Whitefield Academy Blog
Why This Midwestern School Started a Rowing Team
We wore the 4:45am practice like a badge of honor when I was on the rowing team in college.
What other people saw as a crazy, wet and frigidly cold way to spend your March mornings in Chicago, we saw as the best part of our day. Whether it was watching the sun rise on the water before most of our classmates were up or driving from Chicago to Boston with a van full of rowers and a rig towing 44′ long boats, crew gave me some of my best, scariest, and most life-changing experiences in college.
So when my husband and I went back to college for our ten-year reunion and spent time out on the water with our former teammates, we knew that we had to bring this beautiful sport to Whitefield.
The biggest deterrent to starting a rowing team and the most common question we got was, “Where in the world can you row in Kansas City?” Luckily for us, one boat club has already paved the way. The Kansas City Boat Club rows off a dock just behind Kemper Arena on the Kansas River less than 20 minutes from school. We connected with them quickly after we returned and started a partnership, agreeing to share a dock, boats, oars and storage space. We also got a vote of confidence from our alma mater, Wheaton College, who said they’d send us our old boats to borrow: Petros, Zion, and Jirah (because all boats have names, of course). And since this is the Midwest and the weather is rather unpredictable, we secured an amazingly generous donation of six indoor rowing machines (ergs).
Now we just needed rowers.
My husband and I were a little nervous about how our students would respond to a rowing team. We put a quick video together, and popped in at the end of chapel to show it. The boats shot across the screen and the music built to a crescendo ending with a picture of the Whitefield crest with the traditional crossed oars behind it. The auditorium erupted in whooping and hollering from the students as they stood up to cheer on the prospect of a Whitefield rowing team. The next day our informational meeting didn’t quite fit in the classroom we were assigned; 46 kids showed up.
Tuesday was our first practice. Twenty kids came and hopped on the ergs, taking critiques on their form like pros. They rowed, ran, lunged, planked, mountain-climbed, burpeed, sweated, laughed, and cheered each other on. They learned about the bow, the stern, starboard, port, coxswains, and strokes. They learned legs, back, arms, arms, back, legs. Some of them stepped up and shone as natural leaders, helping me facilitate three separate but simultaneous workouts.
What the kids saw as fun, I saw as the beginning of a long journey for each of them. If they stick with crew, they’re going to learn how much working hard can make a difference. They’re going to learn how detrimental complaining can be. They’re going to learn how important encouragement is. They’re going to learn that an amazing God made their amazing bodies to do difficult things. They’re going to learn how to rely on others and how to forgive. If they stick with crew, they’re going to reap the benefits for the rest of their lives.
Crew is no longer an elitist, East Coast sport. It’s a sport that teenagers in the Midwest can do and do beautifully. Whitefield is perched on the edge of something huge and exciting, and I am so grateful that we get to be a part of it.