Leading Through Change

summarized by David DeWinter
YouTube player


While I do my best to convey a summary here, this panel is worth watching to listen to the stories that the panelists share. I cannot faithfully recreate their intensity with just the words below.


Meghan O’Leary – Two-Time Olympian (2016, 2020), Five-Time National Team Member and Two-Time World Championship Medalist, Co-Founder at Turazo
Justin Boatner – Best Buddies Ambassador, Athletes Without Limits Rowing Team Captain
Ella Hazen – Crew Mom & Athletes Without Limits Booster
Luce Taylor – Junior Coach
Patrick JohnsonAthletes Without Limits National Rowing Program Director/DCSRC Community Programs Lead Coach

The 3-Sentence Summary

Boathouses have a significant opportunity to be a place where every rower and coach can feel accepted and loved by their community. However, it takes strong, intentional leaders to create that kind of environment. Take ownership of the language you use and don’t use, lead your teams in conversations about acceptance, and help your rowers feel heard.



1:04 When you talk to people you don’t know in your boathouse or in your community, you’ll learn we all want the same thing–to be heard.

1:58 Introductions

  • Patrick Johnson: Rower/coach with DC Strokes Rowing Club, National Director for Athletes Without Limits, 20-year disabled veteran and gay military service member, here to share how rowing was a place of solace when it wasn’t okay to be gay in the military
  • Meghan O’Leary: National team member, 2-time Olympian, served on the USRowing Board of Directors
  • Justin Boatner: Rowing for 10 years. Started as a shy kid, and then worked with many coaches to get better and better. Competed and won at Stotesbury Cup and HOCR. Came out as gay at 19; very difficult because of stereotypes around autistic people and having relationships.
  • Ella Hazen: Justin’s mom! Big supporter at AWL–both athletes and other booster parents.
  • Luce Taylor (they/them): Former junior coach and coxswain. Rowing changed their life in high school, and when they returned as a coach after college, it was the one place where they felt accepted.

Patrick’s Story

12:40 We all want to be loved and we all want to find ways to share love. For many of us, we found that love in rowing. Listen to the rest of Patrick’s story.

Meghan’s Story

20:04 Meghan struggled coming out as a young adult. She decided to come out publicly around the timeframe of the Rio Olympics to create a safer place for other athletes.

You don’t have to be LGBTQ to create an opening for people to be themselves. That’s the power of conversation, the power of visibility, and the power of making it okay for others to be authentic.

Luce’s Story

23:31 Luce was never comfortable coming out in high school due to a lot of queer-phobia around them. They struggled a lot with mental health as a teenager, and the only thing that kept them going was rowing. Listen to the rest of Luce’s story.


29:47 How can you start conversations to learn more about others around you? Watch Tara Morgan’s Intersection of Inclusion talk from the 2020 USRowing Convention for ideas. Watch it with someone to start the conversation.

31:30 Flying the gay flag at the boathouse can make the boathouse feel like a safe place for gay people. Straight people don’t worry about being welcome somewhere, but for some gay people, those signs of acceptance are very meaningful.

34:45 If you hear discriminatory language at your boathouse (e.g. “that’s so gay,” “you row like a girl”), then it’s on you to correct and hold your rowers and coaches accountable. Take the power away from those words being used negatively.

Justin’s Story

37:19 Ella reached out to Patrick for help because she didn’t know how best to support her son; Patrick said to treat him the same way you’d treat his siblings. Same rules.

She loves that Justin can express who he is at “full force” and not have to hide.

38:57 Listen to the rest of Justin’s story.

What You Can Do

42:31 Patrick: there is likely someone like Justin at every boathouse that you can make that kind of impact on. Your choices make an impact!

45:54 When you talk about these topics with your team, it dispels the taboo around them.

47:14 Language matters if you want to be inclusive. Beyond day-to-day communication, check your policies, services, and even the technology you use. Kids are sponges and absorb what’s around them.

51:31 How can rowing be more inclusive toward non-binary rowers, when there are fixed gender categories at regattas?

Mixed/open events. Keep doing it until it’s normalized.

“If you build it, they will come.” You have to view it as an investment, not an expense. It’s the same as how we worked with the para-rowing community 10 years ago.

54:23 Call to action: start conversations, because that’s the first step to making people feel heard.

Don’t take for granted what influence you have. You can help people feel loved and safe in our sport.

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