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TRRA History – Community Service Programs

From its very beginning, Three Rivers Rowing Association committed itself to expanding the benefits of rowing to the community. In this connection it has developed programs designed specifically for those who because of physical disability, visual impairment, or economic circumstances think that rowing and paddling activity is beyond their reach.

Adaptive

In 1987, two years before the boathouse on Washington’s landing was completed, Don Schock and Patti Michaud persuaded the board of TRRA to fund a rowing program for persons with disabilities. They borrowed a single and a double Alden Ocean Shell from the North Hills Rowing Club and started what has become TRRA’s Adaptive Program.

TRRA initially teamed up with the Hamarville Rehabilitation Center (now HealthSouth-Harmarville) to recruit participants. Karen Foster-Bagsdon, Executive Director of Harmarville’s HealthSports Program encouraged men and women with disabilities to try rowing and provided volunteers to help carry equipment.

History_AdaptiveRowingFor the first two years all activity took place at North Park Lake. Because suitable docks were not available, volunteers assisted amputees and carried athletes from wheel chairs at the water’s edge to the shells. Bill Johnston, a double amputee, was one of the initial rowers and still participates.

When TRRA’s state of the art boathouse on Washington’s Landing was opened in 1989, the adaptive program really took off. Don Schock and Patti Michaud co-managed the program until 1994. Don used his engineering talents to devise ways to modify rowing equipment to accommodate athletes with disabilities. Patti focused on rowing instruction and motivation. Athletes with a wide variety of disabilities participated. As many as 14 showed up for evening and Saturday morning sessions. Because of business and family commitments Don retired in 1994, and Patti assumed leadership.

In the 18 years TRRA has operated its Adaptive Program, over 100 disabled athletes have participated. New and advanced rowing equipment has been acquired. Volunteers have included physicians, physical and occupational therapists, friends and families of rowers, TRRA members and young people from high school and college crews.

Although recreation is the focus of the Adaptive Program, therapy and competition are important parts. Athletes have experienced dramatic improvement in range of motion and revel in the joy of engaging in physical activity outdoors and on the water. Four athletes have won national championships: Bill Johnston 3 times, Jim Costello twice, Roberta Houston once, and Patti Michaud 7 times. Jim Costello and Patti Michaud were two of only five adaptive rowers to participate in the initial demonstration races at the 1998 FISA World Championships in St. Catherine’s, Canada. Patti was named Adaptive Rower of the year in 1994, and in 2001 she won two gold medals and one silver representing the United States in England’s first international Adaptive Rowing event.

Visually Impaired

In the summer of 1988, leadership of TRRA approved a request from David Curry to start a rowing program for the blind. With the cooperation of the Pittsburgh Chapter of BOLD (Blind Outdoor Leisure Development) – the national organization that promotes all types of outdoor activities for the visually impaired – David and Don Shock introduced a handful of courageous BOLD members to rowing from the banks of North Park Lake. Aldens borrowed from the North Hills Rowing Club were used for instruction by TRRA volunteers standing in the water holding the shells while the blind novices practiced the rowing stroke.

With completion of the boathouse on Washington’s landing, the acquisition of additional equipment, the recruiting effort of BOLD, and a host of dedicated TRRA volunteers, the program increased in numbers and intensity. As many as 15 visually impaired men and women showed up each Thursday evening for recreational rowing and a few undertook to prepare for competition.

Tammi Swaintek was brought to the river by BOLD as a blind teenager in need of mobility training and confidence building before her freshman year at Washington and Jefferson College. She fell in love with rowing, committed herself to the sport, and is now probably the best singles blind female sculler in the country. She competes regularly in national and international rowing competition in doubles and in singles following a sighted partner in a guide shell.

Tom Burgunder, age 57, started rowing on a bet about 15 years ago and is now among the best blind male singles scullers in the country. Like Tammi, Tom competes in doubles events with a sighted partner and in singles following a partner rowing a guide single and giving oral instruction for course adjustments. In addition to regular Thursday evening sessions, Tammi, Tom, and other visually impaired rowers interested in competition work out on Saturday mornings with TRRA volunteers.

BOLD has been the main source of participants in TRRA’s visually impaired program. But because BOLD’s membership is restricted to person 18 years old and above, TRRA has made a special effort to enroll younger boys and girls in its program.

Inner City Youth

The Rowing Association’s program for inner city youth is known as ERAP (Experience Rowing and Paddling). It is designed to introduce boys and girls between 10 and 15 years of age to the adventures and joys of rowing and paddling on Pittsburgh’s rivers and consists of six two-hour sessions during the summer months. The basics of sweep rowing (four or eight rowers in a shell each pulling one oar) and kayaking are taught. Some sessions may also include dragon boating.

Participants in the program are generally members of a church group or youth agency in the City, but we also include young people who apply as individuals. Those who are interested in continuing with rowing or paddling after completion of the program are invited to participate in the Rowing Association’s programs for youth who are committed to competitive rowing and kayaking. Some athletes progress to local high school and college crews.

– Dave Curry

 

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