Keep Rowing

 Keep Rowing

The Greater Dayton Rowing Association forging ahead with plans for new facilityBeth Langefels When the cold winter winds blow the last thing most Daytonians think about is rowing. But with easy access to five rivers the Miami Valley is actually perfect for the sport.

Jim Wall knows this well. He picked up the sport of rowing in 1992 when he was 60 years old. A business trip took him to Harvard where he saw college students competing against other rowers from Princeton. He was intrigued.

“I thought it was pretty neat,” Wall says. “I just started rowing after that.”

In fact, on that same business trip he went to Vermont and ordered a rowing “shell” or boat to bring home to Dayton. Wall met another rower, Charlie Doyle, on the river shortly after he put that first boat in the water and the two of them joined with two others and decided to form a club just for local rowers.

Wall and Doyle, along with Dr. Todd Sobol and Steve Herbert, founded the Greater Dayton Rowing Association and today the group has more than 100 adult members and about 100 youth (mostly high-school aged) members.

“In 1994 we started our junior program to interest young people in rowing,” Wall says. “We did a lot of school visits to tell the kids about the programs.”

Wall ended up competing for nearly a decade and it took him all across the country. And though he stopped competing in 1998 he continues to enjoy the sport on the rivers of his hometown.

Also in 1994 the city of Dayton constructed a building especially for the rowing association. It was a basic structure that didn’t have heat or air-conditioning but the group used it as a boathouse during the warmer months. During the cold weather, however, members had to find another place to keep up their fitness and rowing skills.

“There is an old saying that ‘winter workouts make the boats go faster in the spring,’” Wall says. “We run programming year-round and it’s important to keep rowing even when you aren’t on the water.”

This programming includes race training, recreational rows, annual regattas, adult sweep teams, socials and get-togethers and, of course, the year-round fitness and technique training. Known as “erging,” which is short for “ergometers” or rowing machines, this exercise is one of the most complete cardiovascular workouts available.

The machines can be used year-round and cover all ranges of intensity. And even though it appears to be just another “sitting” exercise it is a full body workout and utilizes all the muscle groups.

“We are now mostly using the YMCA for our winter workouts,” Wall says. “Some of our members have moved around to other locations over the years, too.”

For the past decade the Greater Dayton Rowing Association has been working on a plan to address the need for a building to house indoor fitness equipment that can be used year round. A new 2,500-square-foot building is in the works near the site of the current building at Island MetroPark. The new building will be constructed next to the existing building and is expected to cost a total of $1 million. So far $150,000 has been raised, but the hope is that construction will still begin sometime this year.

“A lot of our members put in money and we are also writing grants and hoping to find more people who appreciate the sport,” Wall says. “We do have a grant writer to help us.”

The process has been a lengthy one mostly because of the work required with the current partners, including the city of Dayton, Montgomery County, The Miami Valley Conservancy District and Five Rivers MetroParks. Past projects of this group of partners include the Helena and Keowee Street bridge improvement, which will help keep the waterways clear for rowers.

“We are lucky to have the dam system we have here,” Wall says. “It helps keep the water level up.”

Wall says that studies, including a flood hazard evaluation and a surface and subsurface evaluation of conditions at Island Park where the new building will be constructed, have taken time. Once validations have been received the next stage of the building plan can move forward.

Another way to educate people about rowing and the proposed new facility is to bring back the annual regatta, which the Greater Dayton Rowing Association has been unable to host for the past few years due to bridge construction. The rowing association hosted its first regatta in 1995 and it was called the Five Rivers Fall Regatta. Founding member Charlie Doyle died in 2007 and that year it was renamed in honor of Doyle—the Charlie Doyle Memorial Regatta.

“The regattas are 2,000-meter races on the Great Miami River between (Interstate) 75 and Helena Street,” Wall says. “Regattas attract people from all over, so we are looking forward to bringing it back this October.

Wall says that there is a renewed interest in rowing among young people, especially girls who are looking for ways to earn scholarships for college. Colleges like Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan and Rutgers come to Dayton to recruit rowers.

“Title 9 has really opened up the sport to everyone,” Wall says. “Parents have told me that college would have been unattainable without rowing.”

In fact, more than half of all the girls who take up rowing end up being offered scholarships. About 25% of the boys are also offered money for college, in many cases, full-ride scholarships.

And the sport seems to stick with people, even into old age. Wall continues to row regularly four days per week year-round.

“It’s hard work, but it grows on you,” Wall says. “Age isn’t really a factor.”

For more information about the club offerings and the new rowing facility, visit