Experienced rower, Mary King, stands by to offer tips as Debbie Tracy learns how to coordinate her legs, arms and body to execute the perfect stroke.
Photo by Patric Kohl
Terri Zopf-Schoessler is a poster child for a growing addiction on the Kenai Peninsula. When she talks about her highly addictive habit, she lifts her pant leg to reveal a series of telltale red marks, or “slide bites” that have scared her calves.
But Zopf-Schoessler and addicts like her display little to no concern over their symptoms, which include blistering and callousing of the hands.
“Rowers are proud of their scars,” she said. “By the end of the summer you will brag about your callouses.”
The Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association, a club of competitive and recreational rowers from the central peninsula to Homer, met in Soldotna this week to spread their addiction and recruit more members.
More than 20 people appeared at the presentation to learn about rowing from club members and try a couple of strokes on rowing machines.
Once on the rowing machine it doesn’t take long to separate experienced rowers from novices.
Experienced rowers seamlessly transfer the energy behind their stroke from their legs to their body and finish with their arms.
Inexperienced rowers, however, bunch their arms up and extend their legs in one abrupt motion like a kangaroo with its legs glued to the wall.
Club member Margie McCord told novices at the presentation not to be discouraged over their clumsy strokes and offered tips on how to tone their bodies in preparation for a summer of rowing.
“Everybody’s in the same boat to begin with,” she said.
Once a rower has learned to coordinate their arms, legs and body they are on their way to executing the smooth, synchronized strokes that make a team of rowers glide over the water like a giant insect skating over the surface of a quite pond.
“If it’s done right it looks effortless,” said club member Donna Rea.
But don’t be fooled rowers get an intense workout as they move swiftly over the water.
After swimming and marathon running, rowing is the most effective fitness activity, said Vickie Tinker, the club’s president.
And rowers come in third among athletes with the biggest hearts, following Tour de France cyclists and marathon runners, she said.
“Rowing is a full-body sport,” she said.
And unlike running, rowing provides great exercise without the joint problems, making it easy for just about anyone to become a rower.
“Most of it is leg power, but it doesn’t torque your knees at weird angles,” Tinker said. “People that have messed up knees can row because it’s a pretty straight-on motion.”
But rowing is about more than just a healthy workout.
For Debbie Tracy, an outdoors enthusiast who attended the presentation, said she wants to learn more about rowing because she enjoys kayaking and is interested in participating in a similar sport with the added benefit of close camaraderie.
In addition to developing strong bonds with teammates and muscles, rowers also spend many hours enjoying Alaska’s great outdoors.
“There’s something magical about getting on the water, when the sun is rising, the fog is lifting and the loons are calling,” Tinker said.
Although club members have traveled as far as Chicago, Seattle and cities in Canada to row competitively, they say few waterways match Alaska’s natural beauty.
“I’ve never rowed anyplace as beautiful as where we row every day,” Tinker said.
And Alaska rowers are not the only rowers awed by Alaska waters.
Independent Rowing News, a rowing magazine, has ranked Kenai Lake among the top 10 places to row, Tinker said.
But it may also be one of the most dangerous.
The survival rate for the unfortunate rower who falls into the lake is six to eight minutes, Zopf-Schoessler said in a demonstration of safety equipment and proper clothing for rowing in Alaska.
But Alaska rowers are not easily discouraged by blood or danger, as evidenced by practice sessions that cut through white-capped waters in the fall and legs sometimes bloodied by “slide bites” when muscular calves rub against the metal runners holding rowers’ seats.
To register for the club’s rowing class or for more information on joining the club, call 262-6768 or 262-1576. Classes begin in June.
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