Before Sunrise: Making Time for Fitness, Friends and Nature

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Three days a week, Anne Ripke works as a veterinarian in Chico. As the wife of a physician and mother of 15-year-old twins, Anne’s day-to-day life is full and active, and her schedule is far from empty.

Nevertheless, early mornings find Anne adding yet another activity to her life: rowing. As early as 5:30am, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, Anne and a group of dedicated rowers lower their boats into the water and make their first strokes across the glassy surface of the Forebay in Oroville.

In the winter months, the group starts in the dark, wearing headlamps to help them maneuver. They row rain or shine, deterred only by the highest winds. Their dedication comes not only from the desire to get a good workout, but also from the promise of beauty. “We get to see the sun rise over Table Mountain every time we’re out there,” says Anne. “We see swallows nesting under the bridge, bald eagles soaring over us, and otters playing in the water. Often we just have to stop and soak in the beauty. I take my camera every time.”

The Table Mountain Rowing Club has been a long time in the making. Several attempts to start the club over the past few years ended without great success. Last year, however, a group of women read Daniel James Brown’s The Boy in the Boat, the true story of the 1936 US Olympic rowing team.

The compelling tale so intrigued the group that they arranged a visit to the Forebay to see rowing in action. Sensing an opportunity, the Forebay Aquatic Center actually put the group into a boat. “We were instantly hooked,” Anne says, and the women began an early-morning routine twice a week.

Others joined the group, each with varying levels of experience. Anne had rowed for a year in college where she fell in love with the sport, but others join the club with no experience whatsoever.

“One great thing about rowing is that you can start at any age and excel,” Anne explains. “We have a couple of young post-grads, but the majority of us fall in the 50- to 55-year-old range. Many have college-age children, or even have grandchildren!”

So what makes rowing worth sacrificing those extra hours in bed? For starters, the exercise.  Rowing primarily works the legs, since each seat rests on a slide that the rowers pull back with their legs while reaching forward for a stroke. In the same movement, rowers work their arms and core, while also testing balance and flexibility. Each rower must also remain mindful of the movement of the boat and of their teammates’ actions.

The need for the whole team to work together to create and maintain momentum makes rowing a sport that builds strong bonds. “Rowing is wonderful exercise and requires athletic skill, but it also involves great camaraderie in a spectacular setting,” says Anne. “We stay fit, enjoy great company, and witness great beauty.”

For all these reasons and more, Anne, now president of the club, has been working diligently with other members to firmly establish their club and welcome newcomers, both female and male. The preparations still in progress include securing more equipment in partnership with California State University, Chico, and finding quality coaches for teaching both new and experienced rowers.

Anne suspects there are many rowers who live locally but have not known how to return to the sport. “I can identify rowers by the techniques they use at the gym,” she says, “and when I talk with them, they usually would love to start rowing again.” Anne also expects the popularity of the sport to increase after the 2016 Olympics and after the release of a movie version of The Boy in the Boat slated for next year.

Just about anyone can contribute to the rowing family. Requirements include the ability to swim and the ability to lift the heavy boats. Those with rowing experience who cannot physically contribute can serve as coxswains, who are always needed to give commands and steer the boat. Teams can form with as few as two and as many as eight people, making the ability to work with others and receive feedback essential, though individuals can also row in single boats.

The most important requirement, Anne says, is the willingness to learn.  As she puts it, “rowing is so different from all other water sports that it’s like being thrown back into kindergarten. But if you’re willing to learn, anyone can do it. It’s so fun to watch people learn and become passionate about this beautiful sport.”

Jenna Christophersen
About Jenna Christophersen

Jenna Christophersen is a Chico native who loves her community and can never get quite enough of the arts. She supports fostering creativity in any venue, especially as a part of young people’s daily lives.

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