Lea RC is a club that is actively diversifying rowing through initiatives encouraging participation from those who would not normally consider rowing as a sport open to them. Being shortlisted for Club of the Year in the 2021 British Rowing Awards is testament to the brilliant work they’re doing both at high performance level and for inclusion. Love Rowing are proud to have been able to grant Lea funds to support their I Belong programme.
The 'I Belong' project aims to make the club more inclusive, and representative of the ethnically diverse communities of Hackney, Haringey and Waltham Forest. The club provides training initiatives, rowing classes and pathways to becoming a member more accessible and affordable.
Having run a successful pilot programme in spring 2021, the club are using the funds from Love Rowing to put into the developed programme. This has meant many adult members of our ethnically diverse communities have been able to continue rowing after the learn to row course.
Liz Collins spoke to two Lea RC members recently about their respective rowing journeys. Shalarm is a personal trainer, and was part of the I Belong programme in 2021. Breindy is also a personal trainer and has rowed with Lea RC for around 4 years now, as part of the club’s Jewish Women’s Squad. Both have now taken on indoor rowing coaching roles at the club in addition to their own training.
Q: Where did your rowing journey start?
Every weekend, I do a running group in the Hackney area. My aunt rowed with Lea and used to come to my running group, she suggested me and some friends should have a go at rowing. I’m not a confident swimmer, so I wasn’t sure about it, but my friends are always up for trying different activities.
So last summer, we did a six week course. When we had the first group of 18, I knew about 13 of the people. They were all just people from my running group, basically! Initially we were on rowing machines, but then we got out on the water in boats of four, and once we’d completed the first six weeks we were given the opportunity to continue.
It was really good to have meets after the rowing sessions too, it’s a good culture. The club are really supportive, and they put out images from our actual rowing classes and our group pictures. So you feel like you're part of the family.
And then following up from that, I was asked to help teach indoor rowing classes. I'm a personal trainer, so I'm very active in terms of what I do anyway. It was ideal because I wanted to continue rowing, and I want to get other people active as well.
Q: What does your indoor coaching involve then?
To start with I basically shadowed someone else teaching a six-week course, and then the next course was just me independently teaching a group of 10 people. I like the fact that it’s a 45 minute class because we can dedicate 30 minutes to the rowing, and then the last 15 minutes to a more general workout.
We have quite a range of people coming - some are quite young and quite fit and some are quite senior and are not as mobile. So I always give options for the different exercises, people do the class at their own pace. And it’s very simple. So for example, the first week is just showing people the form of rowing because most people just pull and use their arms a lot! So we take it step by step, getting them to utilise their legs and realise most of the power comes from your legs rather than your arms.
The very first week, I get them to do 4 x 2 minutes with a minute rest. And then we repeat on the final week - hopefully everyone has improved their score after six weeks!
Q: Was there anything you found surprising about rowing?
For me the most surprising thing was how draining it was at the start! So we had a group of four but we were all different. In a boat we had two guys and two girls. My friend is really strong, much stronger than me, so he was kind of overpowering the boat. The ladies weren't as strong, but their technique was a lot better than us. So we really had to try and work together.
That's one thing I always talk to my indoor rowing group about as well. I make a point of getting everyone in sync on their machines, and I tell them how important it will be if they go on the water. You have to be in sync otherwise your boat's going to be uneven and going sideways! So that's one thing that I found challenging. You really have to work with other people.
Q: How can we make people aware of rowing?
It’s funny, last year I was doing a lot of training in the area for my first marathon, and I actually ran past the club plenty of times. I saw it with the shutters up and didn’t pay attention to it at all. And then when my aunt mentioned it, it clicked that I knew exactly where the club was. I'm always looking to do things differently, whereas I guess a lot of people who are training for a sport or an event just train in that discipline, and probably go to the gym.
I didn't think any of my friends would be interested because we don’t know anyone else who does it, and a lot of people don’t think they can get involved. Obviously I found out through word of mouth, and I’ve definitely found with my running group that social media is a really strong tool. The rowing club has social media pages and put out snippets of different groups at the club, and it’s good to get the people who actually attend to share those posts. Friends and friends of friends who may be unfamiliar with the area or where they can go for fitness will hopefully see it and ask.
For a few of the weeks on the I Belong course, I would put a gopro on someone in the boat and basically made a vlog just what we were doing and put it on my Instagram, just so that people could see. Every week people would message me saying “I want to do that!” So just giving people a different insight into the stuff that's happening in our community.
All of that, and just basic visibility outside clubs of what’s available and how to get in touch really.
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Q: So how did you start rowing?
I used to live just up the road - I could walk five minutes to the club. I had a client who rowed and kept saying to me “you should come, you should come!”. One day I went along and tried it, and I've been there ever since.
Q: And how did the Jewish Women’s Squad come about?
People are taking walks along the river all the time, there are constantly people passing the club. The members and coaches are always engaging with those people, asking if they’d like to give it a go and I think that’s why it’s become quite popular with the Jewish women. There are a lot of Jewish people in the area and many people in the community know each other anyway.
For the first year I was rowing, there were different people every few weeks, I was sort of the only consistent one. But by the second year, a couple of other women joined and they've been consistent as well. And as that commitment grew, we progressed in our rowing and it started bringing more interest.
We have an age range of ladies in their 20s to their 50s, and the squad isn’t strictly Jewish women at the moment either. So whilst we don’t have everyone coming every week, if a lot of us are there it’s such a big group now!
Q: What’s your favourite thing about rowing? What’s kept you involved?
I love anything fitness related. I love using my fitness background and understanding rowing in another way. I've also recently attained an intrinsic biomechanics qualification - I’m an iMove Freely instructor - which I might also be able to bring in to my rowing and coaching, as I've been teaching some of the indoor rowing classes. So there I can use my fitness knowledge, and what I’ve learned from my own rowing. All of those things feed into each other and bring my passions together! So really everything.
Q: What sort of coaching do you do with the indoor sessions?
I was brought in to teach indoor rowing as part of a British Rowing initiative to get people involved in fitness, rather than necessarily from the rowing sport side of things. We try to leave out too much of the technical jargon, and simply teach participants how to use a rowing machine properly. And then do circuits to enhance and include the work on the rowing machine, for example. So it’s a bit more like a workout class rather than too rowing-focused.
But through that, there have of course been people who've been asking if they can get out on the water, and a lot of interest has come from that.
Q: How can we get more people interested in rowing?
From what I've seen at Lea in my four years, they’re good at giving out contact details, offering trial sessions etc. It’s important to have contact details advertised on the boathouse, for sure. And on social media. But it’s also how you bring that interest. There is so much you can do within rowing - the fitness that you can do indoors, exercising outdoors in the fresh air, you can make it as hard or as gentle as you want, you can participate in races but you certainly don’t have to.
Especially after the pandemic, mental health is such a big topic. Exercising is… a feeling. And even the learning process can be so positive, it's a lot of brain work as well which is another kind of exercise we often forget about.