I stole away from the office one morning early last week to catch a glimpse of adaptive rowing in Holyoke. It was one of those perfect summer mornings, cool and bright, and the river was calm and inviting. I found Stephanie Moore of Holyoke Rows in the center of a hubub of people and gear on the dock at Jones Ferry.
Stephanie has been offering adaptive rowing for years in conjunction with DCR's Universal Access Program, and currently hosts the program at a new boathouse in Holyoke, which allows rowing and paddling to be accessible to everyone in this urban area along the Connecticut River.
You just need to get down a steep hill to access the dock - and if needed, assistance is provided. Once there, you can try rowing with one oar or sculling with two oars, in a double with instructor, graduating to a single when you are ready. Those slender rowing shells also come in fours and eights for those who wish to work in a team and really pick up speed. Good balance and body strength are important for rowing, but even if these are compromised due to a disability, a rowing buddy can help compensate for limb weakness and pontoons will prevent the boat from ever tipping over. For those who take to rowing and like competition, Stephanie hosts the Paper City Regatta in September right at Jones Ferry, and also coaches rowers with disabilities for competition in other regattas.
There is also the barge for larger groups, as shown in the photo, in which eight people can learn side-by-side and balance is not an issue. A YMCA group was getting a lesson from Stephanie when I arrived, and soon launched out onto the river. While they were out a double returned with long-time adaptive rower Don Sluter giving his novice rowing parter Eileen a lesson. As they were finishing up, a parade of kids came down the hill, oars in hands, and behind them, more "adaptive rowers", as Stephanie calls her participants with disabilities. I recognized Bo from previous years and was also pleased to see two new faces, one of whom was Cory, from Agawam, who was arriving to try rowing for the first time. I returned to the office with a smile on my face, knowing he was going to have a great time on the river.