Amazing Women Masters Rower:
Shotsi Lajoie

What rowing moment you are most proud of?
Winning the Midwest Sprints in 1974. We knew we made history at the University of Notre Dame – we were the first women to win at a major competition. Actually, we were the only women athletes competing at ND at the time. It’s a moment you can’t reproduce.

How has rowing shaped you?
Rowing has a way of giving one discipline, focus, and determination. I noticed immediately that it renewed my sense of well-being to tackle the day. I can go and conquer the world after a good workout and, to this day, I row more often when I am stressed. It keeps me happy that I have so many things to look forward to in my life. It offers a supportive community and deep, meaningful friendships.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome to row your best?
To plan my schedule to include both early morning rowing and strength training. That was a big commitment in college and now, as a masters rower, I cherish it. Rowing has taught me to stay in good shape. I go to bed earlier now, so I can row with the morning’s sun. 

What are the biggest life lessons you’ve learned from rowing?
It has taught me to believe in myself. 

What inspires you to keep rowing?
Many things inspire me to row. One is Nature, that is shared in the boat – sunrises, wildlife and the inherent beauty of being on the water. Spiritual renewal is a by-product of having “swing”. Laughing with boat mates is something money cannot buy. . .  I seek it out. And it creates good muscle tone. 

What club or team are you currently rowing with?
QI row with 2 teams, Vero Beach Rowing and the NDames.

What do you like most about rowing a single or with others?
When I row in a single, it’s the closest I’ve come to being with God in my life. Also, rowing a single allows you to work on your technical issues because you can isolate them. When I row with others, I feel supported and connected and we go faster. It is also nice to row with beginners and help them with their learning process and encourage them to stick with it!!! 

What are you currently working towards as a rower? as a competitor?
As a rower, I’d like to do more weight lifting and erging. We can row on water all year long and I act as if I am allergic to the erg. As a competitor, I would like to do more sculling races. Currently I race in an 8 with the NDames a few times a year and race in a 2x with my doubles partner. Quad racing with Vero Beach Rowing would be fun, too.

What advice do you have for other women rowers?
Never stop rowing! If you’ve never rowed before, try it! 

If you’d like to share your story in our “Amazing Women Masters Rowers” series, please email contact@whywerow.com.

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Amazing Women Masters Rower: Grace Teborek

What rowing moment you are most proud of?
Participating in the Head of the Charles regatta.

How has rowing shaped you?
It has saved my life. My rowing friends kept my spirits up as I worked through the death of a son, a divorce that ended a 26-year marriage, and breast cancer.  Through it all, rowing kept me going. I am SO happy to see the sun rise every day and know I have friends and rowing to help create new memories. I’m proud of my other son – a loving husband and father of a 4 year old boy and 2 month old baby girl.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome to row your best?
Maintaining an appropriate mental attitude. 

What are the biggest life lessons you’ve learned from rowing?
I have athletic ability. I am coachable. I have an idea what my mental and physical limits might be. I can be a positive asset to a group – be it a team, rowing club, etc. Physical activity (especially rowing, but also tennis, bike riding, hiking, snow skiing, and walking) helps me stay mentally positive (endorphins alive!). 

What inspires you to keep rowing?
The positive effect the sport has on my wellbeing – mentally and physically. 

What club or team are you currently rowing with?
Atlanta Rowing Club. 

What do you like most about rowing a single or with others?
I like the team / companion / social aspect of the sport. 

What are you currently working towards as a rower? as a competitor?
As a rower – having as many different rowing experiences as possible. As a competitor – using my technique to make me a more powerful rower.

What advice do you have for other women rowers?
Listen to your body. 

If you’d like to share your story in our “Amazing Women Masters Rowers” series, please email contact@whywerow.com.

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Amazing Women Masters Rower: Erin Sabo

What do you love about coxing?
I have been coxing for 7 years. I literally was working my side job at the country club. On a Sunday, I was seating a family of three. The one female said to me “You’re small,  I need you.”

She gave me a flyer for Three Rivers Rowing in Pittsburgh, PA. The rest is history.

I had no clue as to what I was doing, but over a span of five years, I built myself up and coxed for various programs throughout the boathouse.

I have been a dedicated coxswain for the boathouse’s Triple AAA team for the last two years.

Getting up at 4:20am is nothing to be desired, especially when you are not a morning person!

My favorite thing about coxing is when I see a response to a certain call that I make, such as, to set the boat or get more acceleration. When I get the response I am looking for, it makes me feel so good.

