Full speed ahead

SMRC intent on taking rowing to the masses

How could you not like rowing?

“It’s great cross training,” Maryville High School freshman Jennie Frost said. “You use everything, from your finger tips down to your toes.”

Then there’s the view.

“You’re down here in the morning,” Frost said, “looking at million dollar houses.”

Posh, extravagant homes dot the landscape in and around the Smoky Mountain Rowing Center’s boat house on Ft. Loudon Lake, but the 4-year-old club wants to be known as anything but a proponent of an elitist sport. The club held a “Learn to Row” day recently, with a record 75 newcomers attending.

Yes, rowing can be an expensive sport, former Tennessee Lady Vol and Smoky Mountain Rowing instructor Chelsea Pemberton said. A state-of-the-art, 8-seat shell like the one novices rowed during the clinic can run $30,000 or more. At the high school, Frost and other members of the Maryville Crew pay $350 a year in dues.

That said, local businessman and Smoky Mountain Rowing founder Roger Hubbard had a captive audience on a postcard Saturday afternoon by the lake. An Alcoa High School graduate, Hubbard talked of the club’s plans to expand. A new boat house is in the works to replace the converted horse barn the club now uses to store its equipment. The team at the high school is only growing. Hubbard’s daughter, Isabel, was one of its founding members last season.

The shells used for rowing perch crew members mere inches out of the water. It can be a little unsettling at first Hubbard told the crowd before turning them over to the club’s instructors. Not to worry, though.

“It’s not a dangerous sport,” Hubbard said. “You’re not going to flip the boat. If you do, we’ll fish you out.”

For the next two hours, the club’s coaches and club members put the rookies through their paces. Head coach Adam Stoermer taught newcomers the basics of the rowing stroke on a lakeside ergo meter. Assistants Sarah Arms and Pemberton then took them for a spin on the lake in groups of four, with members of the high school club in each boat for safety.

Stoermer is head coach of the team at the high school, with Arms onboard as his assistant.

Getting eight people to drive the boat through the water in unison is no easy task

“If you’re not in sync, it doesn’t go well,” Pemberton said.

Once that rhythm has been established, the results are apparent for all to see.

“The best part about it is the smiling,” Arms said. “(No.) 3 seat hasn’t stopped smiling. She’s been smiling since she got out here.”

Part of the appeal of rowing is its accessibility to people of all fitness levels, Pemberton said. Frost and Maryville Crew teammates Sarah Gilley and Shannon Fisher are part of one of the fastest growing sports on both the high school and college level. Each has tried other sports.

“(Rowing) was different,” Gilley said. “It wasn’t something everybody else was playing.”

Arms and Pemberton, both former Tennessee Lady Vols, have rowed at the highest levels of the sport, with Pemberton, a Florida native, considering a run at the U.S. national team and a possible Olympic bid. Others like club member Claire Poole are simply in it for the fun.

Poole, 56, has been with Smoky Mountain Rowing since its inception. She’s tried other sports through the years, she said, but nothing beats rowing.

“I would put this right at the top,” Poole said. “It’s a full-body workout. Almost anybody can learn to row.”

The club is backing that claim with a series of youth day camps over the next two months. Aimed at ages 12 and up, three beginner sessions are scheduled for June 22-26, July 13-17 and July 20-24. An advanced camp, for those with at least a year’s racing under the belts, is slated for July 27-31.

Smoky Mountain Rowing has come a long way in four years, Hubbard said. The club had only a single shell at its disposal its first season. Now, with competitive and recreational crews of all ages taking part, it looks, by all accounts, to be full speed ahead.

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