A Tradition of Strong Women: Winter Para-rowing Program

A Tradition of Strong Women: Winter Para-rowing Program

by Ruby Lyon

In the new year, many of us want to get strong and fit.  The key?  To show up and then stick with it! This week, one group of women made a six-week commitment to Row New York to do just that. Through our partnership with the NYU Initiative for Women with Disabilities (IWD), we kicked off our annual Winter Para-rowing Program. These classes offer women with disabilities a place to rock out on ergs and participate in strength training.

Group Photo

Elise (right) and her teammates learned what to expect for the season before starting their workout.

For over seven years, Row New York has partnered with IWD to bring para-rowing programming to the women of New York City. It’s been an incredible success story. In
2008, we came together with just 15 women from IWD to host a day of barge rowing. This impactful and eye-opening day was the catalyst for Row New York’s Adaptive and Para-rowing Programs, which now serve hundreds of people with cognitive and physical disabilities per year. It also led to RNY becoming an official Paralympic Sports Club. This season’s women, therefore, follow in the path of many strong and incredible athletes.


Julia stretched after lifting weights with Coach Melissa.

To start out the season, Row New York coaches Carol Quijada and Melissa Abler, alongside IWD staffer Suzanne Hurwitz, took time to learn what each participant wanted to gain over the next six weeks. An overall theme emerged: get stronger, learn to row, and then improve on rowing. The excitement in the room was palpable. There were smiles all around, and a little bit of nervousness. Some participants were returning and knew to expect surprises. For first-time rowers, Coach Carol reassured them that she would teach them the basics.

Group shot 2

Coach Carol worked with each participant to find the perfect erg exercises.

Breaking into three different groups, the women spent their first day rotating from ergs, to weights, and then meeting with Suzanne. In small focus groups, Suzanne facilitated conversations around goal setting and the difference between good and bad soreness. Each participant worked on a tracking sheet, a place to record progress throughout the season, and to write personal goals. For those returning to the program, it was rowing that brought them back. One participant, Lydia, was returning for her 6th time this year. She shared that she liked to erg because she no longer makes it out to the water, and finds indoor rowing to be a great substitute. Long time participant Julia had a similar sentiment. For her, “whether you’re rowing an actual boat [or on an erg], it’s a good experience to learn to row.”

Given the passion so many of these women had for rowing, it’s no surprise that some have participated at the CRASH-Bs and the Jingle Mingle in the past. Ultimately, the coaches hope to not only retain participants, but to see them continue to our Recreational Adaptive program and compete in events like the 2016 World Indoor Rowing Championships this February in Boston.

Like so many previous seasons, this winter’s group brings energy, excitement, and the committed drive that is special to rowers. We can’t wait to see how each woman grows and accomplishes her goals over the next six weeks!