CORONA — At the boathouse on Meadow Lake inside Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, middle and high school girls from around the city are learning the sport of rowing.
And inside the boat, Row New York is teaching them to pull their own oar in life, too.
“Before Row New York, I had never really thought of leaving for college. That was never something that I was exposed to,” said Char Rednon, an alum of the program who went on to Binghamton University. “That was never something that I was exposed to. I’m the first one in my family to go to college.”
Rednon, 25, rowed at Binghamton, and returned to NYC four years ago to work with younger girls as Row New York's Queens novice coordinator.
The six-day-a-week program is a major commitment for participants, who travel from all over the city for the program at Meadow Lake.
“It’s hard. It’s really hard, especially with school and coming here straight from school and my commute,” said Aleeyah Marrero, 16.
Marrero moved to The Bronx a few years ago but still belongs to the Queens rowing team — even though it adds more than an hour each day to her commute. She said she chose to stay for her teammates, who she calls her “sisters.”
“It makes me feel really safe to be here,” she said.
Row New York was founded in 2002 by Amanda Kraus, who wanted to make both rowing and academic help available to anyone in New York City.
It’s since grown to include Manhattan and Queens programs, at Meadow Lake and the Peter J. Sharp boathouse on the Harlem River. The program started only with girls, and introduced boy rowers to its Manhattan program in 2012.
Although New York City is surrounded by water, there aren't many options for students looking to learn how to row.
The city's only public high school team was at Beach Channel High School in Rockaway Park for nearly 40 years before the team folded as the campus was restructured. So the Row New York squad competes against teams at regattas on Long Island and in other states.
"All my life I’ve grown around here I’ve walked around these places but I never noticed there was this type of program going on," rower Hillary Rodriguez, 16, said.
But what drew her most to the program was the academic support.
When they’re not on the water or running rowing drills on land, participants are meeting with tutors and working on their college applications.
The program offers one-on-one Regents and SAT prep, with an eye on good grades and improvement.
The team members visit colleges while on rowing trips, introducing girls to a world beyond New York City — and are given tools they can use for the rest of their lives.
“What I try to teach them about rowing is that it’s really internal, it’s about your internal work, how you’re working on yourself and how you define the success of that work,” said Breanne Fitzsimmons, the Queens Youth Program Manager.
“We try to make sure the goals aren’t about results, but more so about how we feel about ourselves.”