BY LUKE REYNOLDS
Every year, the Oklahoma City RIVERSPORT Youth Rowing League hosts its fall championships, with hundreds of students from local schools descending upon the Boathouse District for a 500-meter race under the lights of the world’s only illuminated rowing venue.
This fall was only slightly different, making the program and its season-ending race a positive outlier among several events and programs that were canceled or axed.
“This season started in mid-September,” said Gena Terrell, the league’s coordinator. “Normally, we would start the second week of August, but schools were still trying to figure out what they were going to do, which made us think we really weren’t going to have a season at all. And then, as we got into it, we were, like, ‘These kids still need a place to go, and we need to keep them engaged in order to bring them back for future seasons.’
“So we decided we could have a season on a small scale and we reached out to the schools to see if they were willing to participate, and fortunately they were on board.”
With a go-ahead from a few local schools, the league’s coaches and administrators had to figure a way to make training safe while also having a race at the end of the season, given that purchasing a new fleet of singles would be impossible.
“We all started brainstorming, and Mike Knopp [RIVERSPORT executive director] came up with the idea of getting athletes on the water by utilizing OarBoards,” Terrell said.
The OarBoard was an elegant solution to the problem of getting athletes on the water while maintaining social distance, and also not forcing the program to buy a whole fleet of singles.
“From a rower’s standpoint, we were a little skeptical at first just because we didn’t know if it would be possible to get the kids on the water or how durable they were. We had to adapt our coaching methods because it’s a sliding rigger instead of a sliding seat. But once Mike said that this is how we get the kids on the water, we were, like, ‘OK, we’ll give it a try.’”
The OarBoard, which is a rowing mechanism that rests on top of a standup paddleboard, allowed the athletes to get on the water safely and learn to scull, which enabled them to race at the end of the season.
“It actually worked out really well,” Terrell said. “The kids were a little unsure at first, but once we got them out there and actually on the water, they just took to it and were off. I think it allowed them the freedom to rely on themselves, as opposed to their teammates in the eight.”
The season-ending race took place in October, with more than 10 heats of 500-meter OarBoard races.
“The event went extremely well, considering everything,” Terrell said. “The racing itself was incredible. I was surprised at how many breakout athletes we had that day. A lot of things clicked for the athletes on race day, so that was really great.”
Terrell believes this Covid-forced adaptation will benefit the program in the long run and expects the league will use the new rowing mechanism well into the future.