Row. Row. Row.

Teamwork builds healthy camaraderie

Posted: Sunday, July 08, 2007


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  MaryAnn Dyke, third from left, acknowledges Zopf-Schoessler's instructions during a critique on the lake. From left are Maya Chay, Ali Wykis and Heidi Chay, right. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Ali Wykis and MaryAnn Dyke help carry a quad to the water at the start of a recent practice.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Ask any member of the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association why they row and long lists of reasons abound. Common to everyone's list, though, is camaraderie.

Some are in it for the exercise, thought by many to be amon g the top three best forms of aerobic training right up there with swimming and distance running.

Others enjoy the competitive nature of the sport, pitting teams of rowers in boats side-by-side on flat-water lakes, or racing against the clock as a coach urges them on from a motorized launch nearby.

Then there's the simple tranquility of being out on a calm lake in the early morning hours, before the rush of day moves in.


Heidi Chay pulls oars from a rack at the start of a practice.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"At 6 a.m., all you hear is the sound of loons and the clack of the oars on the water," said Vickie Tinker, a member of the Midnight Sun Rowers, who meet regularly on weekday mornings and evenings on Mackey Lake in Soldotna.

"I really like the camaraderie and the teamwork," Tinker said.

"I'm not really a competitive person, but I am the type of person who will not let her team down," she said.

The teamwork makes her work harder.


Members of the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association discuss their seating positions for a practice on Mackey Lake last week.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

It's the combination of good exercise, a love of boats and the camaraderie that motivate association president Nancy Anderson to row.

"Rowing is one of the better cardiovascular exercises," Anderson said. "You use all the muscle groups and there is no impact."

Anderson rows at least five times a week and now that her 13-year-old daughter is rowing, she has motivated Anderson to row even more.

"Last year she coxed for us, and when she turns 14, she'll be with the juniors," she said.

As with many sports, rowing comes with its own language, laced with jargon such as the term "coxed" used by Anderson.

The word refers to the coxswain at the stern of the team boat — actually the only forward facing individual on the boat — whose primary job is steering, but also calls out information about location on the course and position relative to other crews in the race.

The fact that all the rowers face backward prompts a humorous chord in Anderson.

"It's kind of unusual ... you never see the face of your teammates," she said with a smile.

The sport has two distinct types of rowing: sweep rowing and sculling.


MaryAnn Dyke, third from left, acknowledges Zopf-Schoessler's instructions during a critique on the lake. From left are Maya Chay, Ali Wykis and Heidi Chay, right.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

In sweep rowing, each rower has one oar of about 12 feet in length on one side of the boat.

Sculling is rowing with two oars, one on each side of the boat, with each oar being about 9 feet long.

"Rowing is pretty ridiculously easy to learn," said Anderson. "But it's equally as challenging to master."

She said participants can be any age, either gender and in any kind of physical shape.

"Once you row, you will get in shape," Anderson said.



Terri Zopf-Schoessler coaches other rowers from the club's motor launch. Zopf-Schoessler and other experienced members of the club help newer members learn the sport. The club brings professional coaches to the central peninsula to help everyone advance.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

n competitive rowing, teams are made up of eight, four, two and even one rower. The boat is called a sweep boat or shell.

Sculling boats are quads, doubles and singles and use no coxswain. Instead, the bow person calls out commands.

Anderson said the Midnight Sun rowers own some boats, which they purchased used, and some individual association members own their own boats.

A rowing boat can cost $25,000 for an eight; $15,000 for a quad; $10,000 for a double; and $6,000 for a single.

In the spring, a free introduction to rowing class is offered through the Soldotna Community Schools program, and the rowing association offers a one-day, learn-to-row program that costs $45 for the four-hour class.

Membership in the Midnight Sun Rowing group runs $100 a year for an individual or $150 a year for a family.

The club has 33 members, males and females, ranging in age from 13 to 68.

"You can row until you can't get in a boat anymore," said Yvette Tappana, association treasurer.

Though the group is "strongly female," Tappana said they now have enough male members to put together a quad team.

Her interest in rowing began about five years ago when she saw a sweep boat on Kenai Lake when coming through Cooper Landing. She joined Midnight Sun three years ago.

"It's a very good overall workout, and I enjoy the peace," Tappana said.

She said she also likes working together as a group to achieve something.

"Once you feel that rhythm ... you'll hit that stroke ... you feel the power," she said.

Anderson likens the rhythm to "a kinetic meditation."

"It pushes me past every limit I set for myself," she said, adding it gives her a great sense of accomplishment.

Tinker, who also enjoys recreational cross-country skiing and mountain biking, said she is not a good swimmer, so she works hard "to keep the boat upright."

She said the club is really safety conscious, not allowing novices to go out without the escort of a launch.

Though few rowers wear life vests while rowing, a sufficient number of vests is kept on the accompanying launch.

One of the safety measures Tinker has learned through the club is how to turn the boat right side up if it ever should capsize.

Anderson said rowers prefer going out in calm water.

"Typically we don't like going out in white caps, but we have gotten caught," she said.

In Southcentral Alaska, the Midnight Sun Rowing Association competes in regattas against the Kenai Crewsers, based in Seward, and the Anchorage Rowing Association, which rows on Sand Lake.

Next month the Midnight Sun rowers head for Wasilla Lake for the Moose Nugget Regatta, a 1,000 meter event. They also plan to participate in a head race hosted by the Kenai Crewsers.

Anderson said a head race, which is longer than a sprint, pits sweep rowing teams against one another over a 5-kilometer course on Kenai Lake.

The Midnight Sun rowers also travel outside Alaska for competition.

In 2005, the association went to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to compete in the World Master Games, and they have competed in the "Head of the Charles" meet in Boston.

Anderson said the Boston race is the most-famed rowing competition in the United States, perhaps because the sport of rowing is most popular at Ivy League schools on the East Coast.

When asked how the central Kenai Peninsula rowers did in the "Head of the Charles," Anderson said, "We were in the upper end of the lower end of the pack."

Tinker said over the years, the Midnight Sun members have become better rowers.

"We're now coming home with medals," Tinker said. "The quality of our rowing has really come up."

In terms of fitness, rowing exercises all major muscle groups: legs, arms, back, abdominals and buttocks, providing aerobic as well as strength conditioning.

Tinker describes rowing as "one of those sports you can do into old age," with little risk of injury.

Summing up the many benefits of the sport, she said, "Rowers live forever."

Phil Hermanek can be reached at

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