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Rowing Away Winter Blues

The Crystal Lake Rowing Club offers a simple concept for a wonderful, rejuvenating experience.

Have you been searching for the perfect remedy to recover from winter?

Try a simple concept for a wonderful, rejuvenating experience: rowing. Specifically, rowing on Crystal Lake with the Crystal Lake Rowing Club.

Join the club and feel the early morning breezes. Breathe in the fresh, morning air. Enjoy the soothing sunrise over the lake. Watch the fog lift. Go to the boathouse and prep your boat. Start rowing. Repeat every weekend when it’s not storming.

Rowing enthusiast Walt Gary organized the Crystal Lake Rowing Club in 2004. He approached the Crystal Lake Park District with the idea of starting the ambitious rowing club that could encourage more people onto the water. A USRowing affiliate, the Crystal Lake Rowing Club is a non-profit organization that supports members with training, encouragement and opportunities to compete. Their boathouse is located at Kamijima Park in Crystal Lake, and the indoor rowing machines, called ergometers, and workout facility are at the Dole Mansion.

Why Row?

Rowing is an activity that you can enjoy at your leisure or participate in at a competitive level. Whether you want to take it on as a serious sport or as a time for reflection, rowing can fulfill anyone’s needs.

Don’t worry that you’ve never rowed before. There are plenty of rowers to help you find your way. In the summer, the Crystal Lake Park District offers learn-to-row classes. From then on, you can join the fun with the rest of the rowers.

For those of you with rowing experience, it’s easy to get back into the swing. With the use of an online calendar, rowers can sign up for a “single” and row by themselves or inquire whether others would like to row at the same time and fill a two-, four- or eight-person shell.

Team Spirit

Rowing is the ultimate team sport. There is no one person who can carry the crew. Everyone has to pull their weight—literally—and everyone has to work together. If someone tries to be outstanding, it’s going to throw everybody off. Yet for those with a competitive spirit, rowing is an exhilarating sport to try. What looks so fluid from a distance actually requires strength, endurance and fortitude. There are two different types of rowing: sweep and sculling. Sweep rowing is when each rower controls one oar with both hands and is guided by the person at the head of the boat called the coxswain. Conversely, sculling requires two oars, one in each hand.

For those who want to cross-train, there is no better sport in the world. Rowers use almost all of their muscles to create a powerful, sustained, low-impact workout. More experienced rowers can obtain balance within the boat, and as rowers become stronger and more precise, they can increase speed and fluidity across the water. It’s truly graceful.

The Crystal Lake Rowing Club’s junior program is one of only six programs in the Chicago area for high school-aged athletes. If you are athletically inclined and you like sports, rowing is worth checking out. I’ll let you in on a little-known fact: there are about 2,000 collegiate scholarships a year available for women’s rowing, and there usually aren’t 2,000 females with the skills to go after them.

Many colleges end up recruiting from high school track and basketball teams. If you have some experience, the potential could be better for college funding. You never know, even a little rowing experience may go a long way.

The Zen of Rowing

Now, let’s take teamwork to a different level. When all the rowers in a boat are in the flow and naturally reacting without thinking, a synergism occurs. When you’re rowing and achieving “swing,” you can get a smooth rhythm going. All the rowers are “swinging” at the same time with their backs and their arms. This repetitive motion is a meditative and contemplative practice. It’s like tai chi on the water.

Rower Kevin Prodoehl can attest to this spiritual awakening through rowing. “The reason I row is for the Zen-like qualities on the water during the early morning,” he says.

Row Your Own Way

Once you obtain rowing skills, you can take them on the road. When you travel, look into whether there are any rowing clubs near your destination. Technique is standard throughout the sport, and oftentimes, the larger boats have seats available.

From spring through fall there are regattas with dozens of races and hundreds of rowers, from juniors to masters. These celebrations are great fun to watch and even more fun to participate in. On May 3 the Greater Chicago Junior Rowing Championships will take place on Crystal Lake. If that inspires you to try it for yourself, participate in National Learn to Row Day on June 8.

Rowing is a sport with an intensity level you can keep up with for the rest of your life. Combining dexterity, balance and strength, rowing will certainly keep you fit and give you a chance to see more sunrises.

When you contact the Crystal Lake Rowing Club, there will be many friendly people who will be happy to recover from the winter blues with you. For more information visit

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