Sharing Ergs Not Germs

Offices and schools are empty, homes are full and all over the United States people are feeling the new and ever-changing rules that surround life during the COVID-19 outbreak. Seattle, in many ways the hub of the virus in the United States, was issued a shelter-in-place order with the rest of Washington State by Governor Jay Inslee on Monday, March 23.

On Tuesday, March 24, employees of Renton Rowing Center rushed to their boathouse to help supply athletes with rowing machines before the shelter-in-place order went into effect on Wednesday the 25th. Armed with hand sanitizer and bottled cleaning sprays, coaches helped dole out the machines to parents of youth athletes and master-team rowers from Renton Rowing Center as well as other Seattle boathouses, to supply community members with a way to exercise while sheltered at home.

Between stories of sickness, chaos, and confusion there are moments of great teamwork, resolve and happiness to find during this time. As people adjust to the new normal and try to ascertain safe ways to exercise and be active – run a crowded, popular park trail? Walk or rollerblade a relatively empty sidewalk? – many are looking for other options and one popular alternative is the rowing machine.

Within the rowing community, the practice of borrowing or “checking out” a rowing machine during a break between seasons is common practice. What no one could have anticipated was having to send the machines home with rowers in the middle of the spring racing season, the primary competitive season in the sport of rowing. Despite disappointment and uncertainty many organizations quickly pivoted to come up with alternative plans to stay connected to their athletes and community members, with a rowing machine, to ensure they were able to workout safely while maintaining their self-isolation.

Erg Ed, a program of the George Pocock Rowing Foundation, has 80 rowing machines that are used in the Seattle and Renton middle and high schools to teach a rowing curriculum in PE classes. While some of the machines were inaccessible before schools closed to the public, the Erg Ed staff rushed to retrieve as many machines as they could so youth who did not have fitness facilities or devices at home, could borrow one during the closure. The priority of those ergs was given to the athletes on financial scholarship, in an effort to create greater access and continued connection.

While many things are getting harder, the power of the rowing community can stay strong, even from a distance, to make staying fit and active a little easier for youth and masters alike.

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