Hear It From the Change-Makers

summarized by David DeWinter
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Will Bott – Executive Director of STEM to Stern
Jeff McGinnis – Executive Director, Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sport
Liz Winter – Faculty Member in Child Welfare, University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work
Carol Schoenecker – Head Coach: Women’s Rowing, Robert Morris University
Arshay CooperMotivational speaker
Ricardo Pantaleon – Men’s Lightweight Crew, Columbia University
Jen Fitz RoyManager of Para and Military Programs, CRI
Francine Chew – Board Member, Row NY
Richard Butler – Consultant, Co-Chair DEI Committee
Craig White – Head Rowing Coach, St. Benedict’s Preparatory School

The 3-Sentence Summary

The primary ways we will make rowing a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive sport are to (1) meet people where they are, not expect them to come to us; (2) create partnerships with local organizations and other individuals who are passionate about filling in the gaps that we don’t have expertise in; and (3) pay as much attention to retention as we do to recruitment. We must fight like hell to do so, because the only way this stops happening is if we stop trying.


0:47 Man of the Year award goes to Arshay Cooper

Panel 1 – Inclusion: A Shared Mission with Unique Approaches

3:20 Introductions

  • Arshay Cooper – Man of the Year, Author of A Most Beautiful Thing, Activist
  • Will Bott – Executive Director, STEM to Stern
  • Jeff McGinnis – Executive Director, PA Center for Adaptive Sport

4:23 You are change-makers. What challenge are you looking to solve in rowing to make it more inclusive and how do you or your organization make this happen?

  • Jeff: We try to get people with disabilities more involved in rowing. Inclusion is mixing people with and without disabilities. You have to recruit from the community.
    • We go to rehab centers and veteran hospitals, show videos on rowing, and get them to visit the boathouse.
  • Will: STEM to Stern started as a way to address a lot of the barriers that kids face that keep them out of rowing (transportation, swimming competency). The focus is on access.
    • Success is (1) middle school kids who would’ve never met each other building relationships with each other at the boathouse, (2) retention, and (3) successful transition to high school rowing.
  • Arshay: “Be the change you needed when you were younger.” A Most Beautiful Thing Fund focused on retention and equity–giving teams the opportunity to compete on a level playing field.

16:18 How do we recruit more inclusive coaches?

  • Arshay
    • Lots of athletes of color at the college level. Reach out and build relationships! Would they love to continue a career in the sport?
    • Consider coaches who have coaching experience (strength & conditioning) but just need the rowing part
  • Will: It starts with the pipeline when they’re younger.
  • Jeff: Coaches just need to be willing to learn to work with populations they’re not used to (e.g. people with disabilities).
  • Richard: You have to go create the coaches!

20:37 How does your organization work with other organizations and community-based groups?

  • Arshay: We ask rowing programs we work with to connect with organizations that have very deep community roots to consider how you can complement their vision through the sport of rowing. e.g. Who’s doing swimming really well? Who’s doing academic support or tutoring? It also helps build trust with the community.
  • Jeff: Rehab centers, other boathouses; you just have to constantly pitch. Keep pushing. Then people will know you’re genuine. Status quo is not okay.
  • Will: Biggest challenge to collaboration is people who don’t believe that change is possible or people who lack the passion to change.

28:34 How are you building programming that expands the discussion to include gender, sexuality, and addresses the many female coaches leaving the sport?

  • Jeff: We have a high number of female coaches, but we’re not focused on sexual orientation right now.
  • Will: Focused on kids (whoever)–make their experience enjoyable.

31:14 What are you learning right now?

  • Arshay: How to be a better angel to myself so I can be a better angel to others.
  • Will: How to find new people who are passionate about making change.
  • Jeff: How to give people space to try, make mistakes, and learn.

Panel 2 – Retaining Rowers through Genuine Relationships

33:41 Introductions

  • Ricardo Pantaleon – Former rower at Row New York and Columbia University
  • Jen Fitz Roy – Rower, para and military program manager at CRI
  • Craig White – Coach at Brick City Rowing and St. Benedict’s

35:09 How did you get into rowing and why did you stay? Was there someone who was a changemaker for you?