Because I have multiple health problems, I also use coxing as an escape mechanism.  When I’m coxing, I am lost in my happy place. It helps me decompress from my every day stresses.

If you’d like to share your story in our “Amazing Women Masters Rowers” series, please email contact@whywerow.com.

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Amazing Women Masters Rower:
Kathy Ke

What rowing moment you are most proud of?
My second year on my current team, I competed at the Pittsburgh Indoor Sprints and won a Silver medal in my age group. Although I was far behind my teammate who came in first – who did well enough to qualify for CRASH-Bs with her time – I had pushed myself harder than I ever had before, and I felt a sense of possibility and potential for what I might accomplish in the future.

How has rowing shaped you?
I come from a music and theater background and have never been on a sports team before. Being on a team with so many powerful, talented, impressive women, I waver between feeling a case of “imposter syndrome” and feeling proud and awed to be in their company. I am learning how to live in this space and working towards feeling less of the former and more of the latter. I’m learning that we never stop growing.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome to row your best?
Haha – getting out of bed at 4:20 am to go to practice during Indoor training season, especially if I know I have a 12 hour workshift afterwards.

What are the biggest life lessons you’ve learned from rowing?
Never stop learning and improving. Keep going when you feel like giving up. 

What inspires you to keep rowing?
My mother died at the age of 61 (I’m currently 57). Not knowing how much time I have left on this earth, I want to “live deliberately” and to “suck out all the marrow of life,” as Henry David Thoreau said. 

What club or team are you currently rowing with?
The Competitive Masters Team (AAA) at Three Rivers Rowing Association in Pittsburgh, PA. 

What do you like most about rowing a single or with others?
I don’t “like” rowing a single yet, but I’ve started going to Craftsbury every spring to try to improve my technique and confidence. So hopefully, someday, I will be less terrified and like it more!

I do love rowing with others, to feel the power and rhythm when we are synchronized. As a singer and musician, I love nothing more than the synergy of a perfect blend.

What are you currently working towards as a rower? as a competitor?
I am trying to overcome fear of the pain that comes from pushing harder. I am afraid of pushing too hard and not being able to complete a workout, but I need to get to the other side of that.

What advice do you have for other women rowers?
Just keep moving. And help each other. 

If you’d like to share your story in our “Amazing Women Masters Rowers” series, please email contact@whywerow.com.

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Amazing Women Masters Rower:
Ellen Kandell

Rowing is the Silver Lining in my Breast Cancer Cloud

Growing up before Title IX there was little opportunity for girls to participate in sports, let alone excel and compete. The most athletic girls were chosen as team captains and then in front of the entire gym class, all clad in one-piece cotton snap up gym suits, they selected their teams, often based on qualities like popularity and size. Being small I was usually one of the last selected. It was the track unit in gym that made me realize I could be good at a sport and I accomplished the unit goal of one mile around the track on the first day. Running sustained me for many years until my joints started talking back to me.

Living in Philadelphia turned me onto the idea of rowing. I tried it briefly but had little training and quickly capsized the boat. It wasn’t until I had the distinction of being a breast cancer survivor and was invited to a learn to row weekend for survivors on the Anacostia River in Washington, DC, that I began my journey as an athlete. First, I had to learn the language—port, starboard, ratio, catch, release, finish, and the components of the stroke. Next, I had to adjust my inner clock to waking at 4:30 a.m. Then, I had to toughen my mind to endure rowing when the cool or wet weather and the choppy water threw challenges at me. Could I do this? Was I strong enough?

Less than one year after the learn to row weekend I joined the Potomac Boat Club Women’s Masters Team. My first team sport…at age 54!! I love being part of the team, learning to row in unison, matching my body movements to the woman in front of me. I love the rhythm, the discipline, the sunrise. I love the hard work outs and seeing my erg scores and times improve and my fitness soar. I love the excitement of the regattas, especially beating a boat with younger women. I wonder what it would have been like if I had had the opportunity to compete on a team as a youngster, but I’m thankful that cancer gave me the chance to be part of team of dedicated women athletes.

Over the year that team got more and more competitive and it began to feel like high school gym class which was no fun. One coach gave me some sage advice, “Ellen”, he said,“you need more time on the water and you need to learn how to scull”. So I took sculling lessons from Cindy Cole, who runs Washington Rowing School and became confident and competent rowing a single. I love Zen like feeling when you get into the rhythm of the stroke and the sound of the oarlocks as you square up. But I also continue to enjoy being part of the sweep teams for WeCanRowDC and Washington Rowing School.

