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Steady Growth

Sarah Baker • Aug 27, 2014 at 3:15 PM

There are inspirational pictures on the internet that, in response to the adage, "Good things come to those who wait," say to the effect that good things come to those who work hard.

The latter has proven true for the Sandusky Bay Rowing Association. 

A combination of hard work and serendipitous timing have helped the group get started, grow and thrive.


The group has been around since 2011, when it started with just three members — Sandy Boyd, Andrew Zucker and Alex Etchill.

"Back in 2011, a woman named Sandy Boyd had moved to Sandusky from the Cleveland area," SBRA president Amy Fox said. "She had been a rower at the Western Reserve Rowing Association and she came to Sandusky to work. She just was looking out over the water thinking, 'why do we not have a rowing association here?'"

Fox added that Boyd put up notices in area gyms, to see if there would be interest in starting an association, and that's when Zucker and Etchill got involved. 

"The two of them replied, so the three of them started — just the three of them — to try and find boats," she said.

The search for boats led the group to John Carroll University.

"They contacted John Carroll University and they actually had three boats that they wanted to sell," Fox said.

There were two 8-seaters and one 4-seater. John Carroll loaned the club $3,000 to pay for the boats.

 "They just gave us the boats and said, 'we'll give you until October to pay off the boats for $3,000,'" Fox said. "Now these boats, brand new would be about $200,000 between the three of them — and they gave them to us for $3,000. They gave us the boats, they gave us the oars, and it was such a gift." 

With three members and three boats, the group needed to find more members.


Boyd, Zucker and Etchill put up notices in places they thought athletic people would be at that first summer, and the group grew to 15-16 people, including Fox.

"You know, it's really weird," Fox said of how she came to be involved. "I remember saying to my husband, maybe five years ago, 'I think I want to row. I think I want to get a boat to row.' I was just thinking just for me, just a single, and he said, 'Oh! I'll get you a kayak for your birthday!' and I said, 'no, no, no, no I don't want a kayak.' I mean, I get why people love kayaking, but there's no legs. You don't use your legs. It is just all upper body strength. And I said to him, 'I need something that does everything. I can't just build up one part of my body. I want to do something that's everything.'

"No sooner did I say that to him, than a friend of mine came to me and said, 'you know, I was at the gym the other day and there was a sign in there about rowing, what do you think? Would you want to do that?' and I was like 'are you serious? Of course I'd like to do this!' It was like the answer to my prayer," she said. "I think I had been starting to realize I was going to have to go some place else to do this."

She added that before the SRBA came around, there were Sandusky residents traveling to Cleveland to row. But now, the group has a member who travels into Sandusky from Oberlin.

"When you row in the Cleveland organization, it costs $750 a summer and you get to row once a week," Fox said. "Whereas for us, our membership fee is $250 and we give you two to three or four rows a week. You're set with two and then we have two optional ones on the weekend, so you can do four if you wanted ... and if somebody needs you as a sub, we take nine boats out a week in our organization, so you have so many opportunities to row and as long as you paid your membership fee, we don't care. It's whatever you can do. 

"It's the best sport for losing weight," she added. "(It works) every single muscle in your body — including your neck. Your shoulders, your arms — biceps, triceps, your core, your back, your thighs, your calves, even your feet. You even use your feet, it's amazing."


Boats, check. People, check. Now, where would they store the boats and get out onto the water?

The group worked with Erie Metroparks and used Eagle Point for the first three summers. At Eagle Point, they kept the boats outside throughout the summer and put them in a barn in the winter.

"In the summer, we just left them out in the elements — which was a very scary thing," Fox said. "Every time we got a big storm, there was this fear of a limb dropping down on these boats. It takes next to nothing to crack a boat, so it was a very scary thing. But we were so appreciative that the Metroparks opened this space up for us.

"That first summer we rowed the whole summer," she added. "We went from May until late September and fell in love. Our group fell in love with it." 

She added that over the next two summers, the group doubled and continued to add members and also started fundraising to build a boathouse. The group did a wine event, a reverse raffle/silent auction, and had a person dedicated to writing grants. They received funds from the Dorn Foundation, the Erie County Community Foundation and Firelands Hospital.

"It cost us about $42,000 to build this building," she said of the boathouse on River Ave. "At the time, we thought we were going to stay at Eagle Point. But the water was so low back there we would have to take the boat out a 1/10th of a mile out into the middle of the lake to get water deep enough to row.

