I began rowing my single on the Duwamish River in 2009 soon after I moved to South Seattle. I had been rowing for Green Lake at the time and I kept driving over the First Avenue Bridge, looking down I would think, “why isn’t anybody rowing down there, its perfectly calm water?” So I bought a single and started rowing on it. I found that I loved it out there. I grew up rowing on the Detroit River so the industry actually made me feel like I was back home. I was surprised how much life there was out there, I saw Blue Herons, Harbor Seals, Sea Lions, there was a salmon run. All I had heard about the Duwamish was that it was a superfund site. I kind of expected it to be barren, its not!
I started to learn about the river and its history, I read about the ecology and how it’s been changed. I started to meet people who were involved with the river and the cleanup. I read about the history of South Park, the history of the Duwamish Tribe. People have lived in this river delta for 10,000 years! Obviously its a special place. I felt like other people should have an opportunity to get out on the river and I decided to start a club.
I started to think about what kind of club it would be. Rowing tends to be thought of as an elitist sport, but that wasn’t my experience with it growing up rowing outside of Detroit. Most of my teammates were pretty working class kids. Our parents worked in the automotive industry or had some other manufacturing job. The clubs back there were long established, they had alumni that supported youth rowing so it wasn’t expensive at all to row. I knew I wanted to have a “working class” type club and I wanted kids and people from the local community to be able to participate. I thought, “everybody else is having fun, why can’t they?” I decided the mission had to be affordability.
My wife Sherry and I began to go to community meetings, the South Park Community Center, the Neighborhood Center. I wrote a grant to get some rowing machines for the Community Center and began teaching an “indoor rowing fitness class.” Eventually we met a neighborhood leader named Debbie McNeil who took an interest in what we were trying to do. Her father in law Robert McNeil had started a charity called the Plumb Level and Square fund in honor of Debbie’s late husband Tim McNeil. Bob and Debbie granted us the seed money to get things started, and they let us use part of their property as its home. The first year we bought a shipping container, one four person shell, and one double, plus we had my single. That was a pretty good start. We launched the first boat as a real club in April of 2011.
Since then we’ve grown quite a bit, we’ve had dozens of youth rowers over the years, we have a thriving masters crew and a junior crew. We’ve got 2 shipping containers packed full of boats, and we’re in the process of figuring out how to get a bigger boathouse. We race at local regattas and we even win sometimes. Its been a ton of hard work but I’d do it again, and I’ve certainly gotten back more than I’ve given (not financially of course, but spiritually). Its changed me personally, I’d never intended to be a youth rowing coach but I’ve found that I love it.
The oldest continuous rowing club in America is Detroit Boat Club, it was established in 1839. I don’t know if Duwamish Rowing Club will still be around in 170 years but its fun to think about, and its fun to think about the fact that what we’ve started here could have a positive, life changing impact on people who have not even been born.
So many people have helped us along the way but I want to especially thank the following people and groups who’ve helped make DRC possible:
The South Park Community Center
The Duwamish Rowing Club Masters Crew