If you’d like to share your story in our “Amazing Women Masters Rowers” series, please email contact@whywerow.com.

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Amazing Women Masters Rower:
Jessica Sabat

After docking at the end of my very first Learn-to-Row class in New York City on the Harlem River, we all clambered out of the training barge and posed for a group photo. Bundled up against the spring chill that day in 2016, we staked our oars proudly on the dock and smiled.

I loved that day. I hated that photo.

I had adored plying my first strokes at age 52, that satisfying work of pulling the blade through the water. But the picture, with all of its thousand words, shouted that I was very overweight. It jeered at me and provoked the shame that my appearance neither inspired me to pride nor reflected my readiness for the challenges ahead.

I dove into Learn-to-Row anyway and fell head over heels in love with rowing. The full-body exertion, the nerdiness, the exhilaration of being an absolute beginner. Then winter came and I yearned for March, when I’d be back on the water.

In late February, my friend Melinda called. Actually, she called three times over a few weeks. She and another friend had joined Weight Watchers. Did I want to come? I was reluctant. I didn’t want to know how much I weighed. I don’t like being told what to eat. I didn’t want to admit that I had to change. But I desperately wanted to be a rower. I wanted to enjoy fashion again, and I wanted my outsides to show the strength I felt on the inside.

I took the plunge and experienced success beyond what I could have imagined. Because I was rowing and erging most days, I lost 10 pounds a month for eight months straight. Efficient and direct, just like a good catch and drive. Then 20 more pounds went, and in 14 months I had lost 100 pounds. I felt great, looked like the athlete I was becoming and hated that photo taken on the dock even more.

This season, 2019, was my second year on the TopRowNYC racing team. It brought the honor of rowing in a masters women’s 4+, our club’s first-ever entry in the Head of the Charles. With an average age of 49.5, we were the oldest boat in the 40+ category and trained hard.

During those practices, I thought back over the past four years and began to formulate a secondary HOCR plot line of my own.

That Saturday in Boston, while we checked the boat, I tucked a print of that hideous Learn-to-Row photo into my shoe. We launched and raced, holding our position the whole course. There were all the thrills I’d been promised: cheering crowds, intense focus, mental and physical determination, bellowing coxswains and clashing oars.

Exhausted and satisfied, we returned to the dock. I unstrapped my feet, took that effing, stomped-on, crinkled, splotchy photo out of my shoe, reached out over the side of the shell and drowned it in the Charles River.

As I watched the photo sink, I breathed a sigh of gratitude. This was the hard-won period at the end of a years-long long chapter of self-revelation and reinvention. Earlier, my crew mates and I had given each other token commemorative gifts. I had made each awesome woman a small charm with two words unique to her and this race. I had also made one for myself. My words: “Future Found.”

The following weekend in Philadelphia, our TopRowNYC Masters mixed 4+ took silver at the Head of the Schuylkill. Wearing that delicious hunk of gleaming success around my neck, I beamed with pride as we posed for the camera on the podium. I truly love those photos.

Future found, indeed.

If you’d like to share your story in our “Amazing Women Masters Rowers” series, please email contact@whywerow.com.

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Amazing Women Masters Rower:
Karin Tetlow

What rowing moment you are most proud of?
Winning a medal at the Head of the Charles this year. I was invited to “make age” in a veterans 4+ with experienced rowers. The three miles zipped by without counting the bridges ahead or worrying Can I do this?…and we won. The medal is a beautiful heavy bas-relief sculpture that is now hanging in my kitchen with the other bling acquired over 20 years (I have to say that many were won on handicapped “adjusted” times, something that still doesn’t feel quite right.) Another moment was when Clete Graham awarded two of us plaques for “Most Miles Rowed” in a regatta…3 head races plus a turn the stake race…something that would not happen now!

How has rowing shaped you?
On many levels. From the psychological (learning that unvoiced criticisms of other rowers in the boat would be better applied to me) to the physical. This morning my dexa scan result showed that the bone density of my spine has increased by 3.2% in two years, while my hip stayed the same.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome to row your best?
In Belgium for Worlds I was stroke in a beautiful wooden double with a woman from Poland. At the start my hands got caught up in my loose shirt……they tell you about this, but I never really believed it. After recovering, it happened again. But angst turned into power and we tore down the course. My one regret was that I was so discombobulated that I lost track of where the other boats were so did not realize we had won. 

