By Justin A. Rice | Oct. 19, 2012, 11:30 a.m. (ET)
Head of the Charles
Rowers go neck-and-neck during Championship Eight action at the annual Head of the Charles Regatta in Cambridge, Mass., on Oct. 22, 2000

Caroline Lind
Caroline Lind visits the USA House at the Royal College of Art on Aug. 3, 2012 in London, England

After he finished his eligibility last year at the University of Washington, rower Hans Struzyna knew he wanted to pursue his goal of rowing in the Olympic Games — but that isn’t his only goal.

The 23-year-old also wanted to make a difference on social issues that mattered to him, such as clean water and sustainable food, but he didn’t know how to get involved. Then last spring, the founders of a new Seattle-based social enterprise called Luum approached him.

The founders of the new online platform, who are rowers themselves, asked Struzyna to work for Luum. They asked him to assist in getting the word out about Luum’s efforts to help people make a positive impact on the world by helping them find tangible ways to impact issues they care about.

“They said it would be cool to have a guy who is younger in the rowing community to be part of our group,” said Struzyna, who just missed out on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team but is hopeful to make the 2016 team. “Basically it sounded like something I can identify with, because I find people have a difficult time getting involved with things socially, even if they care about them.

“This is what we’re doing, trying to create social space people can go to and learn about social issues they care about and take action.”

Perhaps the group’s biggest effort to spread their word will take place at the 48th annual Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston this weekend. Thousands of athletes, including several U.S. Olympic champion rowers, and spectators at the world’s biggest two-day regatta will wear colorful buttons provided by Luum as part of a game designed to spark conversation about positive change — mainly water quality.

Luum teamed up with the Waterkeeper Alliance to create what they are calling the Hot Button Game where people pick a button that reflects the issues they care about, including clean water, health and wellness, literacy, civics, rowing and eating local food.

Four Luum staff members, including Struzyna, are also competing at the Head of the Charles, and several Olympic rowers and Olympic hopefuls will also help get the word out about the game by tweeting messages during the weekend, including Mike Gennaro (@Mike_Gennaro), Eleanor Logan (@ELoganRow), Zach Vlahos (@zvlahos), Tyler Winklevoss (@tylerwinklevoss), Caroline Lind (@carolinelind12), Rob Gibson (@RobGibson86) and Struzyna (@HCGS89).

Logan and Lind are two-time Olympic gold medalists with the women’s eight; Vlahos competed in the 2012 Games on the men’s eight; Mike Gennaro was an alternate for the 2012 team; Winklevoss competed in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing; and Gibson earned a silver medal as part of Canada’s men’s eight team in London.

Struzyna, who is racing in the championship singles event this weekend, also will be working the Luum booth at the regatta. Struzyna said they would help people find small ways to make a difference through everyday actions.  

“For example, clean accessible water: We can’t do our sport without clean accessible water,” he said. “Being able to say to people, ‘Hey, turn off the water’ or, ‘While you’re shaving, or when you’re washing dishes, turn off water while you’re scrubbing,’ different things, little things, individuals can do. People could get on board; this has a direct impact on my sport maybe I should start nursing it a little more.”

Luum CEO Sohier Hall, a former Dartmouth rower who will row this weekend in the masters eights 40-plus division, said Luum is geared toward everyday people with an interest in social justice, not activists.

“The problem we’re solving with Luum is people, especially young people, want so badly to make a difference in the world and take advantage of all their skills and strengths, but when they see problems around them that they want to solve, it’s hard to know where to go and how to get started,” he said. “There’s so much noise, it’s hard to know what to prioritize and what’s important.”

Hall, who rows out of the Lake Sammamish Rowing Club, said Luum helps those people systematically break down those issues so they can take to try to solve the problems or issues they care about.

“People can record their activity and see feedback and have a constant measure of feedback and see the impact that has taken place,” Hall said about Luum.

Another issue Hall said Luum is trying to solve is helping nonprofits and organizations such as the Waterkeeper Alliance connect with people or groups of people who might care about their issues.

“Nonprofits say, ‘It’s hard to get new people into activities, our constituencies, we’ve have the same people help every year,’” Hall said.

The founders of Luum decided to start their project within the rowing community because of the commitment and passion rowers have. Starting with the issue of clean water was another natural fit because rowers are around water all the time and rely on it being clean.

Hall said he eventually would like to have more formal talks with Team USA about collaborating on future projects.

“The whole goal of this weekend is to get the rowing community activated around this, and by having [members of] Team USA reinforcing this it is absolutely incredible in the sense it starts with leadership,” Hall said. “They are seeding the conversation, and rowers seed the conversation, and rowers go back into the community and talk to them about it.

“If we can do this well for the sport of rowing and show how rowing can take a passion group of people and show them [how to get involved], then other sports can take this to their athletes and activate this as well.”

To learn more visit luum.com or follow the weekend’s activity on Twitter with @luumdotcom and @waterkeeper. Those who can’t make the Head of the Charles can participate in the Hot Button game by submitting a hot button choice on http://luum.com/hocr.html.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Justin A. Rice is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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