Above: Kym Reynolds preparing to go for a training row with Recovery on Water.
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BY LUKE REYNOLDS
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY ROW FOR THE CURE
When Kym Reynolds first learned of her diagnosis, it wasn’t helplessness or sadness that she felt.
It was anger.
That anger turned out to be a blessing in disguise, leading Reynolds ultimately to rowing.
“A therapist wanted me to go to anger management and release all of my feelings,” Reynolds said. “She had a friend who belonged to R.O.W. (Recovery on Water) and she wanted me to get with a group of women and talk about how I feel. I was kind of, like ‘Yeah, OK, whatever.’ So I took the card and didn’t really do anything with it.”
Over time, that apathy turned into curiosity.
“A couple of weeks later, I was up at about 4 o’clock in the morning–I wasn’t really sleeping well during the whole treatment process–and I found the card and I sent an email to Jenn Gibbons, and she emailed me back about 15 minutes later, and I thought, ‘What fool is up at 4 a.m. besides me?’ Anyway, she [Gibbons] emails me back and invites me to come. So a day or two later, I went to practice. It [erging] was one of the hardest things on Earth,” Reynolds said.
Despite the challenge, the welcoming and supportive spirit of the women of the R.O.W. community drew Reynolds back for another session.
“The next day, my car was taking me back. My whole intention was to go home after work, but I had a bag in my car, and it was like my car said, ‘We like this, so we are going back.’ After that, I started going back. They worked with me, encouraged me to be there, and it was a rough first year because rowing is a very intense all-body sport, but I stuck with it.”
Stories like Reynolds’ are plentiful in the rowing community and the reason a fundraiser spearheaded by the nonprofit Row for the Cure took place in October, with the goal of increasing breast-cancer awareness and raising money for local Susan B. Komen Foundation affiliates.
The fundraiser included a social-media campaign encouraging club members to dress in pink and tag their photos with #PinktheBoathouse as a way of connecting clubs across the country.
Row for the Cure normally has events throughout the year, including races, as well as tents and other branding at regattas to advance its cause and support survivors. But this year had to be tweaked because of all the cancellations.
“This was our first year to have a fundraiser,” said Beth Kohl, president of Row for the Cure. “We’ve had to rethink ourselves because we were not able to host events. It’s really brought a lot of people to the surface who are so committed to this cause and have never had a chance to get involved because there were not events in their market.
“One of the things we’ve seen is that more and more survivors get involved in rowing as part of rehabilitation and recovery. R.O.W is a great example of that as well as a group out of Saugatuck who actually participated in our Row for the Cure race in Poughkeepsie. They had never raced and they came, and it was one of the most powerful things I’ve seen. They all came out of Norwalk Hospital, and the hospital was looking for ways for survivors to get involved in exercise. Saugatuck stepped up and said, ‘We will work with you,’ and created an incredible program from there.”
Kohl hopes that this trend of increasing participation from both those who row as a way to enhance rehabilitation and recovery and those who support breast- cancer awareness through Row for the Cure continues. The organization plans to host more fundraisers in the future, she says.
One thing Kohl and Reynolds agree on is the freedom afforded rowers — especially survivors — when they get on the erg or the water and focus on improving themselves and working together with others.
As Reynolds has continued her journey as a rower for R.O.W., she has taken steps beyond just participating in the sport and being a breast-cancer survivor and awareness advocate by becoming an active referee for USRowing. For her, it’s not just about the sport. It’s about supporting others and being a part of such communities as the corps and Recovery on Water.
“My thing, especially for people with cancer, is that your body is going through this awful, rotten thing, and you just have to find your peace. With rowing, it’s just you against you, so it works,” Reynolds said. “For people who have cancer and have started rowing, just remember that you have to take it slow and listen to your coaches. Just put yourself out there, relax, let it go, put your feelings on that erg, and let that erg take you where you need to go. Don’t be afraid.”