What are the biggest life lessons you’ve learned from rowing?
That it’s never over till it’s over. Even at 83 you can discover new ways of being and doing. 

What inspires you to keep rowing?
What better way to connect with water, people, life and building bone density… 

What club or team are you currently rowing with?
Bachelors Barge Club 

What do you like most about rowing a single or with others?
Rowing a single it’s just you. Every stroke is a new opportunity you can choose or not.. Rowing with others requires extra awareness. 

What are you currently working towards as a rower? as a competitor?
Next season I want to do more sculling and maybe go back to racing a single. Wouldn’t it be great to master fear of the wind?

What advice do you have for other women rowers?
Just do it. Results don’t really matter except to you. If dawdling along looking at the turtles is what you feel like, so be it. 

If you’d like to share your story in our “Amazing Women Masters Rowers” series, please email contact@whywerow.com.

 

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Rowing Together.. . Apart!

For the NDames, being apart brought them closer together.

For the NDames, being distant, unable to train together while trusting and relying on each other goes hand in hand with who they are. The COVID-19 Pandemic has affected many routines, but it hasn’t slowed the competitive spirit or cohesiveness of this group of women.

After a late start in the Concept2 World Erg challenge, 13 NDames erged over 1.6 million meters in less than 4 weeks and ranked 17 out of 61 virtual teams worldwide in the 6-20 person category. Then the gauntlet was thrown down in the form of joining the challenge of the C2 “Marathon and Century Challenge” and the off-handed comment, “I double-dog dare you!”

The email log tells it all – from early email asking: “we are not trying to win …. Just get it done, right?” and a response of “Yup, just be sure you have a pulse at the end of it.” To “haha – I knew you’d be the first out of the gate!”, “This group thing has me working harder than I had been”, “Oh rats! Now I really have to do this!”, “we have a new winner!! She left all of us in the dust!” and “I’m going for #1 in my age range next time I row it so set your mark accordingly!” The competition ramped up as the days went on.

Then there was the running commentary from one NDame: “Had they been on the water together, I can just imagine LA keeping her eye on VH the whole way, never able to get her out of view, and VH looking over her shoulder thinking “I’m gaining on her! She doesn’t know what she’s up against!” (after pointing out that these two rowers are 34 years apart in age!)

Sharing strategies to complete the marathon brought out some interesting techniques. “My plan is simple: find the time and crank it out!”, My plan was to try to keep my HR under 140 basically as long as possible. That became impossible obviously, but while watching it, just trying not to fly and die.”, I know I’ll never catch you, but it was fun to think for a moment that I might.” and “I listened to an audio book until the last 5000 meters when I chucked the head set across the room!”

The NDames have always been supportive of each other and now it was time for those who did not have access to an erg or for other reasons couldn’t actively participate in the marathon during this time to step up. Outspoken fans cheered along with the participants. “Congratulations! It’s a bear of a piece to do and you rocked it!”,”Youza! Youza! Youza!” “you make us PROUD”, “WHOO-HOO!!”, “That was an awesome job. You are a stud!”,”You inspire me – I am practicing!”, “I toast you all”, and then from one participant: “You inspire me …. But I’m not doing another half!”
Despite the sweat though, comments like “I’m glad I did it”, “I think I could have pushed a little harder”, “Thanks for challenging me” and “This group has me working harder than I have been”.

Erging such a long distance would have seemed impossible just a few weeks earlier. But, with a mix of friendly competition, humor, encouragement, and light-hearted trash-talking, twelve NDames completed a half or full marathon – for a few, it was a first! Some even did a second marathon in order to pull ahead a few notches.

Once again, we learned that we are capable of achieving more together than apart. According to C2’s official global rankings for women doing the half marathon challenge, all weights, all types of rowers, verified and not, the NDames did amazingly well. For ages 60-69, NDames held 7 of 43 spots, with one in 5th place. For ages 50-59, 3 NDames competed (of 99), with the one placing 26th. For ages 40-49, one NDames (of 89 ranked) placed 5th place. For ages 19-29, one NDames (of 40 ranked) placed 11th. In addition, for the full marathon, one NDames came in 3rd (of 5 ranked) in the 60 – 69 age group.

While the rankings were impressive, knowing that it’ll be awhile until we’re all back on the water together, may be a long while, the NDames, as a team, are looking to challenge other master women rowers. They currently have their sights on USRowing’s virtual Masters National Championship in August.

