Thrive: Testing the Waters by Rowing on Pittsburgh's Rivers

The technical aspect of rowing is fascinating. Synchronization is paramount and the racing shell is heavier than it looks.

photo by john altdorfer


Square your blade! Way enough! Fall out!

There are eight of us, a Beginner Masters team of rowers hailing from the Three Rivers Rowing Association, seated in a sleek, 60-foot-long, gleaming white double scull christened Take It to the Sky. I’ve been placed in Seat 3 in the bow; it’s considered the “powerhouse” section, but I have no idea what language people are speaking.

Starboard strong, port easy!   

“There is no ‘I’ in crew,” says my coach, Anne Hockenberry. “Everyone has a purpose, whether it’s strength, speed or technical competence.”

This became clear when we lugged our deceivingly lightweight-looking shell from the boathouse to the river. 

“Yeah,” huffs one of my crewmates as we follow precise instruction to hoist it up. “It’s heavy.”

It’s a lesson in maneuverability getting it into the water. Once we do, we’re under the direction of our coxswain, Beth, who sits in the stern and guides us out of the channel flanking Washington’s Landing and into the Allegheny River. It’s Beth’s job to make sure we are setting a good pace, balanced and paying attention.  

Power 10!

My job is to listen for my cue, “3,” rely on the kindness of strangers to translate the lingo, and never, ever, let go of my oar. In addition to being a faux pas, losing one throws the entire boat off-balance.  

Equally bad: falling into the water. If I do, Anne must complete a mountain of paperwork after she fishes me out.

We begin to row. Coxswain Beth tells us when to feather our blades, when to square them. Which seats should rest, which should stroke. We pass under the 40th Street Bridge. A dead catfish floats by.  

The technical aspect of rowing is fascinating. Synchronization is paramount. One mistimed stroke makes a noticeable difference in our balance, speed and direction. When I fail to release the blade quickly enough from the water, I essentially put the brakes on. Catching a crab, they call it.

Finally in sync, everything becomes fluid; we’re soaring! “How fast were we going?” I ask.

“Not very fast,” Anne says with a smile.

When we head back, crossing under the 31st Street Bridge, the setting sun leaves watercolor strokes across the city skyline.    

“Anyone can do this at any point in life,” Anne says. “We have a 78-year-old who joined a class.”

Verdict: Now’s the perfect time to join. The Winter Rowing League trains inside during the off-season so that you’re ready for the water come spring.  

Three Rivers Rowing, 412/821-1710, Fitness and competitive teams are available for men, women and youth.

Eat This Month

​Chia Seeds
These small but powerful seeds are high in protein, fiber and omega-3s, making them a great addition to any meal, says registered dietitian Allison Wade of Case Specific Nutrition. Enjoy in a variety of ways, whether raw or in baked dishes. Wade suggests adding them to yogurt, pudding, smoothies, breading for fish or chicken, or to replace an egg when baking. There is no USDA recommended daily serving; most packages suggest a serving size of 2 tablespoons.


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