While most vessels around Lake Minnetonka were being pulled from the water and readied for winterization, Todd Wilson was launching a pair of boats last week.
Pam Kearney and her daughter, Lucy, joined Wilson on Long Lake last Friday for a morning on the water. For mom and daughter, the club has provided a chance to get some exercise and, more importantly, spend quality time together outside
“It’s really cool because this is one of the only things that she and I have started together,” said Lucy, a freshman at Orono High School. “Everything else has been her teaching me, but we’re both learning rowing together. It’s been a lot of fun.”
They have only been rowing for about six weeks, but both said they can’t get enough.
“We’ve really embraced it,” Pam said. “I absolutely love it. We both do. It’s the coolest sport I’ve ever learned.”
In addition to staying active and bonding with her teenage daughter, Pam said a highlight has been the peace she has found in the rowing chair.
“You’re going at a pedestrian pace, so you notice the geese and the birds and things along the shore,” Pam said “It’s just so quiet and calm.”
Wilson said the open water also provides an opportunity for beginners and veterans alike to contemplate—or escape—their daily life.
"When you become somewhat accomplished at rowing, you can concentrate on rowing and the whole world goes away," he said "Or, you can concentrate on something in the outside world and your muscle memory takes over. You can sort of zone out either way."
The Long Lake Rowing Club has about a dozen active rowers who range in age from 14 to 65. The club plans to travel to regattas throughout the state and nation in the coming seasons and will host its second regatta on Long Lake in June.
The club's first event earlier this summer drew rave reviews from rowers who traveled from all over Minnesota to participate.
"There are no wakes or waves or buoys or bridge abuttments or much boat traffic to deal with," Wilson said. "Here, you can put your head down and row for 200 strokes and not look up. It's magical here. Nobody thought of Long Lake. It's kind of like if you're a skier and you see a untracked field of powder—that's what it's like for a rower on a lake like this."
Wilson, who currently lives in Deephaven and has spent most of his adult life rowing around the world, said people enjoy rowing for a variety of reasons and pointed to the sport’s natural movement as a major attraction for rowers of all ages.
“You’re not pounding your joints like if you were running,” Wilson said. “At the master regattas you’ll see people well into their 80s rowing, and they’ve got the bodies of a 40-year-old. They stay in amazing shape. It keeps you flexible and you work absolutely every muscle in your body.”
Wilson said he envisions the rowing club tapping into what he called a deep pool of elite potential scattered throughout the Lake Minnetonka area.
“With all of the high schools around we really want to provide a good juniors program for kids between, say, 14 and 18,” he said.
Several of the nation’s most renowned rowing coaches, most of whom Wilson has raced for over the years, have already expressed an interest in coming to work with the club and helping to mentor the area’s young talent, he said.
“There’s a U.S. National Team coach who has said he will come and do a clinic for me next summer," he said.
Kids who are interested in rowing after high school have plenty of options to pursue the sport without having to travel too far from home. The University of Minnesota, St. Thomas, St. Cloud State, St. Johns, and Duluth have competitive programs that are constantly trolling the state for top talent.
“There are plenty of opportunities for scholarships, especially for women,” Wilson said.
With very little prodding, Wilson said Gear West has stepped up and offered storage for the Long Lake Rowing Club’s boats and been a key supporter of the club in its infancy.
"They've been awesome," he said. "That's really helped facilitate us because the boats can't sit outside during the winter."
The new rowing club will be hosting a fundraiser on Nov. 11. The event is open to the public and will feature dinner, live auctions, guest speakers and more. Prospective members and rowing enthusiasts of all skill levels can click here for ticket information.