By Jorge Casuso
February 4, 2014 -- If, as they say, rowing builds character, there’ll be a lot of strong-minded -- not to mention more fit -- students at Santa Monica’s Lincoln Middle School this month.
Shortly after dawn Monday, the non-profit RowLA unloaded 16 rowing machines – also called ergometers or ergs) and turned the school’s multi-purpose athletic room into a one-week, land-based rowing camp for 362 seventh graders.
This week during every period of the regular school day, 25 to 50 thirteen-year-olds will work with NCAA collegiate rowers, US National team rowers and World Cup medalists to learn the basics of competitive rowing, RowLA officials said. At the end of each week, the students will be tested in mini-timed competitions.
“We have seen the remarkable change rowing has made not only in the fitness of the girls on the RowLA squad, but also within their own families,” said Liz Greenberger, the organization’s director and co-founder.
“We know that good fitness habits need to be introduced early for them to become life-long patterns,” Greengerg said. “The Erg Ed program gives us an opportunity to give middle schoolers of both sexes another way to stay fit.”
A local college access program, RowLA not only introduces first-generation and low-income high school students to the sport of competitive rowing, it gives them access to college, officials said.
“Graduates of the program currently attend Smith College, Connecticut College, Loyola Marymount University and Cal State Long Beach – all with generous or complete financial assistance,” RowLA officials said.
The program is modeled after the Row To the Future program in Seattle, which reaches more than 10,000 students a year in two dozen public schools, officials said. Lincoln Middle School welcomed the chance to bring the program to Santa Monica.
“When RowLA presented their proposal, we felt that the seventh grade PE curriculum was best suited for the Erg Ed program because it encompasses the specific fitness goals for that grade level,” said Brian Underwood, the school’s seventh grade PE teacher.
RowLA hopes to establish a permanent afterschool Erg Club at Lincoln if it can find a donor to donate machines to the school, Greenberger said.
The organization -- which purchased ten machines for the program with a $10,000 grant from US Rowing -- also hopes to bring the one-week program to the two other Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District middle schools, John Adams and Malibu, officials said.
To encourage students to continue rowing after the program ends, they will be given a list of local rowing programs in Marina del Rey “where they can pursue rowing as an activity through high school, college and beyond,” officials said.
Rowing is more than a form of exercise or “a fast boat on race day,” Rick Clothier, who was head coach Navy Rowing from 1974 to 2012, once said.
“Rowing, like success, is a journey, not a destination. I tell my oarsmen to have fun, learn, and most of all grow as individuals.”
Rowing, advocates of the sport say, also teaches teamwork and leadership.
“Follow the stroke- or be the stroke that the rest can follow.” said Tom Cook, US Naval Academy (USNA) 1976.