The NDames are ‘leading the way’ (their tagline) once again.  The first time was in the 1970’s, when they were among the first women athletes at Notre Dame.  Then as masters who, in their 40-60’s, are still going strong.  And now again during the Pandemic, as a team that successfully stays connected and trains for whatever the next competition is, whenever it is.

Written by Mary Bustin and Vreni Hommes

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Amazing Women Masters Rower:
Mary Fitzsimons

What rowing moment you are most proud of?
I am proudest of my return to rowing after being away for nearly 30 years since graduating from college.

How has rowing shaped you?
Rowing helped me to focus my thinking and energy in college. It was necessary for me to be able to escape from my studies and focus on something entirely different. Rowing was a type of meditation for me in college. After being away from rowing for nearly 30 years, I have found that rowing once again has helped me find focus. It has been a wonderful escape from the stressors in my life. I find that when I am rowing, I cannot think about anything outside of the boat. My focus is purely on rowing and everything else that has been cluttering my mind fades away. Rowing once again is a type of meditation for me.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome to row your best?
My biggest challenge at this time is fitting rowing into my life. I work full time as an Emergency physician, which means working hectic shifts at various times of the day and night. As I have gotten older, I am more careful about planning my sleep time in relation to my clinical shift times. This makes it difficult to find time on the water to practice. At times it is hard to balance work with training and family life. 

What are the biggest life lessons you’ve learned from rowing?
Learn from your mistakes, but don’t dwell on your mistakes. In a race, if you take a bad stroke, you need to just throw it away, because the next stroke is just as important (if not more so). If you dwell on mistakes without really learning, you can never progress. 

What inspires you to keep rowing?
My inspiration comes from the wonderful feeling I experience in the boat when rowing with others. This is especially the case when I am rowing with the group from my college days, the NDames. I’m suddenly much younger. It’s as if I’m back in college again. It’s wonderful my physical and mental health.

What club or team are you currently rowing with?
The local club with which I am affiliated is Lake Merritt Rowing Club in Oakland, California. I also row with the NDames, which is the group of alumnae from St. Mary’s College and the University of Notre Dame, who were part of the Notre Dame Rowing Club during our college years. 

What do you like most about rowing a single or with others?
I like rowing with others more than rowing a single. I like the sense of synchronized movement when rowing with others. The feeling of the crew swinging together is remarkable and is not something that occurs in any other sport. I feel I work harder when rowing with others as I feel a strong obligation to perform my best for the group. 

What are you currently working towards as a rower? as a competitor?
My goal in rowing is to try to improve my performance as I get older. I know that my strength and endurance will plateau and then decline, so in some ways this is a goal with diminishing returns as I age. However, I know I will always have room to improve my technique.

What advice do you have for other women rowers?
Have fun with this sport. Try not to get hurt, because as you get older, it takes a lot longer to recover. 

If you’d like to share your story in our “Amazing Women Masters Rowers” series, please email contact@whywerow.com.

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Amazing Women Masters Rower:
Kate Garfinkel

What rowing moment you are most proud of?
First medal – corporate novice 8+ at Head of the Ohio.  I had won trophies for debate and extemporaneous speaking in high school, but never for sports!

How has rowing shaped you?
Until I was 47, I never thought of myself as an athlete.  Now, because of rowing, it is central to who I am.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome to row your best?
Blending competitive rowing with my career.  What I’ve found is that when I establish and clearly articulate my boundaries, people respect them. 

What are the biggest life lessons you’ve learned from rowing?
There is no “perfect,” only building a foundation then working toward a goal, brick by brick. 

What inspires you to keep rowing?
From my first time in the boat, I have been hooked.  The feeling of swing in the boat, the peace of a single row, the camaraderie of my teammates, Craftsbury, meeting other rowers from around the world, the achievements of our adaptive and First Row athletes at Three Rivers, watching junior rowers grow, race fast, and return to the club as coaches. . .  (how much space do I have? 🙂 

What club or team are you currently rowing with?
Three Rivers Rowing in Pittsburgh 

What do you like most about rowing a single or with others?
They complement one another.  The single gives me immediate feedback that I can incorporate into team boats.  There is nothing that compares with the harmony and speed that happens in a great row in an 8. 

What are you currently working towards as a rower? as a competitor?
Currently training for head season, and my first Head of the Charles (with Avalon Rowing).

What advice do you have for other women rowers?
Keep showing up!  And reach out to other women rowers if you see they are struggling. 

If you’d like to share your story in our “Amazing Women Masters Rowers” series, please email contact@whywerow.com.

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