Paralympic Sport Club Spotlight: Community Rowing, Inc.

By Traci Hendrix | Feb. 15, 2013, 10 a.m. (ET)

Biweekly, will spotlight one of the Paralympic Sport Clubs making a difference in the Paralympic Movement. Created in 2007 by U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee, the community based Paralympic Sport Club program involves youth and adults with physical and visual disabilities in physical activity and sports in their community, regardless of skill level. The program currently has 183 active Paralympic Sport Clubs in 46 states and Washington, D.C. To find Paralympic Sport Clubs and other adaptive, disabled and Paralympic sport opportunities in your community, visit the Paralympic Resource Network.

When Community Rowing, Inc. began in 1985, the nonprofit organization aimed to promote and provide opportunities for growth through teamwork, discipline and physical fitness for everyone. Now 27 years later, Community Rowing, Inc. (Paralympic Sport Club Brighton) serves as the largest public access rowing organization in the country. The club offers state-of-the-art facilities, equipment and coaching throughout the Greater Boston community touching people with physical, visual and cognitive disabilities from Boston Public Schools, VA hospitals and more.

The 1980 U.S. Olympic Rowing Team, which did not participate in the Games because of the U.S. boycott, decided to create the club out of their pure passion for rowing and desire to give back. Starting in Harvard recreation centers and with riverside congregations, Community Rowing, Inc. has grown from a seemingly exclusive and elite sport to a health and fitness opportunity for everyone. 

Located on the Charles River, an internationally recognized attraction for rowing and a gem within the Massachusetts park system, CRI was the first public rowing club in Boston and remains one of the largest in the United States.  It especially brings a new avenue to people of all ages and abilities to learn or improve their overall health and athletic talent.

In 2012 CRI was named "Club of the Year" by USRowing. "We are honored, delighted, and so happy to be a partner with USRowing in helping to grow this sport and make it more accessible," said Bruce Harold Smith, Executive Director of Community Rowing, Inc.

Also last year, CRI was awarded the United States Olympic Committee’s Rings of Gold award, given to a program dedicated to helping children develop their Olympic and Paralympic dreams and aids them in reaching their highest athletic potential while gaining personal confidence. 

“It was very moving because it felt as if the USOC was rewarding us with an external validation for everything we have been trying to accomplish,” said Ellen Minzner, CRI’s outreach director. “Receiving the Rings of Gold served to say we are fulfilling the Olympians that started this organization’s hard work and dreams for the club. There is no higher honor.”

Minzner said possessing the award makes the club more powerful in the work they are trying to accomplish for people of all ages and abilities. The club offers activities and keeps their facility open all year round.

“We want to make sure we offer the highest quality equipment and facility for anyone interested,” said Minzner. “We offer plenty of programs in order to integrate rowing in everyday health and to support fitness in the Boston community.”

CRI partners with multiple community and local rec centers, rehabilitation centers and hospitals to raise awareness for their club and rowing. They are home to a full fitness center, nutrition expertise, trainers and an overall welcoming atmosphere for anyone who wants to thin outside the box of fitness. CRI also offers free days to try rowing and days for group education on rowing as a sport for people of all levels. They are also hoping to be a host for Paralympic elite athletes to train during the winter. Including adaptive rowing has been an immense effort for the club and has had great success in the past few years.

“We recently competed in the Virtual Team Challenge 2013, which sees who can log the most meters throughout the month of January, and we won first place for an on-water club and second in the world with 32,977,766 meters. Over 100,000 were logged by adaptive rowers, so we really value the adaptive athletes,” said Minzner.

CRI is also a partner with the C.R.A.S.H.-B event, which involves over 3,000 competitors and nearly 100 adaptive rowers. CRI will be represented with 11 athletes competing in the indoor, 100 plus machine competition. These events promote active lifestyles for all ages, especially now that they have equipment available for younger athletes.

“We are very excited to be getting more youth involved with rowing. Our indoor facility helps negate the fears of not being able to swim, and if they end up becoming passionate and active in rowing, we plug them into specific swimming lessons in order to further their rowing careers,” Minzner explained. “The C.R.A.S.H.-B competitions are limited to 14 and older, but with our new equipment, we have opportunities for younger children in middle school as well. We encourage them to stay fit and be active no matter what the sport, and rowing is one of the most physically demanding and shaping sports there is.”

Getting involved with public schools is one of the main aspects of CRI. A few of the public school teachers involved with training or participating in rowing are competing in the C.R.A.S.H.-B tournament as well. Minzner said their aim is to spread awareness of rowing to adaptive as well as the able bodied youth.

“We are dedicated to health, fitness and equality for all people no matter what their age or disability,” Minzner said. “We will constantly try to further our club, involve the community and educate people on how to stay fit and be involved with a great movement. I want to continue what the founders and everyone involved have worked so hard for, and we are doing that every time a new rower comes in.”