Let’s Row

Each morning, a mismatched band of men and women dressed like lost cross-country skiers emerge from the woods along the river bank in Easton, Md. They quietly slip out on the water in a 65-foot-long narrow boat with strobe lights flashing bow and stern. They are the early shift of the Eastern Shore Community Rowers, working up a sweat before the rest of the work-a-day world has its first cup of coffee.

“There is no exercise quite like it,” says January White of St. Michaels, the vice president of the ESCR board. “It works at your entire core.”

This is the first full year of operation for the fledgling group, started by Chloe Tong of Royal Oak. Tong brought her passion for rowing back to the Eastern Shore after spending 16 months as a nanny in Brisbane Australia. Her enthusiasm for the team sport spread rapidly and within a month, there were more than a dozen regulars joining her every morning.

“I started rowing in high school with the Freedom Rowers,” Tong says of the non-profit group based in Easton, which has trained young rowers since 2004. She didn’t row in college but got back into it when she joined the 128-year-old Toowong Rowing Club in Brisbane as a way of meeting new people. “It turned out to be one of the best rowing clubs in Australia. I fell in love with it and I was getting up at 4 a.m. five and six days a week to go rowing.”

Tong went to her old friends at Freedom Rowers and arranged to use their boats in off hours but, when that grew untenable, she and her new-found enthusiasts decided to form their own 501(c)3.

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“We had a lot of resources in our group,” White says. “One of our members had a background in non-profits, fund-raising and marketing, and another who is a controller by trade. We had some money donated to us and we were back on the water within a month.”

Evergreen Cove, a wellness center in Easton and home port of the Freedom Rowers, agreed to host the new group as well. ESCR bought two used and abused banana-yellow four-man shells from the Naval Academy and a used eight-man boat from a Virginia high school. Over the winter, Tong’s father, Rodney, who has messed around in boats since his youth in New Zealand, led several members as they refurbished and repainted the new club’s three boats. They are now gleaming white with distinctive purple ascents and oars. 

White says Tong’s energy and the social contacts of the diverse group of rowers helped expand the group. It now has 25 members who range in age from 22 to 70. “About a third of our members had never rowed before,” Tong says. She says that while there is no fitness test required to join, prospective rowers need to know how to swim and be agile enough to get in and out of the boats, which sit just inches off the water. 

Penelope Cripps Dwyer, the secretary of the group, says rowing is also a good way for people to get out on the water and experience nature. The group is planning to add more boats to its fleet as membership grows and has classes on Saturday mornings for newcomers who want to learn about the sport.

For more information about the Eastern Shore Community Rowers, contact the board’s secretary, Penelope Cripps Dwyer at pend@aol.com or visit the group’s Facebook page. 

—Dick Cooper