Chester River Rowing Club Offers “Learn-to-Row” Classes for Teens to Seniors


Chester River Rowing Club Offers

“Learn-to-Row” classes for adults, teens & seniors

to start May 13 at the Washington College boathouse

If you think you want to learn how to row in those sleek shells you’ve seen on the Chester River and you’re 14 or older (there’s no upper age limit), the Chester River Rowing Club’s four-and-a-half week “Learn-to-Row” classes will run from Saturday, May 13, to Wednesday, June 14, at the Washington College Boathouse.

Most of the adults who take the CRRC novice class want to row for fitness or fun, or because they want to get good enough to compete, though some simply want to try the sport on for size.  The only prerequisite other than good general health is that novices must be able to swim.  There are no strength requirements since rowing naturally builds lower body, core and upper body muscles.

“It surprises most people that rowing is mostly a leg sport,” said Margie Elsberg, who took the CRRC class 14 years ago, a few months before turning 60.  “Spectators see us pull our oars through the water so they assume it’s an upper body sport, but because rowing shell seats slide forward and back with each stroke, most of our power comes from our legs when we push against the footboard.

“In other words, rowing strengthens arms, legs and core in a fun team environment that offers fabulous scenery to boot,” Elsberg said.

While most newcomers want to learn to row, the club doesn’t charge the course fee when a novice joins the class because they want to become a coxswain.  That’s the “extra” crew member in a four- or eight-seat boat who steers, sets the stroke pace and acts as an on-board coach and cheerleader.  Middle and high school students sometime learn to row or coxswain in anticipation of rowing at college.

The first Learn-to-Row class on Saturday, May 13, includes a safety review and a chance to help hoist an eight-person shell overhead and down to shoulders so the novices can learn to carry a boat to the river and practice launches.  Class members also will start learning rowing lingo, the rowing stroke and the correct posture for using an “erg,” also known as a gym rowing machine.

While subsequent Saturday sessions are optional, Monday and Wednesday classes, from 6 to 8 pm, will be spent learning and practicing stroke techniques in the indoor rowing tank at first, then on the river whenever weather allows.  During the optional Saturday sessions through mid-June, novices will have a chance to row with experienced club members as teammates.

Newcomers will take turns rowing in eight-, four- and two-seat shells, as well as in singles.  They will learn to “sweep” (to handle one large oar with two hands) and to “scull” (to row with two smaller oars, one in each hand).  They’ll learn to start and stop rowing according to the coxswain’s commands:  “Ready all, row!” and “Way ’nuf!” and they’ll do their best to stay in synch with the other rowers in their boat.

Chestertown native Kendall Ruffatto, former CRRC president and the current treasurer, said she started rowing at 56 because she wanted to get in shape, then found that she liked rowing so much that she spent nearly a dozen years racing in local, regional and national regattas.

“It can be challenging to learn, but it’s also fun and it’s a great way to meet new people,” Ruffatto said.  “I was never a very athletic person, but since I started rowing, I’ve been in the best shape I’ve ever been in, and I’m doing something I really love.  You can’t beat that!”

Dr. Deborah Davis, Director of Emergency Medicine at UM Shore Regional Medical Center at Chestertown, has rowed since high school and competes at an elite level in national and international contests.  She contends that there’s no better workout than rowing but adds another motivation.

“For me, there’s nothing like being on the Chester River at sunrise or sunset, when the water’s perfectly flat, with Canada geese, great blue herons and an occasional bald eagle for company.  There’s no gym in the world that can offer that.”

Chester River Rowing Club “Learn to Row” brochures are in Chestertown at Evergrain Bakery, Play It Again Sam’s, and the Kent Athletic and Wellness Center.  A brochure also is posted on the club’s website:  If you have questions, contact Margie Elsberg at

The novice class will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.


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