Rowing to College

When did “The New York Times” publish a rowing article that covered more than half the front page of SportsMonday and half a page inside the sports section? Never in modern time is a good guess. But it actually happened on 25 November 2019.

2 December 2019

By Göran R Buckhorn

Göran R Buckhorn reads a rowing article in The New York Times that lifts his spirit.

Four years ago, on 20 October 2015 to be more exact, I wrote an article in which I praised The New York Times for publishing an article on rowing – and in the sports section, which at that time was a rare thing. The person who penned the article was the Sports of the Times columnist Juliet Macur, who knows what she is writing about as she once was the captain of the Columbia University women’s rowing team. Macur had interviewed the U.S women’s coach Tom Terhaar after his eight had won gold for the tenth consecutive time, either at a World Championships event or at the Olympic Games. A great article.

It’s still a rare thing that NYT publishes a rowing article, but on Monday a week ago, 25 November, it happened again – and again it was Juliet Macur who was behind the feat. So, which brilliant coach, rowers or team did she write about this time? I was happily surprised that the article was not about a U.S. national or Ivy League coach or crew. Instead, it’s a splendid piece on Row New York, an organisation which runs rowing programmes for underserved students in the New York City boroughs. Row New York uses three boathouses, in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens (the latter for girls only).

‘One-third of the 260 high school students in Row New York come from households earning less than $30,000 [£23,230] a year,’ Juliet Macur writes in the article. Many of the students are first-generation Americans, whose parents come from Mexico, China, Ecuador and Belize. For most of the participants the programme is free.

Macur interviews Amanda Kraus, who started Row New York in 2012. Among other things Kraus says: ‘We offer the opposite of rich parents using the side door to get their kids into college. The kids learn that hard work, not just money, gets results.’

This was said as a continuation of what had been mentioned in the article previously, related to well-to-do celebrities like actress Lori Loughlin and her husband fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, who are said to have paid $500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California by pretending that they were rowing recruits. One of the daughters masqueraded herself as a coxswain.

One of the members of the Row New York programme who Macur writes about is coxswain Sebastiana Lopez. As she was afraid of water and couldn’t swim when she began the rowing programme, Row New York sent her to swimming lessons, which the organisation paid for.

While the programme officials say that they don’t look for the best athletes, they are looking for students with the most interest and who will dedicate the time. 90 per cent of the participants have never taken part in an organised sport before. It’s a hard commitment to join Row New York. The students participate the whole year, every day except Sunday. One day a week, they go to tutoring, standardized test prep or college prep to get ready for applying to college.

Kraus says that the programme is not only to teach the students to row, it’s also to give them self-confidence and the work ethic to tackle college. Coxswain Sebastina Lopez is planning to study journalism in college. She says that rowing will give her application a boost.

Read Juliet Macur’s article in NYT here.

Who knows, maybe one or two of the high schoolers training in Row New York will represent the USA at the World Championships or the Olympic Games one day? Fingers crossed.

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