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Saturday, June 11, 2016

My Girls: Rowing and Swimming to the Top

MY GIRLS: OUR STORY - Last night I had the honor and the privilege of watching "my girls” graduate from Nora Cronin Presentation Academy.  I call them my girls, because they row at the Newburgh Rowing club and we have been together for years, with Karla joining us at the age of 10.  You can only imagine my pride and joy when each of the girls received multiple academic awards and Karla graduated as valedictorian.  Also in their boat is our wonderful Bowseat, Diana, who was there for support; and Caridad our Coxswain who is in sixth grade and was also there for support.

Karla has been with us the longest. I will never forget when she came to the pool for swim lessons. Her little brother Richie was just a baby and he was so adorable I could not stop picking him up and hugging and kissing him.  He quickly got tired of that and started running away from me every time he saw me, laughing every time and daring me to chase him.  Last night, Richie came to the graduation in his little boy suit, so handsome, and shook my hand and congratulated me. Everyone is becoming so grown up!

“Little Karla” was always coming into the office, where I would be going over one thing or another with the rowing club coaches. She was polite but relentless. Here she was, this little cherub who had just learned to swim, and was just learning to use the indoor rowing machines; and pretty much every week she would stop at the office and ask me the same thing: Mrs.Lo, can I move up to competitive rowing yet?  Not this week, Karla I would say, but soon.

Coach Kennedy had known Karla since she was in kindergarten and had always wanted her to come down to the rowing club.  “She is born to row, that one,” said Coach Kennedy.  He's uncanny like that. 

Citlaly was the next want to join us.  I have never seen an athlete with such heart.  She is so kind and yet so incredibly physically strong.  I try not to ask too much of her unless it is really needed. Because if I ask her to, she will literally row so hard for me but she will pass out. And that's not what we want. But that's the kind of heart she has.  

Isabella and Diana joined us towards the end of sixth grade.  All of the girls are incredibly gifted and incredibly brilliant. Isabella is an all-around athlete. She can run incredibly fast and has won running 5K's, and she is an incredible swimmer, as well as a natural musician. Diana is tremendous at bow seat.  That means that she's responsible for being the captain of the boat so to speak and yet she has to row at the same time.  She is also loyal and diligent. If I ask her to follow up on something, it's as good as done. I can definitely see her practicing law someday.

Fast forward to spring season 2016. The girls are not little pollywogs anymore, they have become serious scholar athletes. They are leaders.  They are kind in their heart, their words, and their deeds.  As are their families.  When my dad passed away at the beginning of May, the girls’ families took turns delivering giant casseroles and tins of delicious food to my house. Every night for nine nights, I would come home and there would be food on my porch.  They were there for the wake, the funeral and the burial.  Somewhere along the way, along with the parents and grandparents we became way more than athletes, we became a family.  And they are all very close friends with my younger son, Michael.  

In the boat, Karla is stroke, meaning she leads the boat sitting in Front of the other rowers and setting the pace.  Citlaly sits behind her at three seat, And Isabella sits behind her at two-seat, forming the "engine" of the boat. Diana steers the boat sitting at bow seat.  They are incredibly versatile in that they can change from sculling (holding two oars in their hands) to sweeping (each row or holds one or in their hands).  They have been rowing against high school girls and on many occasions have beat them. They became the first all middle school boat in history to medal at the Orange Ulster County championship this spring and went into the league championship undefeated, and proceeded to win the first place in the Hudson Valley Rowing League Girls 4+ Division C championship.  What a way to end their career as 8th grade middle school rowers! 

But Rowing for us is about much more than the medals.  It is about friendship, bravery, leadership, and setting an example for the younger generation.  Each of the girls has overcome tremendous adversity in order to get to where they are academically and as rowers. In September, the girls will go off to high school.  Two are going to Lourdes and one to Kennedy Catholic with full scholarships.  Another is entering into One of the best programs at NFA. 

Our younger generation of sixth grade Nora Cronin Rowers will start taking the helm this summer and training to race.  

Our girls who just graduated will start transitioning to a freshman boat, as they all plan to stick together for as long as possible Rowing. And they will spend part of their summer training the younger girls to row competitively.  The entire program is free to the girls as they receive scholarships from the foundation that I cofounded with Coach Kennedy and which I direct, America Rows and swims Newburgh, an official affiliate of USRowing's America Rows  program.  I spend a good deal of my time writing grants and obtaining corporate donations.  This allows us to provide a free learn to swim program and swim club at the Union Avenue community fitness center in new Windsor; and grants to provide free learn to row and competitive rowing programs for kids living below the federal poverty level and kids of differing abilities including down syndrome and autism.  

Back to the graduation ceremony.  When I heard the graduation song and saw the girls in their caps and gowns last night I knew it would be a weepy (In a happy way) kind of ceremony. An hour and a half later, when Karla was announced as the valedictorian I began to choke up again. And when she took the podium and said "I am a competitive Rower" and then went on to compare her four-year term at Nora Cronin to a 2000 meter rowing sprint, I was pretty much bawling. All I could remember was that little pint size girl with the watchful eyes and perpetual grin who kept coming into the office asking if she could move up to competitive Rowing.  Even then, everyone in the office knew it.  We have something really special with these girls.

Congratulations girls, I love you a lot and can't wait to see all the wonderful things you are going to accomplish in high school and beyond. And I'm looking forward to spending the summer training up our new crop of Nora Cronin Rowers.  And continuing with our free swim club as well.  

God has been good to me and I try to share my talents and resources with less fortunate members of the community. If you are a successful person and you have resources, I urge you to share them with others, that is one of the great rewards of being successful.  I do my part to make my little corner of the world a little bit better every day.

Have a great day everyone and, as always, remember to count your blessings, I hope they are many!