Row, Row, ROW Your Boat Gently Down The Chicago River

“Just tell me one more time, which is the port side?” I shamelessly ask of Jenn Gibbons, our ROW coach. She laughs and points to the side of the boat I will be rowing. One would think I could get that straight, but the middle-aged brain is mysteriously sievelike at any given moment.

My fellow ROW teammates and I are novice rowers, attempting to learn a sport that requires energy, concentration, timing, endurance and teamwork.

It’s challenging, to say the least, and it is also exhilarating, tiring, scary and fun. None of us have experienced anything like this in our lives, but what each of us has experienced is breast cancer.

ROW is an acronym for Recovery on Water. It is a rowing club open to Chicago area breast cancer survivors as an athletic activity, a support group and an opportunity to experience being part of a team working toward a common goal.

In the beginning, that common goal is simply: Don’t tip the boat! But the ultimate goal is to learn to row smoothly and efficiently in coordination with the rest of the team. That takes timing, control and concentration—a very different experience from the state of personal chaos that is often brought on by a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Gibbons is the founder and head coach of ROW, and she is only 23 years old.

A remarkable woman, Gibbons works full-time, coaches crew at St. Ignatius College Prep, finds time to train for a charity marathon and is willing to schedule extra practices on Sunday morning for our group. While still a rower at Michigan State University, Gibbons was inspired by the organization We Can Row and the potential of rowing to empower women in their fight against breast cancer.

She hopes that ROW Chicago will offer that opportunity to all who participate. With the help of her cheerful friends and student volunteers from the St. Ignatius College Prep School crew team, Gibbons conducts practices with a perfect blend of information, humor, empathy and “you can do it” attitude.

My own personal goals as we gear up for racing? I hope I remember which side is port and that I slide smoothly, make lovely puddles and don’t rock the boat!

For more information on ROW, visit their Web site at: