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Rowing toward that green light

As the waterways thaw out, rowers gear up to launch their boats. In this "Health Fusion" column Viv Williams explores the mind-body benefits of rowing, chats with a member of the Rochester Rowing Club of Minnesota and shares a story about a childhood obsession.

Rowing on Silver Lake in Rochester MN. Rochester Rowing Club of MN
Members of the Rochester Rowing Cub of Minnesota row on Silver Lake

ROCHESTER — This analogy might be a stretch, but have you ever read F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby"? In it, the main character obsesses over a green light he sees way in the distance at the end of a dock across the bay from his house.

To me, the light represents what Gatsby doesn't have but wants — a hope for what's possible in the future. At least that's what the green light symbolizes at the start of the book. Afterward things sort of unravel into tragedy, so I won't go down that rabbit hole. Instead, I'll focus on the positive aspects of my own personal green light. Rowing.

When I was little, I watched a crew regatta from the banks of a river in Massachusetts. I was spellbound by the grace with which the rowers powered through the water. At age 10, I was determined to get in one of those boats. I didn't have that opportunity until my son joined the Rochester Rowing Club of Minnesota.

"Being on the water ... there's nothing like it," says Kim Batterson, chair of club's Board of Directors. "Being outside, hearing the blades cut through the water as we're moving the boat is just so calming and peaceful."

Batterson, who also had a thing about learning to row ever since she was a kid, joined the club as an adult rower with no previous experience.


"That's the thing about rowing," says Batterson. "It's inclusive and just about anyone can do it. And rowing is a team sport that not only improves your physical health, but also it builds teamwork, camaraderie and self-confidence. We are lucky to have a club in our city."

Rowing is a total body workout for both strength training and cardiovascular fitness. An online article from Cleveland Clinic outlines some of the health benefits of rowing and notes that the sport is low-impact. So if you have joint issues that are aggravated by higher-impact sports, rowing may be an option.

Again, fitness is just one beneficial aspect of rowing. As a mom of rowers in the Rochester Rowing Club's junior program, I've seen first hand how the activity helps people grow emotionally. Batterson agrees.

"While there are boats for single rowers, the sport is really about teamwork," says Batterson. "You have to feel the other people in the boat and work together or you won't get anywhere. I've seen super shy kids come into the program and I've watched them grow into very self-confident people. They grow into leaders. I think that comes from being in the boats and it can be life-changing."

To give an example of what she means, I need to fill you in on some rowing facts. Rowing includes a variety of sizes of boats, called shells. One type of boat that the club uses frequently requires four rowers, each using two oars. It's called a quad. Instead of having an on-board coach (coxswain) to steer the boat, the person in the bow of a quad must do the steering.

"When you're in the bow, everyone has to trust you," says Batterson. "If you cannot call out orders with confidence, that trust won't happen. So kids or adults in the bow position have to figure out how to make people trust them. This skill transfers into real life."

The junior team has had boats compete at the national level, which I think is pretty spectacular.

Yes, rowing is good for mind and body. But it's also a heck of a lot of fun. If you want to give it a try and are in the area, the Rochester Rowing Club of Minnesota hosts learn-to-row sessions for both juniors and adults. Check out their website at www.rrcmn.org to find out about dates and times, as well as more info on programs. The club's website also has some videos that show the beauty and grace of the sport.


Even if you never get in a boat, take time to head to Silver Lake in Rochester, MN to watch some rowing. It's amazing to see. And who knows? Maybe you'll be inspired to jump in.

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Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

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Opinion by Viv Williams
Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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