Rowers Find Peace, Friendship on Anacostia River

The Anacostia River isn’t a place where many people look to get their exercise. The members of Capitol Rowing Club, however, embrace the Anacostia each time their oars hit the water.

            “I had no understanding of it before I started,” says Kelley O’Connell, 45. “But I thought this was a treasure [being} in the city on this beautiful stretch of water. I don’t even feel like I’m in the city. It’s like you disappear from everything.”

            O’Connell started rowing 13 years ago at Capitol Rowing club. Today, she is the president of the club, a rowing coach at an all-girls high school, and a coach for one-man boat novice sculling-rowing with two oars instead of one.

            Capitol Rowing Club offers several rowing programs for beginners, competitive rowers and recreational rowers. With a new rowing season that started in late March comes a new lot of novice rowers. The novice program is for adult beginners and those that haven’t rowed in a while.

            The novice program starts with teaching students the technique before they even hit the water with rowing machines. It is a five-week program that meets on the weekends.

            “It’s definitely a new sport for me,” says novice rower Tommy Fijacko, 23. “Usually I’ve done traditional stuff like baseball and soccer but I think it builds the core muscles and is a good, natural exercise.”

            Capitol Rowing Club, along with another rowing club and several schools, is a part of the Anacostia Community Boat Club. Capitol Rowing Club is a non-profit organization open to just everyone over the age of 14. Students ages 14-17, however, participate in the program specifically for juniors. O’Connell explains that D.C. has laws against children under the age of 14 being in the water without a lifejacket. She also explains that it is difficult to row with a lifejacket.

            There is also a competitive component of Capitol Rowing Club. There are 25 males and 25 females in this program. Last year, they went to the Master’s National Championship in Oklahoma City and won 5thplace. There is room for advancement from the novice program to the competitive program at the club.

            “For our adult club everybody has full-time jobs and families and they have to balance,” says O’Connell about competitive training. “This piece has to fit in around the rest of your life.” She explains that this calls for early morning and efficient practices.

            Capitol Rowing Club also has an adaptive program for rowers with disabilities. This program began as a military program in partnership with Walter Reid Hospital to help rehabilitate soldiers with lost limbs and other disabilities. Since it was formed, an additional part of the program has been added for civilians. Today, the Anacostia Community Boat Club is a training facility for the Paralympics for the U.S. team.

            “We acquired a set of boatsthat we could retrofit for particular disabilities and it grew from there. We just recently had one of our athletes qualify for the arms and trunk adaptive program.”

            According to O’Connell, rowing helps her and others like her not feel limited by age. She claims that rowing has made her a more physically fit and healthy individual because she is inclined to exercise, even when she is not on the water.

“I’ve been using different muscle groups,” says Helen Burns, 48. “I really enjoy the teamwork, the quiet[ness] and being on the water.” Burns was previously a part of a rowing club in Georgia until about 10 years ago when she stopped.

            “It’s a good way to get out early in the mornings and do something with your day,” says Fijacko.

            “Rowing keeps me young. It’s a great way to stay in shape without a lot of stress on your joints and legs,” says O’Connell.”It requires the most strength in your legs and in your back.” She explains that the greatest opportunities rowing has presented to her, along with staying in shape, are traveling and meeting new people.

            “It’s very social too. We have a Social Director so we incorporate social activities along with the physical.”

            To register for a program at Capitol Rowing Club, visit www.capitalrowing.org