  • Craig: Great coaches and community made it easy for me to stay. The team solved financial, logistical, and other problems.
  • Jen: I’m a fixed seat para rower, and I started with indoor rowing. Then I encountered lots of challenges getting on the water. I left for a few years and came back and didn’t give up on myself this time. My coaches had patience and eventually, I got the hang of it, and I enjoy it.
    • The erg is a great entry point for rowing to build confidence.
  • Ricardo: I started at Row New York in 8th grade based on a flyer passed out at my sister’s high school. My coach in 8th grade broke down the statistics of being a professional baseball player (my other sport) vs. a professional rower. My teammates were also great friends, who kept me coming back over the next 5 years.

43:47 If you had a magic wand and you could change rowing, what would you change?

  • Jen: As a para-rower of color, I feel pretty different from others at a regatta. I would add more color to the participants and also have all the para lanes filled up!
  • Craig: Unlimited access to water and equipment. Community makes it all possible.
  • Ricardo: Rowing should be mainstream cool – something to give people hope. Example: Justin Williams/Legion of Los Angeles in cycling.

50:51 Can you share one idea from your personal experience on how we get closer to what you just shared?

  • Craig: When I started coaching, it was hard to get kids to see they could turn their academic and athletic potential into opportunity because we didn’t have equipment; those opportunities weren’t tangible. Now we have more, the amount of investment that kids put in increases.
  • Jen: I’m proud of the progress I’ve made from my involvement in rowing. I’m more confident, more willing to take risks, and a better communicator. As the manager of the para and military programs at CRI, I use my experience when I recruit to make others feel special regardless of their aspirations.
  • Ricardo: We have to be bold because sometimes we’re the only people who are going to say something that needs to be said. “I want to see representation before I want to be representative of that sport.”

59:45 What is your aha moment in rowing?

  • Jen: To be genuine and vulnerable.
  • Craig: Fight like hell. No one’s going to open the door for you. The only way this stops happening is when we stop trying. If expanding the sport is your thing, just keep pushing.
  • Ricardo: There are people who do care. Connect with and invest in those people and push for what you stand for.

Panel 3 – Behind the Scenes: Who makes a difference?

1:04:13 Introductions

  • Liz Winter – Former rower at Oxford, faculty at University of Pittsburg
  • Carol Schoenecker – Former rower at Bucknell, coach at Robert Morris
  • Francine Chew – Former rower at Yale and board member at Row New York

1:06:31 What is your purpose in rowing and how do you make a difference?

  • Francine: Representation
    • In recruiting, to show that different types of people have integrated rowing into their lives in meaningful ways
    • In the board room, to show the perspective of the people we serve
  • Carol: Creating equity in rowing
  • Liz: Educate coaches to have a solid grounding in the understanding of trauma and resilience so they can support athletes where they are.
    • Trauma-informed coaching: The understanding that everyone’s resilience is different, so your approach to asking rowers to take risks and grow from stress must be tailored to them.

1:15:23 How do we create lasting change in our sport if we don’t engage with those who may doubt but are still part of our community?

  • Carol: Buy-in in collegiate coaching meetings is a challenge. However, expanding your talent pool will always lead to better results.
  • Liz: The depth of pain athletes brought from their own experiences was a surprise; it made them doubt their own voices in wanting things to be different. How do you bring in high emphasis on resilience, athlete/coach well-being, and high performance?
  • Francine: Doubters are people who doubt that rowing can be diversified. Rowing faculty must extend and specifically keep those doors open. Try to put people who are “different” in groups and clusters so no one feels they represent a whole group on their own.

1:23:05 What can leaders of organizations do to make their programs more diverse, equitable, and inclusive?

  • Liz
    • Formal pathways: Train, mentor, and coach your coaches. More trauma-informed = more inclusive
    • Informal: Keep uplifting people’s voices in a chain of command and don’t punish them for saying things. Ask the questions you’re uncomfortable hearing the answers to.
  • Francine: listening to alumni about their experience in the program. Keep these conversational doors open.
  • Carol: Bringing athletes in to help build programming. It’s a shortcut to building trust, and athletes feel empowered.

1:28:22 What are you learning that the attendees can take back to their programs?

  • Carol: Power of your communities–your boathouses, cities, organizations.
  • Liz: Keep challenging ourselves to find and listen to others with different perspectives.
  • Francine: Find expertise where it exists and leverage that. Rowing is all about working together, even beyond our sport.
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