“As the first black high school rowing team, we thought we were going to change the sport, just like Jackie Robinson changed baseball….but instead, the sport changed us. Rowing gave us a purpose and gave us each other. It saved my life…”
- Arshay Cooper
A Most Beautiful Thing (narrated by Common, written and directed by Olympian Mary Mazzio) is based on the true story and memoir of Arshay Cooper, recounting how a group of young men growing up on the West Side of Chicago, while living through the daily battles of trauma, violence and poverty, were able to come together through an unexpected yet powerful opportunity.
We, at the George Pocock Rowing Foundation believe that rowing transforms lives. The GPRF and leaders in our sport have established A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund to support education, scholarship, and mentorship programs to get more kids rowing on the water, focusing on non-traditional communities and communities of color where youth face barriers to participation in the sport.
In partnership, the GPRF and Arshay Cooper will pursue their shared passion to spread rowing to youth in underserved communities on a national level, including programs that:
Educate athletes, coaches and boathouse leaders across the country on the importance of accessibility and inclusion within the sport.
Raise awareness around rowing and the opportunities it affords student athletes, particularly traditionally underserved and minority communities.
Fund need-based scholarships and other services to remove barriers such as team fees, equipment, transportation, language barriers and after-school support.
Report demographic data on the fund’s programs and participating boathouses to benchmark, track progress, and ensure effectiveness over time.
By working with school districts across the country through programs such as ErgEd, we have close to 40,000 athletes participating annually in our sport through our work, and we want to continue to encourage participation from more diverse and underserved communities.
Would you like to help us transform the lives of more young athletes? By donating to A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund, your contribution assists our youth development initiative, changing lives through the sport of rowing.
Inclusion Committee Leaders
Together, the GPRF and the Inclusion Committee will lead the fundraising, development and implementation of the new fund. The committee includes a diverse group of leaders across the rowing and philanthropic communities, including:
Aquil Abdullah, Olympic rower
Aquil Abdullah rowed at The George Washington University, graduating in 1996 with a degree in Physics. He was on the US national team from 1999 through 2004, where he competed at the 2001 and 2002 World Championships, the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and several World Cup regattas and the 1999 Pan Am Games. Currently the Senior Infrastructure Engineer as well as a featured athlete at Hydrow, Inc., Aquil also has served as a senior data analyst/software developer for CargoMetrics (Boston), as a software developer for Microsoft and as an application engineer for Interactive Supercomputing.
Aquil earned a silver medal in the single at the 1999 Pan Am Games and was the first African American male rower to qualify for the Summer Olympics (2004) where he made the final in the men’s double, the only US men’s double to have done so since 1984. He also won the Diamond Challenge Sculls (1x) at the Henley Royal Regatta in 2000.
Aquil coached the Mandela Crew, from 1998-1999. Mandela was the first African American and Latino crew to compete at the Head of the Charles in 1995. Currently, he sits on a subcommittee of the Head of the Charles Regatta working to increase diversity at the event. Aquil also had a feature role in the 2004 documentary Unconstitutional, which addressed restrictions on civil liberties which coincided with the passing of the Patriot Act. Aquil has been on numerous boards and advisory boards including Community Rowing Inc. (2009 – 2010), Chicago Training Center Athlete Advisory Council (2006 – 2012), RowVigor, Advisory Board (2017 - 2018), Blue Water Metrics, Technical Advisor (2016-present), and the Boston Foundation Civic Compact (2010).
After rowing, Aquil sailed competitively from 2006-20010, winning the Newport Bermuda race in the New York 42 in 2008. Aquil and his wife Megan now reside in Ipswich, MA with their two children. Aquil can be seen rowing on the Charles River and on the Hydrow rowing platform. Aquil co-authored a book, Perfect Balance, after losing the Men’s Single Scull tie-breaker by 0.3 seconds at the 2000 Olympic trials. Aquil is also an accomplished saxophonist and has performed professionally.
David Banks, Olympic rower & Former Board Member US Rowing
David Banks began rowing as a collegiate athlete at Stanford University where he earned an undergraduate degree in Urban Studies and a graduate degree in Construction Management. Banks is a two-time Olympian and a five-time national team athlete.
John Bottum, President and acting co-Executive Director, George Pocock Rowing Foundation
Award-winning human resource professional, who loves bringing individuals and organizations together around shared goals and accomplishments. Co-leader of a group who raised 45M+ for the American Red Cross following September 11 and Hurricane Katrina with more recent efforts focused on getting more youth on the water. The privilege of working with the Foundation is inspired by his niece, who discovered the sport through a Pocock program and went on to win a D1 national championship in the “engine room,” at a stereotype shattering 5’7” (self-reported). Seeing firsthand the transformative nature of rowing on and off the water makes it very personal for John in wanting other kids to have that same opportunity. As for John, he was at one point an unremarkable 7 seat, and lives in Seattle with the confusion of having a husband with the same first name.
