Reeve Foundation Story of Impact: Des Moines Rowing Club

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on February 01, 2018 # Quality of Life, Adaptive Sports

Well before the Des Moines Rowing Club received their first adaptive double rowing shell, they had the boat named.

“We chose to christen it the Dana and Christopher Reeve with Dana’s name first because she was such an incredible inspiration to so many,” said Tonya Logan, program manager of the Des Moines Rowing Club’s (DMRC) Adaptive Membership Initiative. “She was an icon of love and support.”

The adaptive boat, affectionate nicknamed “the Reeve,” along with four paddles and two personal flotation devices were purchased with support from the club’s first Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life Grant. The adaptive program is a new initiative for the 35-year-old, 200-member club.

“One day in 2014 we saw some people riding adaptive bikes near our boathouse and we asked them if they had ever thought about adaptive rowing,” said Logan. “The idea of starting a program was a little intimidating at first so we reached out to another nearby club that was more familiar with adaptive rowing for guidance.”

Logan then reached out to the DMRC board for support to start the new program by adapting a single boat the club wasn’t using.

“We added a fixed seat, support straps and pontoons for stability. It was safe but not efficient,” said Logan. “We got a second adaptive single boat in early 2016 and trained our first two rowers with mobility limitations. They loved it.”

Operating single adaptive boats is a very volunteer intensive activity. Double boats allow a trained, able-bodied rower to directly coach and assist a rower with adaptive needs. In 2017, Logan helped the club secure two double boats, one from the Reeve Foundation and another with support from a local business and spinal cord injury group.

“Having two boats allows us to get more people out on the water,” said Logan. “It also offers rowers the opportunity to compete.”

With the new boats, the club could extend their “Learn to Row Day” to include adaptive rowers. The Adaptive Learn to Row Days (ALTRD) give many participants the chance to experience rowing on nearby Gray’s Lake for the first time.

“These fun community outreach events invite anyone to show up and go out for a 45-minute ride without any training,” said Logan. “We had fifteen people participate in 2017, six living with a spinal cord injury and nine military veterans.”

Also, last year, for the first time in the club’s history, two rowers living with spinal cord injuries were able to complete in the annual Head of the Des Moines Regatta as part of a parallel rowing or “para-rowing” team. Scott Turczynski earned the gold medal in the para-rowing competition,

“It is so enjoyable to be out on the water and it’s a great way for me to get exercise. I’ve definitely caught the rowing bug,” said Turczynski who sustained a spinal cord injury from a fall in his home in 2010. “I’m so thankful to the Reeve Foundation for making this experience possible and for their push to advance technology and science to help find a cure.”

Stan Boyer, another DMRC adaptive rower is also thankful for the opportunity to row. "The biggest impact rowing has made on my life is helping me maintain my fitness,” said Boyer. “I always feel “skinnier” after a workout.”

Logan also notes the physical benefits to rowing. “Everything done in a wheelchair is push forward and rowing is about the exact opposite, pulling back,” said Logan. “It forces participants to sit up straight and strengthen their core by using their abdominal muscles differently. I think it’s the perfect complementary exercise. It empowers people by getting them out of their chairs and on to the water just like everyone else.”

Moving forward, the DMRC has partnered with various spinal cord injury and disabled veteran groups in the region to invite more people to participate in adaptive rowing.

“Rowing is often referred to as a Zen experience of flying across the water with mind and body concentrating on the task at hand,” said Logan. “We are so grateful to the Reeve Foundation for their trust and support to help share this wonderful experience with so many.”