can continue with the sport as long as they wish. In sports like basketball and soccer, there may be tons of peewee teams, but by the time they get to high school there is only one team and unfortunately a lot of kids are cut, or end up spending their time on the bench. Saratoga Rowing doesn’t cut anyone, and everyone who wants to continue and compete with the sport does. There are different categories for those with different skills - but everyone is challenged appropriately.

Rowing is low impact, extremely team oriented, and has a very high correlation between work and results.  Everyone can row.  Your investment and skill and fitness may determine your speed, but there is a place for everyone on the rowing team. SRA has athletes who have competed at the Jr. World Championships, and probably averages six athletes going to college with scholarships each year. Last year SRA sent rowers to Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth, Alabama, LSU, Northeastern, Trinity, St. Joseph's and UMass. Of course not all rowers are of that level. Even on the varsity team there is a wide range of athleticism, but they find appropriate levels at which to challenge each athlete.

What is so appealing about rowing is that it is an activity that is suitable for everyone and at SRA they go out of their way to also make the program very affordable.  They feel they have a responsible developmental model for young athletes and strive to find a healthy balance of being a kid and being an athlete.

In addition to their youth program, SRA hosts a number of regattas. Since 1998 they have hosted an amazing 73 Regattas. One of the early missions of the SRA back in the late 90s and early 2000s was to put Saratoga on the rowing map and to be known as a rowing destination in the US.  They wanted to serve the greater rowing community and the greater Saratoga community by creating races that brought people to Saratoga.  In addition to serving these two communities of Rowing and Saratoga, SRA have also been able to have a significant impact on our local team community.  Each time they host one of these larger races, they have over 120 volunteers working each day.  The families of the SRA athletes form relationships with each other and look forward to their time together. Hosting regattas and having parent volunteers really connects the parents to the kids and involves the parents in the sport.  In an era where there can be a disconnect between teens and their parents, SRA parents are very closely tied to their kids and the organization.

I wanted to get a parent's perspective on the rowing program so I chatted with Michelle Prager about her experience with SRA:

What should parents expect when their child starts to row as far as time commitment, cost, and what equipment/clothing is needed?

In seventh grade when my son told me that he wanted to row, I knew it would mean an end to his eight year commitment to martial arts. Between school and the crew schedule there was little time remaining for other activities. Crew practice usually runs Monday through Friday after school, Saturday morning and some races will be held on Sunday as well. Besides school, crew comes first but with excellent coaching and a good rowing atmosphere like at Saratoga Rowing, this comes naturally. Eventually my son did go back to martial arts but only on a very part time basis.

Most teams require rowers to wear a tight unisuit AKA “uni” on race day which you will need to purchase. There are usually additional team garments available. Tight fitting clothing will be needed for practice days also since bulky clothing can hinder movement and can get caught in the sliding seat on the boat or ergometer. This could cause harm to the clothing or equipment as well as just being a hazard. An erg or ergometer is used for land practice since it best simulates the motions of rowing with the use of a flywheel and a screen to monitor their progress. If you have the room it's a good thing to purchase so that they can practice at home.

On race day rowers may need to arrive fairly early. Regatta spectators should be prepared too since few things will halt crew teams including inclement weather, cute rain boots are a must. Most parents grab a coffee and get to watch what is the oldest intercollegiate sport in the country, undeniably a spectacular view. Some teams require volunteer hours which is a great way to help out, get involved and learn about this great sport. You may even find yourself interested in one of the adult rowing programs. For more information about rowing check out Rowing 101 at http://www.usrowing.org/About/Rowing101.aspx.

Here is some information on the programs offered at SRA for kids:

  • Junior Competitive Rowing: cost varies by season from $200-550 depending on the length of the season, practices are 4-6 days per week depending on the age of the athlete, and they are 1.5 to 2.5 hours per day depending on the age.
  • Youth Sculling Camps: this is for the 8-13 year olds.  It is $240 and is 15 hours total (summers are 1 week 9-12), the program is limited to 10 rowers.

The time commitment increases as the athletes move onto the varsity teams and the older kids travel a lot to races in the spring. Examples include the 7th-9th graders trip to Florida for February break (which, by the way, is only $525 for a week in FL, including transportation, room and board, and the theme park tickets!). SRA's goal, over the next few years, is to grow the size of their 7th-9th grade programs (particularly on the boys side) and they are also investigating adding additional sessions for the 8-13 year olds.

I highly recommend you go check out Saratoga Rowing Association for your child. There was such a positive vibe at the practice we saw, and just a general excitement and feeling of teamwork and community between the kids and the coaches. I personally can't wait till Finn is old enough to try it, and I hope this will encourage some of you to go beyond the norm in local sports and try something new! For more information, visit their website, and maybe I'll see you at the next regatta!