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Why I Row - Toby Yanowitz

Dear TRRA Community,

As part of the 2020 Annual Appeal, we are excited to continue the Why I Row/Paddle Series to amplify the voices of our TRRA community. This week, please take a moment to read the below story of TRRA Member Toby Yanowitz, who shares the story of how rowing at TRRA has impacted her life.

Why I Row - Toby Yanowitz

I started rowing in college. I was a long-distance runner in high school, but way too slow to be on a college team. And because I had never done any other sports, a friend suggested I try rowing. I had never even heard of rowing before. That was 1983. My coach was Curtis Jordan who would go on to become the men’s Olympic coach for many years. At the time, Curtis did not believe in Women’s LW rowing. It was just starting nationwide. Princeton started their Women’s LW team the year after I graduated.

Then I took a 10-year hiatus. I went to medical school in NY, did my residency in pediatrics in the great rowing city of Philadelphia but barely noticed boathouse row because I was so busy, and then completed a 3-year fellowship in Newborn Intensive Care in Providence RI. I moved to Pittsburgh for my first real job. I thought about rowing but was unsure that I could make the commitment, thinking that being on a master’s team demanded the same rigor as college rowing. The following summer, I rode my bike in “Pedal Pittsburgh” and there was a rest stop on Washington’s Landing, in the tiny side parking lot. The rest is history. I joined the club “to scull” (I had not sculled in college, and really taught myself), was spotted by a woman who was rowing a set-4 and asked to sub for an injured teammate, and restarted my sweep “career”. The women did not have a team at that point. It was “show-up-and-row” on M, W, Sat. After having rowed that set-4 for a year, one of the other rowers in the boat and I decided all the women should have coaching and organization. We found a coach and established the MW team. The year was 1999.

Over the past 21 years, I have rowed with many different women (and men), in every boat you can imagine. I have had my share of on-the-water victories. And disappointments. I returned from 2 injuries – a bad hamstring pull and a herniated disk – and rowed through, and after, 2 pregnancies (my younger daughter Joanna won a medal with me in the pair at Diamonds). I have rowed in the HOCR more times than I can recall (at least 10), and in every seat except 5-seat. I have made many close friends, the bonds between us go well beyond our rowing. I have had 2 doubles partners – my first partner and I tackled Wye Island Regatta on 3 or 4 occasions (I have also rowed wye in 4+’s, Quads, and 8+s, but never my 1X). My second partner and I rowed the 2X in the Charles, finishing just past what would have qualified us for automatic return. I purchased my own single a few years after joining TRRA, and I am on my third boat - The first was a beautiful red Owen with a cloth top, built for a flyweight, and once I figured out how to scull properly I thought it was too small for me. I regret selling it. The next, a new LW Kaschper, that I loved, but eventually decided was too big for me (ironically that boat is now owned by a teammate who is at least 10 lbs lighter than me! Ask me about its name someday). And finally, the flyweight silver Kaschper I row to this day. It actually spent much of the last 6 years on its rack as I focused on team boats and my 2X. My plan had been to row it more this year since Zuzanna left us and I decided I should focus on my single for a year or 2 before finding a new 2X partner. Little did I know I’d be rowing her exclusively this year.

I like long-distance rowing best. I will sprint because I like to go fast, and racing sprints with friends is fun. (Plus, I can’t be on the Masters Competitive team unless I do that!). But I really prefer the distances. I like doing drills, and seeing how my full stroke changes as I incorporate what I just learned. I like the peace, the focus, the synchrony. The adrenaline, the fatigue, and the satisfaction that follow a hard row. The satisfaction of seeing and feeling improvement over time. And, I like that there is always room for improvement. When I was a young and naïve rower, I ask my coach, “Can’t we just go for a row for once….Just row, and not have to think about anything??” He replied, “you can never just row”. How true.

One last anecdote. I like to compare my running and my rowing (remember, I am not a fast runner, though I love the feeling. I am a much better rower). When I run, I think. I plan my day. I plan conversations I will have with people. I think about past conversations, and what I can learn from them. I try to make my mind blank. I cannot. But it helps me approach my upcoming day with a calm strategy. When I row, I cannot think. I cannot plan my day or think about conversations past/future. I focus on my technique. I work on my rowing. I focus on my body and how I feel. At times, a get lost in that feeling. And, it's that feeling that brings me back, day after day.


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