Meet Megan Patton, a Western Reservation Rowing Association board member who has rowed in the association summer league for seven years.
She started when her oldest son joined the crew team freshman year for St. Ignatius High School. Some of the moms wanted to try.
“It just looked really fun,” said Patton, 55, of Fairview Park. “The great thing about it is, they’ll take anybody, regardless of your skill level, or really your fitness level… They’re not going to put you in the boat with really experienced people if you’re a brand new novice. You all kind of learn together and develop your skill together.”
Rowing actually started in Cleveland in 1855, when the Ivanhoe Boat Club and its rival club, the Ydrad Rowing Club, raced regularly. But due to heavy industrial traffic, rowing shells were forced off the river in the 1860s. Now rowers regularly dodge freighters, tour boats, kayaks and stand-up paddleboarders in the Cuyahoga.
There are two boathouses in Cleveland: the Foundry, which focuses exclusively on students, and the Cleveland Rowing Foundation, which houses the Western Reserve Rowing Association, St. Ignatius and Shaker Heights high schools, as well as John Carroll, Cleveland State and Case Western Reserve universities.
About 800 adults belong to the Western Reserve Association, which has three summer and fall rowing leagues. Think of them as club, JV and varsity teams: there are casual once-a-week sessions, an intermediate group and the separate men’s and women’s masters teams, which practice about three times a week.
The 15-week summer rowing leagues fill up quickly, with Clevelanders who want to try out the sport. The one-day learn-to-row sessions on spring weekends are also popular.
The association also offers rowing for military veterans, para-rowing for people with disabilities and programs for legally blind rowers from the Cleveland Sight Center.
Patton, who was on volleyball and track teams in high school and college, has chosen to remain in the club level, mostly with her original team. This year she’s joined a new eight-woman boat.
Here’s her take on the renaissance of Cleveland’s riverfront.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Your three children rowed. What did they think of their mom signing up?
They thought it was great. They would laugh at me, but they were proud of me. It was fun to ask their advice.
Obviously you’ve stuck with it. What do you like about rowing?
First off, It’s a great workout. The better you are as a rower, the better the work out is. I like the camaraderie. I like being on a team. When you see motivational posters in offices, you’ll often see a rowing shell. It’s such a cliché but rowing is the ultimate team sport because if one person is off, the whole boat is off. I love that. You have to match your stroke to others’.
I like seeing Cleveland from six inches about the Cuyahoga River. It gives you perspective, how lucky we are in Cleveland to have all these treasures. It’s pretty wild when you’re up against a big freighter. The immensity is kind of intense.
What are your favorite views from the river?
I love going by the East Bank to see what’s happening down there. I still love the view of the Terminal Tower and Key Tower. You can just see everything. It’s so majestic. We can’t take a picture in the boat with us. You can’t be like, ‘Coach, stop, we want to take pictures.’ It’s awe inspiring. It gives you this sense of pride that we’re from this great city. I love it.
What makes the Cuyahoga River unique?
We’re on a working commercial river. So we have very strict safety procedures that all our people, all member organizations must follow. I couldn’t right now get eight of my friends and go down and take out a shell. You have to be certified. It’s a very safe organization, which is important on our river.
What did you find surprising when you started rowing?
The very first time I was surprised how close you were to the water. A lot of people think that rowing takes a lot of upper body strength. It’s a misconception. You get your power from your legs, not your arms. Your core stabilizes you. I thought it was just pull, pull. It’s really push with your legs.
What was it like to learn the sport?
Initially as a novice you’ll be put in a boat with other novices. Initially it’s not going to be awesome. You’re not going to be flying down the river. You’re learning the stroke. Two people row, four people row, six people row. The rest keep the boat set.
The first time you row by all eights, you’re like, oh my God, this is awesome. It just feels so good. You can just feel how much faster you’re going.
Do you think Cleveland’s waterfront is having a renaissance?
Absolutely. Just look at Edgewater Live, or the Shoreway project. It’s getting people down to the water. We’ve had this hidden treasure that people weren’t utilizing. I definitely feel like it’s increased.
When I first started rowing six or seven years ago, there weren’t paddleboarders. I don’t know if paddleboarding had been invented. It wasn’t in Cleveland, anyway. You never saw a kayaker. Now you see so many of them. That I’ve noticed in the last two years.
The resurgence of the Flats, too, with all the great new places opening. I was around when the flats first became an entertainment district. Now people are at the restaurants and bars and they see the shells go by, and they’re like, what’s that? There’s more exposure to rowing because there are more people there.
Rowing has this kind of East Coast, boarding school reputation? Do you think rowing is growing in popularity?
I hadn’t heard much about rowing before my kids.
We are exploding. We’re growing. With the Foundry coming on, we are the only all-adult organization in Cleveland.In the last 5-10 years, it’s exploded. We’re always looking to add more coaches and buy more boats and be able to accommodate more people.