Two men bring rowing sport to the Wabash River
Jim Owen has a passion for rowing. He smiled and took a deep breath as he thought about how to explain the sport to someone who has never experienced what it’s like to be in the boat with a team you trust.
“It’s the heart of the rower,” he explained. “That team did so much despite not being in the water as often and not having new equipment.”
In 2018, the Wabash Valley Crew Rowing Team (WVC) competed in the Culver Academy Regatta against several teams, and against many odds. You see, WVC isn’t your average rowing team. While most teams have 100 rowers, WVC had 15. While almost every team has a boathouse, WVC does not, yet.
Owen spent the last six years creating the WVC team with Co-Founder Jack Hill. In addition to this team, Owen has been an integral part of the adoption of rowing at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, and the Erg Ed program – an indoor rowing machine technology, curriculum and training program – that will be coming to Sarah Scott Middle School. So, what’s next on their list? Getting that boathouse for the WVC.
On average, the team spends an extra hour or two of practice transporting the boat to the Wabash and assembling the boat before they can even get in the water. This cuts into valuable practice time for WVC.
“If we want to sustain this for a long time, a boathouse is absolutely necessary,” said Hill.
Boathouse or no boathouse, that didn’t keep the 2018 team from winning first place in one of the many heats at the Culver Academy Regatta.
Success for the WVC team didn’t stop at the Culver Regatta. The rowing industry has taken notice of WVC and of Terre Haute. In 2019, the University of Texas Women’s Rowing team chose the Wabash River and the facilities offered at Fairbanks Park to train for the NCAA Championships.
It’s the heart of the rower, in the heart of West Central Indiana. Did you know that Indiana has a growing industry right at its fingertips? In the latest edition of Edge Report, we bring the story of West Central Indiana to light and the investment one community is making to attract and grow the sport of rowing.
“The University of Texas’ head coach gave us a call and said, ‘We found you on social media. We’ve researched the river. We’d like to train here,’ and that was that,” explained Hill.
According to Hill, the rowing industry is popular on the East coast, running across the nation to Indianapolis, comes to a halt outside of Terre Haute and picks up again in St. Louis.
“We don’t want rowers, athletes, and visitors to travel past us,” explained Hill. “We want them to stop; we want to show off our amenities.”
The biggest amenity? The Wabash River in Terre Haute. The river runs along Fairbanks Park, where a 2,000 meter straight offers unobstructed views of rowers gliding on the water.
“We have such a great opportunity here, crafted by the Wabash River, to promote the sport, to promote the community,” said Hill.
Speaking of promotions, the WVC hosted a Corporate Rowing Challenge on February 26th, 2022, with the intent of raising money for a boathouse. There were 10 businesses with teams of five, and at $500 a pop, WVC is well on their way to a boathouse.
In addition to the challenge, the Wabash Valley Community Foundation has established a challenge grant through December 31, 2023. Each dollar donated will be matched by the foundation, up to $150,000.
Hill nodded to Owen and said, “Jim has worked hard to expand this sport in this region. This Corporate Rowing Challenge we’ve been working on for the last eight months is all about raising public awareness, interest, and raising funds for our boathouse.”
Ten corporate teams, including, the Terre Haute Police Department, Union Health, Garmong Construction, Hannig Construction, Sycamore Engineering, Epic Insurance, B&S Plumbing, Heating and Cooling, Milestone, and RJL Solutions, took to erg machines in the Terre Haute YMCA gym. The atmosphere was electric. People were cheering, teams were rowing, and everyone was sweating with either effort or anticipation. At the end of the 30-minute challenge, the Terre Haute Police Department blew everyone out of the metaphorical water, rowing just under 10,000 meters.
The first Corporate Rowing Challenge was a success, bringing awareness to the sport, and to the value it could create for the community.
Teamwork makes the dream work! RJL team members McKenzi Kumpf, Betsy Peperak, Vittoria Meyer, T.J. Collett and Eric Perry competed in the Wabash Valley Crew Rowing Club Corporate Rowing Challenge. The RJL team was there to cheer them on as they competed to raise funds for the organization. Great work, team!
Rowing is an incredible sport to watch if you have not already. Brent Meyer, a Partner at 10dot1 Productions, has over 10 years of experience filming and observing rowing teams from all over the state and country.
10dot1 Productions is the world leader of live rowing broadcasts. Their content has reached millions of viewers over 15 years.
“We use these broadcasts to show the sport from a unique perspective,” explained Meyer. “We capture the sounds, the colors, the strength of the rowers. It truly is spectacular.”
By showcasing the sport, by capturing the nuances of rowing, public awareness and intrigue naturally tend to follow.
“People think rowing is easy. The boats are rather unstable, so just keeping it above water is an accomplishment,” stated Meyer. “To put multiple people in a boat is one thing, to have them work together, to make them go fast, it’s really amazing.”
Rowing is hard. Rowing is rewarding. Rowing is a sport for any and every stage of your life. Rowing is the next big thing in Terre Haute.
“This is a huge opportunity for the city of Terre Haute, for the Wabash Valley, and for the sport,” explained Meyer. “The Wabash Valley Crew could become a feature of Downtown Terre Haute. This is something unique to the community. This is a facet of tourism. This is the city showing the state and the nation, we have amenities, we have passion, we are here to compete and grow the sport of rowing.”