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posted: 7/19/2017 1:03 PM

Learn to row at St. Charles event

Experienced rowers will teach the sport to newcomers at St. Charles park

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  • Fox River Rowing Association members Emilie Williamson, Courtney McCarron, Kate Notarangelo and Elizabeth Kluzak participate in the Junior Girls 4x rowing event.

    Fox River Rowing Association members Emilie Williamson, Courtney McCarron, Kate Notarangelo and Elizabeth Kluzak participate in the Junior Girls 4x rowing event.
    COURTESY OF DANA SCARLATOS

  • Members of the Fox River Rowing Association will introduce prospective rowers to the sport on Saturday at Ferson Creek Park in St. Charles. From left are Gavin Richetti, Andrew Song and Sam Belmonte.

    Members of the Fox River Rowing Association will introduce prospective rowers to the sport on Saturday at Ferson Creek Park in St. Charles. From left are Gavin Richetti, Andrew Song and Sam Belmonte.
    COURTESY OF DANA SCARLATOS

  • Fox River Rowing Assocation members Donna McNichols and Daniel Rey compete in the Mixed Masters 2x rowing event. This Saturday at Ferson Creek Park in St. Charles, members of the association will introduce newcomers to the sport.

    Fox River Rowing Assocation members Donna McNichols and Daniel Rey compete in the Mixed Masters 2x rowing event. This Saturday at Ferson Creek Park in St. Charles, members of the association will introduce newcomers to the sport.
    COURTESY OF DANA SCARLATOS

 
By Mike Miazga
Daily Herald correspondent

Christina Wiegner is a native of Lincoln, Nebraska.

"I did not grow up around water," she says with a laugh.

Now a Fox Valley resident, Wiegner says water has changed her life.

After sustaining an injury in a water-skiing accident that curtailed her ability to play tennis recreationally, Wiegner took up rowing through the former Row America chapter that now is the successful Fox River Rowing Association, which operates out of Ferson Creek Park in St. Charles on Route 31, north of Main Street (Route 64).

"A girlfriend told me about rowing," she says. "It's fabulous. It's changed my adult life. For me, it was a completely new experience and it was something I knew nothing about. It was an incredible opportunity for me. It has allowed me to meet a whole new group of friends. It's a great workout. You get out there at 6 a.m., and there is nothing better. It's calm and quiet and the water is flat. Steam is rising off the water sometimes. It's just peaceful. It's a great way to start the day."

Now Wiegner and the FRRA want others to experience the same feeling. The club is offering a free "Learn How to Row" event from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday, July 22, at Ferson Creek Park. The event is open to individuals 12 years of age and older.

"It's exactly what it sounds like," Wiegner says. "No experience is required. I went to one of these. That's how I got started. We'll have college students and master's rowers there to show people how to row. The event will be a lot of fun. Rowing is not easy, but it's a lot of fun. A lot of people have joined because of these 'Learn to Row' sessions."

The not-for-profit FRRA also offers "Learn to Row" classes. A high school class was slated to start this month, and a master's level class will get going in August.

The FRRA club, which competes in a variety of races locally and nationally, has about 15 kids in it ranging from middle school to high school age, and another 18-20 in the adult master's classification.

The younger children typically practice before and after school. Wiegner notes the club draws rowers from a host of area locales, including Geneva, Batavia, Naperville and Wheaton.

The club typically begins its competitive outdoor training season in March and is off the water by October. But the training doesn't stop when the boats come off the river. FRRA shares an indoor training facility with a local travel baseball organization in a building on 4th Street in St. Charles.

"Inside, we work with rowing machines and train to build up to spring," Wiegner says.

Wiegner notes the club typically races in three to four events in the spring and competes in the larger head races (5K in length) in September, October and November. The smaller-distance races are referred to as sprints (between 1K and 2K).

In the past, FRRA has competed in events in Ohio and Michigan, as well as the Head of the Hooch event in Tennessee and the famed Head of the Charles race in Boston.

Last year, FRRA hosted its second annual Head of the Fox Regatta that featured head races in the youth and master's categories in five different boat-capacity categories.

"The sport of rowing is big on the East Coast and West Coast," she says. "If you watch it on TV, it's poetry in motion. It's harmonious."

Wiegner points out opportunities do exist for young rowers to eventually advance to the level of earning a rowing athletic scholarship for college.

"We've had a few kids who have graduated and gone onto college with rowing scholarships," she says. "It's not a newer sport, but it's not a well-known sport like football or basketball or baseball. There are incredible scholarship opportunities out there."

Wiegner lauds the work of FRRA director and coach Libby Scarlatos, who rowed at Michigan State and later competed on the U.S. senior national team, for her work in advancing the organization.

"Libby has done a tremendous job of pulling everything together and making the switch from Row America to establishing the Fox River Rowing Association," Wiegner said.

Wiegner adds the group is fortunate to have a venue such as Ferson Creek Park.

"The Fox River is one of the best venues for rowing," she says. "You can do a 5K head race on the Fox. The St. Charles Park District has been incredibly supportive of us. They had the funding for it and did some renovations to the dock so we can launch."

Wiegner is hopeful the club will continue to grow in numbers as people find out firsthand the benefits both physically and socially that the sport has to offer.

"I'm so passionate about rowing," she says. "If someone has the opportunity to come out and try this, they will love it. We want to reach out to those who may not be aware of rowing and hopefully they will become interested."

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