BRIDGEPORT — Think you’re Bridgeport tough?
Rowing crews from across the Chicago area are about to find out at the second “Tough Cup,” a regatta hosted by the Chicago Training Center, a nonprofit that teaches low-income Southwest Side high school kids the sport of rowing for free.
“This is about engaging the rowing community in a very positive way. And it’s a way to give all the families of our teams a very good reason to witness what we do,” said Montana Butsch, a former Ivy League rower who founded the program in 2007.
The races kick off 7:30 a.m. Saturday at 2800 S. Eleanor St. near Canal Origins Park, the Bridgeport park that acts as a split between the south fork of the Chicago River’s South Branch and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.
The site is already the de facto home of the Chicago Training Center — it's where the teams store their racing shells and equipment in shipping containers — but it's expected to become the group's permanent home when the city completes a modern boathouse project there.
This year, six teams will compete in the races — double the number of squads that competed at last year’s inaugural event. They include the Chicago Training Center, New Trier High School, the Chicago Rowing Foundation (formerly the Lincoln Park Juniors), St. Ignatius College Prep, Crystal Lake Rowing Club and the Wilmette-based Alliance Rowing Club.
The races take place along a starkly industrial stretch of the canal between the Damen Avenue and Pulaski Road bridges where Butsch’s teams practice.
“It’s different in that it’s not really a public waterway. It’s mainly used for commercial purposes. But it’s ideal for long distance training even though it’s not that pretty,” he said.
Spectators can check out the race from the California Avenue bridge, the Western Avenue boatslip and the park area just north of the shuttered Sun-Times printing plant in the 2700 block of Ashland Avenue.
Butsch said race organizers have gotten the OK from the Coast Guard, city officials and local barge pilots to conduct the event.
Brian Easter, director of the Alliance Rowing Club, said the venue for Saturday's race doesn't bother his team in the slightest.
"Where we row [the North Shore Channel] is extremely safe but the water is not exactly clean," said Easter, who's bringing about two dozen of his program's 150 rowers to the Bridgeport race. "We wouldn't be doing this race if we didn't feel it was a safe venue."
The Tough Cup begins at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at 2800 S. Eleanor St. Street parking is available. Teams and spectators are encouraged to bring their own food and drinks.