"So we started hunting around, and Sandy (Boyd) and Casey Spence, who was our VP at the time, they went to the city of Sandusky and asked if we could come here because the channel is right there and it's deeper," she added. "And they were so enthusiastic about letting us come and be a part of this community here. We've spent a lot of time cleaning it up. We've been dedicated towards that. We work with the Friends of Pipe Creek and we come every year with them to do the big clean up in the whole area."

Fox added that the timing of the boathouse was perfect.

"We built the building last August and it was done by September," she said. "We had our big open house and brought all our boats in and last winter was the first winter they were in here. And with that winter that we had ... can you just imagine? With our boats exposed out there? I honestly, I don't think we could've survived. I don't know that the boats would've made it through the year. Everything we've been working for would've been gone with those boats because right now, as much as we need a new boat, we can't afford it right now. We're on a shoestring budget still." 


For those who want to join, or to learn to row, the requirements are fairly simple.

"Our club is open to anyone who wants to join, but you have to have the will to get in shape," Fox said. "You don't have to be in shape when you start, but you have to be willing to get in shape. That's one of the requirements. The other requirement is you have to be able to swim. Because if you can't swim, you're in trouble if you go in, and last week we did go in, so it was very important to be able to swim. 

"You also have to be able to be a part of eight people lifting these boats up to carry them," she added. "We literally lift in unison and walk them all the way out and then roll them gently into the water. So you do have to have some upper body strength to be able to do it."

Fox says the best things about the club are the camaraderie, the competition and getting to be out on the lake so often.

"What we have found is that our group of rowers have become, No. 1, very close, but we have also become adrenaline junkies," she said. "We're like athletes... many of us are women who never got to do sports in high school —  I didn't get sports in high school — sports started like the year I got out of school, I just missed them.

 "I had no idea how competitive I was," she added. "No idea! Until that first regatta, and oh my God, I was the worst of the worst! I was beyond 'we are going to win', 'this is us,' 'we gotta do this,' and it was just the most amazing high. And all these people who may or may not have ever had that opportunity are now getting it, just by doing this and it's something that you can do as an adult. Who would've thought we'd be able to do this? It's so cool."

"But I think the best thing about what we do is, we get to use that lake every single day," Fox added. "I mean, I've lived here my whole life, and I was not a boater, ever. I never used the lake. Oh, once in awhile I might look at the lake when I went downtown. I lived in Perkins, so I wasn't even downtown all that much growing up, but we get to use it every day.

"It's so beautiful out there," she added. "We'll go out on a Friday morning or a Saturday morning at 6 a.m. and you see the sunrise. Some of my pictures from the sunrise are unbelievable. And we're out there in that beauty and the eagles flying around us? Oh my God, It's wonderful. So there's so much about this sport that's not just energy, but it's also beauty. It's like a ballet when everybody's doing it together — it's just an amazing sport. It becomes such a part of you. I don't know what I would do if I didn't do this. I live for this, the few months of the summer that we get to do it."

Those interested in getting involved should check out the group's website rowsanduskybay.org or find them on Facebook.


Just as a boat continues to move through the water, so too is the SBRA moving forward.

With the boathouse project complete, there are new projects on the horizon to keep improving the club and fundraisers coming up to help.

The first being a wine tasting from 3-6 p.m. Oct. 11 at Sortino's. Tickets cost $30 presale, $35 at the door. With the wine tasting, there will be a tea cup auction and a 50/50 drawing. Wine will also be available to buy through Sortino's with a portion going to the rowing club.

The first project is putting electricity in the boathouse, and then a bathroom, said Fox.

"After that our goal is to get a newer boat," Fox added. "We really need a newer boat. These are probably 25-30 years old and they're very heavy. They have a lot of wood on them. The newer ones are almost all fiberglass and they're so much lighter weight and they go through the water so much faster. 

"When we go to the regattas, we use the boats from there because we don't have a trailer," she added. "We're always shocked when we get into those boats there, they're so much faster than ours." 

Besides electricity, a bathroom and new boats, the club is also looking to get a dock.

"Once we get our dock, which we have a huge grant, the city of Sandusky helped us write a grant and were willing to do this with us to get a floating dock, so that we can not have to put our feet in that muck anymore, which would be amazing — when we don't have to worry about mud," Fox said. "But, once we get the dock, it's just going to blow it wide open. I know way more people will want to do it the minute they know they don't have to get mucky, so that's kind of our story.

"I'm very proud of this organization," she added. "We went from a tiny core group of three people with this huge dream to this reality. It's just been amazing. And we have those three people (Boyd, Zucker and Etchill) to thank for this. They really were the three that started this whole thing. Their vision — Sandy Boyd's vision — and a lot of effort from a whole lot of people. It's pretty amazing." 

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