David Covin, President, Fremont Group
Dave is the President of both the Fremont Group and the Fremont Group Foundation. Dave serves as the President of the Boards of the Princeton University Rowing Association and Oakland Strokes Rowing Club. He also is a Board member of the William & Mary Foundation.
Anita DeFrantz, Olympic rower, member of the International Olympic Committee, and twice Vice-President of International Rowing Federation
Nonprofit executive and Olympic athlete Anita DeFrantz was born on October 4, 1952 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Robert David and Anita Page DeFrantz. In 1970, she graduated from Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. DeFrantz received her B.A. degree in political philosophy in 1974 from Connecticut College, and her J.D. degree in 1977 from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia.
DeFrantz captained the U.S. women’s rowing team and rowed in the eight boat that won a bronze medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. In 1977, she started her career as a staff attorney at the Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia, and was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar. In 1980, she led the athletes’ fight for the right to compete at the Moscow Olympic Games, including suing the United States Olympic Committee. The International Olympic Committee honored her with the bronze medal of the Olympic Order. DeFrantz served as vice president of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and was elected to International Olympic Committee membership in 1986, the first African American and the first American woman to serve on the committee. In 1987, DeFrantz was named president of the LA84 Foundation. From 1989 to 1994, she served on the IOC’s Program Commission and is credited with the acceptance of women’s soccer and softball onto the Olympic program. DeFrantz also helped increase the number of women’s competition opportunities on the Olympic program. She was elected to the IOC Executive Board in 1992 and appointed to the IOC’s Olympic Program Commission. In 1993, she was elected vice president of FISA, the International Rowing Federation and served for 20 years. In 1995, she was appointed chair of the IOC’s Women and Sport Commission; and, in 1997, DeFrantz was the first woman elected to a four-year term as vice president. DeFrantz established the Tubman Truth Corporation in 2016 and serves as president. The goal of Tubman Truth is to end slavery. She also serves on LA 2028, the Los Angeles organizing committee for the 2028 summer Olympic Games, and was a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) where she was elected for a second term as a vice president in 2017.
From 1991 to 1999, The Sporting News named DeFrantz one of the 100 most powerful people in sports. In 2003, Sports Illustrated named her one of the 101 most influential minorities in sports; and, in 2006, the NCAA named her one of NCAA’s Most 100 Influential Student Athletes. The French magazine L’Equipe named DeFrantz one of the 10 Women Who Changed Sport in 2010; and, the following year, Newsweek named her one of 150 Women Who Shake the World, and Los Angeles magazine named her one of 10 Women Making a Difference in Los Angeles. In 2016, she received the Olympic Truce Award at the Rio Olympic Games. DeFrantz has also received honorary doctorate degrees from Pepperdine University, Mount Holyoke College and Pomona College. She received the Distinguished Leadership Award from the Center for Sociocultural Sport and Olympic Research (CSSOR) at California State University, Fullerton.
Patricia Spratlen Etem, MPH CIVIC Communications Consultant
Patricia Spratlen Etem learned to row and completed a championship career at the University of California, Berkeley through 1979. Her first national development team position was earned in 1978. Ms. Etem earned one bronze, and two silver World Championship medals, in 1979, 1981, and 1983. Ms. Etem earned spots on two USA Olympic Teams, 1980 (beating the East German team at the Lucerne International Regatta, prior to the boycotted games) and 1984, finishing 4th in the four. Ms. Etem won several regional and conference collegiate titles, and open national championships and time trials in the pair and four. The power of Title IX, and the persistence of esteemed teammates, among them, Patricia Brink and Anita De Frantz, made her career possible.
Ms. Etem earned a BA in 1979 and an MPH in 1985 from UC Berkeley. She has built a career in Public Health, Public Policy, and Program and Workforce Development in the disciplines of Tobacco Use Prevention and Policy Implementation, Non-Profit Health Program Resource Development & Management, and Health Workforce Education Career Pathway Model of Practice Development throughout Southern California.
A strong supporter of club, high school and college sports, Ms. Etem served on the boards of Long Beach Junior Crew and Wilson High School Girls Aquatics.
Committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, including by serving on the Long Beach Unified School District LinkedLearning Advisory, and as a Governor's Appointee to the California Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee for five and 10 years respectively and continuously, Ms. Etem is honored to support and advance efforts to increase access to rowing among under-represented youth in the sport. Rowing is a seminal way to understand and embrace multi-cultural life, the fundamentals of teamwork, coachability, goal setting, self-realization, commitment, and access to higher education. Supporting efforts, methods, policies, and practices for education and non-profit organizations to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion in rowing, academic, and career advancement, is paramount to supporting these institutions as they fulfill their missions; and fulfills a personal and family legacy to civic and cultural engagement.
Ms. Etem is married to US Naval Academy grad and rower, Richard, and together, they have raised three phenomenal academic and athletic champions in swimming, rowing, and hockey, Elise, Martin, and Emerson.
