Looking for a full-body workout that is easy to learn, builds cardiovascular and muscular strength, and has a low risk of injury? Try rowing! Unlike running, rowing is low impact and therefore kind to all ages and body types. Unlike swimming, rowing has one stroke, which you can pick up in just a couple instructional sessions. As the City of Chicago continues to embrace the river, rowing is booming. Two new Chicago Park District boathouses, designed by famed Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, are creating a splash. If you haven’t yet tried this sport, which continues to grow in popularity, now is the time.
ROW, or Recovery on Water, is a women’s rowing club made up exclusively of breast cancer survivors. ROW provides members the opportunity to connect with others, take an active role in their recovery, gain support and learn a new sport. ROW’s members are diverse in age and ability — with some having never played a sport. ROW is an empowering, confidence-building group that offers a unique opportunity at a difficult time.
“I love the team and I love the training. It has made a profound impact on my life. Thanks to ROW, I incorporated a new sport and athletic goals into my life, just as I aged into being a senior citizen,” says Catherine Rocca, one of ROW’s first members.
ROW Co-Founder and Executive Director Jenn Junk previously worked with survivors while rowing in college at Michigan State University before founding ROW in 2008 along with survivor Sue Ann Glaser. The organization now has 85 members.
“We don’t sit around and talk about cancer. We focus on rowing,” Junk says. “The low-impact nature of rowing, and the fact that it uses 85% of the muscle groups, makes it a great way for members to be more active in their treatment.” She also points out that studies have shown a 30-50 percent decrease in cancer recurrence with exercise and good nutrition.
Dr. Samman Shahpar of Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (formerly Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago) further emphasizes the important role of exercise for breast cancer survivors. “Exercise is an integral component in the evaluation and management of breast cancer survivors,” he says. “There have been multiple studies that demonstrate that not only is exercise safe, but it is beneficial to the medical and functional recovery. Survivors often don’t know where to go or where to start. An organization like ROW creates an environment where survivors can engage in safe exercise and enjoy the camaraderie that comes along with this activity.” For those no longer in treatment, ROW becomes their new “team,” which was previously comprised of doctors and nurses.
ROW trains year round, seven days a week at three locations: the new Chicago Park District Eleanor Boathouse in Bridgeport, Bluprint Fitness in Chicago, and Alliance Rowing Club in Wilmette. During the outdoor season they are on the water five days a week. ROW races both eight- and four-person boats in several regattas each season and is always looking for coxswain volunteers.