Rowing a family celebration
1,000 students face challenge of Mohawk as parents, kids cheer
NISKAYUNA Parents had their eyes on the water and their cameras at the ready at the finish line of the New York State Scholastic Rowing Association Section Two Championship Regatta on Sunday.
More than 1,000 students from 15 Capital Region rowing clubs turned out to participate in the two-day event, which took place on the Mohawk River a short distance downstream from the Rexford Bridge.
The murky Mohawk was like glass at the finish line where a ruddy cliff served as a dramatic backdrop as the racers rowed by.
Music drifted over loudspeakers as families milled about in the shade created by newly unfurled leaves. Spectators stood on the muddy bank shouting encouragement, peering through binoculars or raising cameras in hopes of capturing a glimpse of their young competitors.
“It’s a very unusual sport to watch because it’s like, whoosh, they’re gone. It’s not like you can follow the entire game or the whole event. You get a snapshot of it, but it’s exciting. It’s very addictive,” said Kelly Shaginaw of Burnt Hills, whose 16-year-old daughter Erin was rowing in the regatta.
The trick to spotting your child is all about colors, said David Davenport, a board member of Friends of Niskayuna Rowing, which hosts the event. “You can usually tell by the color of the boat and the oars — everybody’s got different oars,” he explained.
Bill Gohl of Ballston Lake rushed to the riverbank with his camera in hopes of getting a shot of one of his children crossing the finish line. His son, Brandon, surveyed the water from his side. “I’m not sure if it’s one of them or not. My son seems to think it is,” Gohl said, peering through his viewfinder at three boats gliding gracefully on the water, each propelled by eight rowers.
Gohl had two sons and a daughter rowing in the event. Brandon, a fifth-grader, said he’ll row too when he’s old enough.
The long, skinny boats and their teams took to the water at Aqueduct Park just upstream from the Rexford Bridge, then traveled downstream to the starting line, and raced back toward the park. Students balanced the 60-foot-long crafts on their shoulders as they transported them from trailers to spots on the park’s lawn, where they waited for the call to take to the water. The boats looked considerably less graceful when propelled over solid ground.
“Watch your back, buddy!” Davenport shouted as the stern of a white boat came dangerously close to the head of an unsuspecting spectator who was walking down the dirt road in the park.
Nick Meehan, 15, a rower with the Saratoga Rowing Association, was standing near his team’s boat, which was resting safely on the lawn. He said he enjoys being out on the water with his team. His sister, Grace, 13, was serving as coxswain — a steerer — in a competing boat.
When asked if her team was going to beat her brother’s, Grace replied enthusiastically: “I don’t know, but we’re going to try!”
A short way down the dirt road in Aqueduct Park, rower Lily Whiteman, 15, of the Emma Willard Crew team, was bandaging her left hand carefully in gauze.
“I got a blister on Thursday, my first real blister that popped, so I’m trying to protect it,” she explained, noting that she’s a novice on the team.
“I’m really liking it too,” she said. “I didn’t think I would. I’d done swimming before, and swimming, you can’t really breathe, so I like breathing now,” she said with a laugh. She also enjoys the view while rowing, she said.
“You get to be out on the water and see the trees and the water go by and it’s really nice, even if it’s work,” she said.
Parent volunteers were everywhere — 200 in total — directing parking, monitoring boat traffic, selling T-shirts and staffing elaborately stocked food tents in Aqueduct Park.
“Would you like some breakfast?” asked Laurel Remus, who was helping to run the food tent for Shenendehowa’s crew team. In steaming pans kept warm by Sterno flame were scrambled eggs, French toast with homemade berry dressing, and home fries. Alongside were bagels, banana bread, hardboiled eggs and fruit. And that was just breakfast. At lunchtime, steak and chicken fajitas were on the menu, along with vegetarian chili, sausage and peppers and quesadillas.
Remus and a team of volunteers worked tirelessly to put on the spread. The mother of a freshman rower, she said she doesn’t mind dedicating so much time to the event.
“The one thing that I love most about the sport is that with our team, and I think a lot of the other teams too, they’re scholar athletes. Almost all of our kids are Honor Society, really great in school. … They’re high-achieving, dedicated kids. That’s one of the reasons, quite frankly, I’m willing to put in half my life for crew,” she said with a laugh.
A few tents down, Theodora D’Amico was tending the food tent for the Shaker crew team. Keeping warm under foil covers were pans of s’mores pancakes, macaroni and cheese, sausage and peppers and meatballs.
D’Amico said the bountiful buffet wasn’t just to feed the hungry rowers, but also a great way to encourage families to mingle and get to know each other.
The sport is very time-consuming for her, and even more so for her daughter, Athena, 15, who has been rowing for three years.
“It’s a whole life event for a couple months in the fall and in the spring, so no parties, no sleepovers, no nothing,” she said. “They’re up at the crack of dawn a lot of times, at the river at 5, 6, 7 in the morning.”