Meet the Team: Denise Aquino, National Inclusion Program Manager
Our team is growing and adding rockstars to the staff. This month, Denise Aquino, founder and cohost of Rowing In Color, joins us as the National Inclusion Program Manager.
Read on to learn about Denise's favorite age to coach, who inspires her most, and how funny she can be ;)
How long have you been part of the GPRF?
Just a few days (since January 11, 2021)
How does your position impact the GPRF?
My position directly supports the National Inclusion Program Director and the A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund. I work closely with selected fund recipients in order to ensure that the sport of rowing has more bridges and less barriers.
Where and when did you start rowing?
I first got in a boat as a Freshman on Binghamton University’s club crew team in 2006. What I loved the most was that we fundraised and hustled for every piece of equipment we had. Everything was earned and nothing was given. Most integrally, we did what we could to make sure that price wasn’t the deterring factor for anyone who wanted to row. Years later I learned that pedigree seems to be everything in the rowing world. But to me, the backbone of the rowing world and those with the natural inclusion mindset are those who competed on club teams. I’m so proud of my club team roots, and as a result I attribute both my work ethic and team mentality to where I got my start.
What is your favourite memory of rowing?
Ok, this is a coach-mom moment. So I used to coach middle schoolers, which was the most challenging but most rewarding (and still my favorite) age group to work with. Years ago, I was preparing the 8th grade girls 8+ for “the big race.” And while we never had a perfect practice, I kept telling the girls that pressure is good, because pressure makes diamonds. Weeks went on and when the girls 8+ launched for their race, you could feel the pressure in the air, you could see it in their body language, you could hear it in their voices, etc. But I did as I usually did and told them they absolutely had this. As I watched the race from the shore, I saw that not only were they in 2nd place but they were falling behind to 3rd place, which was last place. Fearing the middle school meltdowns, I ran to catch them as they docked. What I saw wasn’t a boat full of crying tweenagers, but laughter and high fives. I was schooled. I grabbed their bow ball and said, “how was your race, girls?” One by one, they said things like, “Oh the boat felt so good” and “Rhazeel was an amazing stroke!” and “it was our best row yet.” And at that moment I knew, no matter what the finishing place, that 9 young rowers grew up from being girls to being young women. I was so, so proud of them.
Who inspires you the most in the sport?
Arshay, no doubt. Also, I’m inspired by young minds like Patricia Destine who are vocal about their experiences and are passionate about the changes that are required in order for the sport to succeed. Working with younger people fills my cup and inspires me to keep growing and to keep passing the microphone.
My Lola, which means grandmother in the Philippine language. She’s independent, generous, and goal-oriented. Even in her 80’s she still wants to open an Etsy store together with me!
How has your rowing experience changed during COVID-19
Well, I got laid off, so that was a big change! But my passion project, Rowing in Color, happened to grow exponentially during the same time, so my perspective changed from only being on the coaching / program management side, to being on the media / community building side of the rowing world. I always loved team building or buying audio equipment I never needed, and finally those skills (and purchases) were put to good use with Rowing in Color.
What advice would you give to someone considering rowing for the first time?
You belong here. Focus on what you’re getting out of it. Rowing can be with you for a reason, a season, or for life. Whatever is calling you or whatever it’s teaching you, let it help you grow.
Do you have a favourite workout?
Yes! Erging with a broken monitor so no one can see my split.