Patricia is looking forward to joining efforts to make sports careers possible, at many levels, for diverse youth, and to working with the advisory to help fulfill the dreams of many and change the complexion of rowing, it's pipeline, partnerships, and teams in America.
Jenn Gibbons, Executive Director, George Pocock Rowing Foundation
Jenn first fell in love with rowing as a freshman when she was recruited in the cafeteria at Michigan State University. After graduation, she moved to Chicago and began coaching junior athletes at St. Ignatius. In the fall of 2007, she co-founded Recovery on Water (ROW), a rowing team for patients and survivors of breast cancer. Jenn went on to be hired as ROW’s first full-time staff member in the fall of 2012. Since then, she has helped grow ROW into a sustainable nonprofit, providing weekly programs on and off the water as well as a Power10 Camp, a summer camp for women diagnosed with breast cancer. All while somehow finding time to raise funds rowing and biking the 1,500 miles around Lake Michigan. In her time at ROW, Jenn has had an opportunity to do a little bit of everything from leading grassroots fundraising for a boathouse, to partnering on marketing campaigns with top brands like Athleta, to filling gas tanks, to coaching and developing innovative programming, all with the purpose of changing lives. Her contributions to the sport have been recognized by USRowing as Masters Coach of the Year in 2011 and more recently with the Anita DeFrantz Award in 2018. Jenn and her work have also been honored with the Athena-Foundation Chicago Young Professional Award and Michigan State Alumni Sparty Innovator Award among others. Jenn is thrilled to be joining the George Pocock Rowing Foundation this fall, carrying on a legacy of using this powerful sport to change lives.
William Hudson, Retired attorney, venture investor, lifelong rower and passionate supporter of the sport as a change agent for youth
Rowing has been part of Bill’s family ethos for as long as he can remember including coxing and then rowing in high school, college and as a master rower; rowing with his Dad in the open waters of Maine; and rooting for his kids in high school and college regattas and at Henley.
A retired corporate securities attorney, Bill graduated from Columbia Law School and went on to clerk for a U.S. District Court Judge before dedicating his professional career first to private law practice and then to the role of General Counsel of a public technology company.
As the former multi-decade director of the Marin Rowing Association, Bill has seen the power of successful youth rowing programs in changing the course of kids’ lives, and is deeply committed to making the sport more broadly available to the youth of America.
Bill is passionate about how the power of the sport can help kids forge a positive path forward in their lives.
Mary Mazzio, Olympic rower, Director of A Most Beautiful Thing and Principal of 50 EGGS Films
In all of her films, Mary Mazzio (an Olympic rower herself), explores the concept of overcoming obstacles, whether it is a fight for social change (A Hero for Daisy, I Am Jane Doe), or issues of poverty and lack of opportunity (Ten9Eight, Underwater Dreams). Her mission of shedding light on compelling narratives of social significance has made her one of the country’s most prominent socially impactful filmmakers. For her film Underwater Dreams, Mazzio collaborated with the White House and raised more than $100 million dollars in public and private partnerships for STEM initiatives for underserved students. Her last film, I Am Jane Doe, elevated the voices of young sex trafficking survivors, catalyzing bipartisan federal legislation signed by the President in 2018 as well as legislation abroad. All of Mazzio’s films are about ordinary people doing extraordinary things – defying expectations and challenging assumptions of who and what they can achieve.
Dan Walsh, Olympic rower, Partnership Liaison for Hudson Boat Works and Concept2
Dan started rowing as a teen at a program in his hometown of Norwalk, CT, called Reach out and Row. He went on to row at Northeastern University, as the first male in his family to go to college. His accomplishments in rowing include being on the national team from 2001-2012, and competing at the Olympics in 2004 as well as in 2008, where he earned a bronze medal in the men’s 8. Dan has been a High Performance Committee member for US Rowing and a Shields Fellow for the National Rowing Foundation. He’s worked on many ventures in the rowing industry, most recently as the Hudson Boat Works representative for the newly established HQ.
When Dan met Arshay, he felt a connection with him immediately. With a personal mission to help break down the barriers of elitism the sport of rowing has historically built, Dan wants to help open doors for youth to row and experience this life changing sport in the same way he was afforded many years ago.
Read our Press Release for details on how we plan to support the work of Arshay Cooper to make our sport more accessible and inclusive across America, and get more kids rowing on the water.
About The Film
Narrated by Academy Award and Grammy-winning artist Common. Executive Produced by Common, NBA Stars Grant Hill and Dwyane Wade, and Grammy-winning producer, 9th Wonder. Directed and produced by award-winning filmmaker (and Olympic rower) Mary Mazzio. Featuring original music by femdot., Reuben Vincent, King Draft and Swank; Ian Kelly, GQ, and other hip-hop artists, with beats by E.Jones. A Most Beautiful Thing chronicles the first African American high school rowing team in this country (made up of young men, many of whom were in rival gangs from the West Side of Chicago, all coming together to row in the same boat).
Up to 50% of the film's profits will go to A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund so that every youth has the opportunity to row and reach their full potential without barriers.