Starting with a Stroke of Faith

By Sandra Zunino

Balance, coordination, commitment, teamwork, strength – that which is needed for a successful rowing team, can also be a formula for personal triumph. Freedom Rowers, a non-profit interactive competitive racing program, aims to help youth and adults achieve individual potential through the sport of rowing.

Founded by Head Coach Diana Lobien in 2004, Freedom Rowers is the fruition of a vision. Business and personal losses caused by Hurricane Isabel, nearly brought Diana to her breaking point. Relying on her Christian faith in a moment of despair, Diana prayed for guidance and the answer she received was unmistakable: put kids in boats.

Although a veteran rower herself, Diana could not just depend on her own experience. She went on a personal crusade gathering knowledge from experts and reaching out to the community in a grass roots effort to launch her new program.

A coach from the Princeton International Regatta Association, now the Princeton National Rowing Association, explained to Diana that their recruiters were looking for strong, well-rounded, humble human beings with the grades to back them up. Diana immediately adopted those principles to form the basis of Freedom Rowers’ mission.

Diana’s next step was to purchase rowing machines. Needing a place to house the machines for indoor training, she approached Robbie Gill, director of the Talbot County YMCA and established a partnership. Collaboration with Evergreen Cove Holistic Learning Center in Easton provided a launch and place to store the boats in exchange for light grounds maintenance.

“It took a lot of knocking on a lot of doors,” says Diana. She even had to change legislation because a Talbot County law made rowing illegal. After putting up posters and approaching schools, word got out and soon a team began to form.

Freedom Rowers accepts sixth through twelfth graders. “We don’t have any barriers, except you have to be able to swim,” says Diana. “It’s a great sport for people who are not ball oriented because it doesn’t require hand-eye coordination.”

Diana admits when she first started rowing lessons, she was so bad she was asked to leave. Determined to learn, she purchased a boat and returned, insisting it was the instructor’s job to teach her. “For me, even though the first day I was horrible, I knew I could do it,” she recalls.

Diana compares rowing technique to that of a golf swing, from setting the oar and using the entire body for each part of a stroke to maintaining balance in the narrow boat. Timing, concentration and communication are team essentials. “Someone has to be port and someone has to be starboard,” says Diana. “If you don’t get along, you just keep going in circles.”

Because the program receives so much community support, team members volunteer to give swimming lessons to after-school groups. Team members are also expected to write thank you cards to supporters. “It’s part of being a well-rounded human being,” explains Diana, “and building bridges of grace.”

Last spring, Emlyn Mackenzie, a senior at Sts. Peter and Paul High School and a Freedom Rowers team captain was awarded a sports scholarship to the Florida Institute of Technology. “It took time, but now we have kids going off to do some awesome things in this life,” says Diana. “It’s like a huge investment in the everlasting.”

Freedom Rowers winter season starts after Thanksgiving and the spring season starts in March. Practices are from Tuesday – Friday from 3:30-5:45 p.m. For more information, visit www.freedomrowers.org, call 410-829-1691 or e-mail info@freedomrowers.org.

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