Wisconsin Rowing Club Seeks To Improve Diversity In The Sport

MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) – Ivy Daum Fowle has always been in love with water, which she sees as a “different world.” This is why you could have seen her swimming in Lake Mendota this past April, despite the still cool temperatures.

So when 12-year-old Ivy saw the UW-Madison women’s rowing team glide across the water, she knew she wanted to be one of those women.

“I want to be a very good rower, like a professional,” she said. “And I think I’m going to have to work very, very hard most of the time.”

But before she could think of titles and medals, Ivy had to learn to row – something her mother, Sara Daum, knew was an expensive endeavor. That’s when a nonprofit dedicated to removing barriers to rowing for historically underrepresented groups stepped in, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

“Our sport is so separate,” said Will Bott, executive director and founder of STEM to Stern, which combines science, technology, engineering and math education, as well as the practice of rowing. . “It’s one of those sports that you showcase at regattas and, for the most part, the kids come from upper middle class neighborhoods and the white suburbs.”

Last summer, the Mendota Rowing Club launched the first chapter of the STEM to Stern program, which originally started as an outreach arm of the Milwaukee Rowing Club in 2018 and became its own nonprofit this year. .

The program works to increase accessibility to rowing by providing free training, equipment and transportation through donations and partnerships. In addition to rowing lessons, the program incorporates an educational component to encourage greater diversity in STEM career fields and to help students who are late for school.

With hands-on activities involving topics such as robotics, computers, and technology, the academic component is designed to be fun while engaging participants in critical thinking.

“We want to make sure that our children are not only taken care of on the water and with sports programs, but also academically, so we are preparing them for long term success,” Bott said.

This year, the Mendota Rowing Club has scheduled three weeks of STEM training at Stern with five participants per session. Club coaches oversee practice sessions while UW-Madison collegiate rowers act as volunteers, said Melissa Austin, Madison program manager. After the free initial training, participants can move on to college and high school teams and benefit from the exemption of their club fees.

Austin, who said she wanted her “life’s work” to make rowing more inclusive, encouraged the Mendota Rowing Club to embrace the program last summer as part of their “moral responsibility.”

“I know that (rowing) changes people’s lives, and I know it has changed my life and that of my son, so I wanted this sport to be accessible to anyone who wants to do it,” he said. she declared.

At the club’s first STEM to Stern session last month, attendees discovered bridges in the morning, then hit the water for afternoon rowing lessons. They struggled with the rain on day one and had to row through thick tufts of seaweed another day.

STEM to Stern was the first opportunity for Anthony Castro, a sophomore entering East High School, to row. Although his back hurt for the first few days, he felt like he had taken the hit at the end of the week. With English as a second language, he said it was more difficult to learn rowing because he understood most of what he was asked to do, but found it harder to respond to others. .

“The way the coaches teach is really helpful,” he said through an interpreter. “They all seem really kind and understanding.”

After the session, Ivy said she was excited to continue exploring the sport.

“I like being on the water because it’s peaceful,” she says.

Her mother said the program did more than help make Ivy’s rowing dream come true; it also made her feel successful and marked milestones for personal growth.

“She wants to feel strong and capable,” Daum said. “And I think that’s a great way.”

The Madison program already has a success story to boast. Bryan Guevara Vega, 16, a new junior at East High School, attended STEM to Stern at the Mendota Rowing Club last year. This summer, he was invited to attend a US Olympic Rowing Development Program camp in Jacksonville, Fla., Where he trained with some of the nation’s top rowers.

After learning to row at Madison, Guevara Vega trained about six times a week during the season with the junior team and took one of the club’s rowers home in the winter to continue training. He then took second place at the Midwest Junior Regional Championships in Cincinnati on a rookie team of four this spring.

Seeing his progress, Austin encouraged Guevara Vega to participate in the US Olympic rowing program. Guevara Vega participated in the three-week program with a scholarship provided by US Rowing, and the Mendota Rowing Club paid for her plane ticket to Florida with STEM to Stern funds.

“A year ago he had never even heard of rowing, and now he’s one of the best athletes in the country,” said Austin. “That’s exactly why we’re here, isn’t it?” He would never have had this opportunity if we hadn’t been a little more intentional.

Guevara Vega said he wouldn’t have tried rowing if it hadn’t been for STEM to Stern. The program provided a solid foundation for his rowing skills, and he said it also allowed him to bond and meet people.

Guevara Vega plans to study college rowing programs in the future, but in the meantime her plan is to return to the Madison Boathouse and volunteer for STEM to Stern to help teach new recruits like d ‘others taught him that.

“I feel accomplished, but I know there is still a lot of work to be done,” he said. “But I think if I keep working hard I can go even further.”

In its first year as a non-profit organization, STEM to Stern launched programs in 12 cities with more than 150 participants across the country. Bott hopes to launch 25 programs by the end of the year.

To keep the sport he loves relevant, Bott said rowing clubs need to attract a larger pool of potential athletes and foster a more inclusive environment. But he said his greatest hope is for STEM to Stern to prepare children for a brighter future as critical thinkers and problem solvers – on and off the water.

“We have to prepare the children to be obviously good teammates, good sportsmen,” he said. “We also have to think about the children outside the boathouse. “

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