The Kenai Crewsers, a nonprofit, recreational rowing club on the Kenai Peninsula, have finally found the full-time coach they have been looking for. Former University of Kansas rower Sarah Canfield will take over the reigns of the organization, now in its sixth season.
Canfield replaces last summer's coach, Jaime Stack, a Florida native whose time was split between Kenai and Anchorage. Such also was the case with the Crewsers' first coach, Marietta "Ed" Hall, originator of the club.
"This is the first time we have had the money and the interest to hire a full-time coach," said club member Lori Langstrom. "While it is only a part-time job for Sarah, it gives us the full-time attention we have been looking for in the summer. We are very happy with our choice of Sarah."
Whether or not Canfield's tenure will be long-term is unknown, but her hiring coincides with the surging popularity of the Crewsers.
Currently, the club has 40 members, ranging anywhere from the central peninsula to Seward. This represents the broadest and largest membership in the history of the Crewsers. Langstrom also mentioned a great group of 24 novices who participated in the Crewsers' 10-session "Learn to Row" program.
Equipment is also are on the rise for the group. The Crewsers now own three four-person boats and three eight-person boats, all with sliding seats. When the group started six years ago, it owned just one boat. The rowing is done in sweep style, which means each rower is responsible for one oar. This differs from skulling, in which an oar is placed in each hand of a single rower.
This summer is the first time the Crewsers have gained access to a single skull boat, so they will begin experimenting with the alternative style.
The Crewsers' practices are split between their homes at the West Mackey Lake and the Kenai Lake, and take place throughout the week either early in the morning or during the evening.
They participate in two different types of regattas: sprints, which are 1,000-meter races, and long distance. The main competition is Anchorage, while a new group from Fairbanks also may participate.
It will be Canfield's responsibility to make sure the Crewsers are ready for competition, and her experience in the sport suggests that her group will be prepared.
Canfield, 25, is from Kansas City, Mo. Following her rowing career at the University of Kansas, Canfield completed work for her master's degree in social welfare before moving on to coaching. She spent three summers coaching a club in Kansas City, and one summer working with a junior club in Portland, Ore.
So how did a woman from Kansas City end up becoming coach of the Crewsers?
"I came up here for the travel side of it, just looking for a summer adventure with camping and hiking, and I stumbled across an ad for this job and decided it would be a good fit for me," Canfield said.
While her long-term dream is to be a full-time coach of a college rowing team, Canfield's new post in Kenai is both challenging and exciting.
"We have a real enthusiastic group and they constantly keep me motivated," said the new coach. "It is difficult to work out everyone's conflicting schedules, but we have a core group that is really dedicated, and puts in extra time to help out before and after practices."
A majority of the Crewsers members are called masters, meaning they are over the age of 27. Members include mothers who are looking to get out of the house and try something new to retired folks who are looking for a leisure activity.
There also are several high-schoolers in the club. Canfield calls the group "a good mix between people who are in it for the competition and who are in it for fun."
On the competition side, the Crewsers are looking forward to getting involved in some regattas. Regattas for the group generally start in late August and run through the fall.
In addition to preparing her group for competitions, Canfield's responsibilities include a lot of basic work for those members who are experiencing rowing for the first time.
"A lot of the stuff I do with them revolves around technique and training," Canfield said. "Most of the women have no college experience, and were self-taught. This is their first exposure to sport-specific training."
Canfield noted that most of the club members are in good shape, but also was quick to point out that Kenai's season is much different than a college season. The Crewsers are only competing for the summer, whereas in college an athlete is tested year-round.
But no matter what the motivation for each Crewser, universal is their love for rowing, a dedication that Canfield feels is unique when compared to other sports.
"In rowing, you do not get the fame or fortune that is a product of success in other sports," she said. "We do it because we enjoy doing it. It is a sport that is both physically and mentally challenging."
The program's expansion might not stop with numbers of participants and equipment. Canfield mentioned that some members are thinking about training for the World Masters, a competition that takes place in Australia in October.
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