Category Archives: Sports

Livio Sanchez’s “American Portrait”

Last month, Westport’s Livio Sanchez was chosen to be part of an elite team.

As part of its 50th anniversary, PBS selected 100 videographers and photographers from around the country — 2 per state — to help define what it means to be an American today. The “American Portrait” project will focus on the beliefs, traditions and experiences that make up this vast nation.

Little did Sanchez — or anyone else — know that soon, life in America would abruptly change.

Livio Sanchez

Sanchez — an award-winning editor, producer and director who has worked with top ad agencies, Google, Microsoft, Amazon Studios, Netflix, Nike, GM and the New York Times — quickly shifted gears.

He’d already done 3 stories. Now he’s documenting life during the coronavirus crisis.

PBS has pivoted too. They’re planning a special broadcast. Sanchez’s subjects are being considered as possible leads.

The videos are short, but compelling. Subjects include Stephen “Doc” Parsons and Griffin Anthony. Sanchez met both while playing men’s baseball for the Westport Cardinals.

Also included: Saugatuck Congregational Church Rev. Alison Patton. Sanchez met her and her husband Craig when their sons played on the same Little League team.

A screenshot from one of Livio Sanchez’s PBS videos.

Click below for links to several videos. As we all grapple with COVID-19, these clips provide compelling looks into American life, yesterday and today.

Stephen “Doc” Parsons

Griffin Anthony

(In addition to pros like Sanchez, the PBS series will include submissions from the public. Click here to see the trailer for PBS’ “American Portrait.”)

COVID-19 Roundup: Business Advice; Stop & Shop Special Hours For Seniors; Restaurant, Parks & Rec News

State Senator Will Haskell says:

Person-to-Person
Many families in our area are struggling with the economic repercussions of temporary unemployment. Person-to-Person (P2P) serves residents of Fairfield County who are affected by the outbreak. No proof of income is required for those who are seeking food assistance.

Free shelf-stable groceries including produce, protein and dairy are available to employees furloughed due to COVID-19 and residents with incomes below 235 percent of federal poverty guidelines. Call 203-655-0048 to make an appointment. Locations in Darien, Norwalk and Stamford supply food to the public with varying hours.

P2P is also supplying emergency financial assistance for those who need help with rent, security deposits, utilities and small emergency expenses. Call 203-655-0048 for more information.

If you’re not struggling to put food on the table, consider helping others by donating food, toiletries, paper goods, diapers or gift cards. These supplies can be dropped off at 1864 Post Road in Darien or 76 South Main Street in Norwalk from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, and after hours by appointment. For more details, call 203-621-0703.

Finally, you can donate to a virtual food drive at www.p2phelps.org. Person-to-Person can purchase more than $3 worth of food with every dollar donated.

Unemployment and Layoffs
Unfortunately, an increasing number of businesses will be laying off staff and reducing hours. The financial repercussions of this health crisis could be tremendous. The Connecticut Department of Labor asks that you follow these steps if you are a worker or business owner who needs to file for unemployment:

If you are a worker: Visit www.filectui.com to file for unemployment as soon as possible. It is important to file as soon as you become unemployed. If you need help completing your application, email dol.webhelp@ct.gov.

If you contract COVID-19 and need to take time off work or are fired, you may file for unemployment benefits. You may also file for unemployment benefits if you are required to self-quarantine, your employer closes during this outbreak or a family member becomes ill. The outcome will depend on a case-by-case basis.

If your employer only permits you to work part-time instead of full-time or you work multiple jobs and your full-time employer closes, you may be eligible for partial unemployment.

If your employer retaliates against you for filing unemployment, you may file a complaint under the Connecticut Unemployment Compensation Act.

The Department of Labor is also suspending federal work search programs requiring unemployment recipients to meet one-on-one for assistance and is suspending work search requirements for unemployment benefits. Furloughed employees are eligible for at least six weeks of benefits.

If you are an employer: If one of your employees is sick with COVID-19, you can require them to stay home, though you should issue them an Unemployment Separation Package.

If you must close your business due to illness or quarantine, direct your employees to www.filectui.com.

The Department of Labor offers a SharedWork program for employers seeing business slow down. This is an alternative to a layoff, allowing employers to reduce full-time employees’ wages by up to 60 percent while workers collect partial unemployment. All employers with at least two full-time or permanent part-time employees can participate. A reduction of work must be between 10 and 60 percent of activities.

More details, including information about paid sick leave, wages and hours, and family medical leave, can be found at this link.

Small Businesses
Small businesses are the cornerstone of Connecticut’s economy, employing roughly 700,00 residents. That’s why Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development announced that the 800 small business owners who owe loan payments to the state’s Small Business Express program can defer payment for three months.

Yesterday Governor Lamont submitted a request to the U.S. Small Business Administration, asking the federal agency to issue a declaration that will enable Connecticut’s small business owners to receive economic injury disaster loans. Once these loans become available, I will spread the word on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Starting Thursday, Stop & Shop will offer seniors-only shopping from 6 a.m. to 7:30. Only customers 60 and over — the most vulnerable group for acquiring the virus — will be allowed in the store then.

The decision was made, the chain says, to “practice effective social distancing.”

In addition, starting today, all Stop & Shop stores will now close at 8 p.m. That will give employees more time to unload inventory and stock shelves.

(Hat tip: Paula Lacy)


Nathaniel Brogadir of Delivery.com is offering local restaurant owners no fees for 30 days. Owners should email nbrogadir@delivery.com for details.


Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department has closed its office until further notice.

All programs and program registration is postponed indefinitely.

Beach emblem sales are postponed until April 1. They can be ordered online then. If assistance is needed, call 203-341-5090.

Westport’s Parks & Rec Department in Longshore is closed until further notice. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

 

Collateral COVID Damage: Staples Basketball Team Devastated As State Tournament Is Canceled

Marisa Shorrock is a senior at Staples High School, and a captain of the basketball team. On Monday night, the Wreckers — ranked #1 in the state, and nearing the end of their best season in decades — defeated Glastonbury to advance to the state tournament semifinals.

Just hours later, they received devastating news: The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference canceled the state tourney. Just like that, the season — with its dream of a title, a capstone to years of goal-setting, hard work, and playing together — was over.

Marisa — who was also a goalie on the soccer team, and will play lacrosse this spring (if there are high school sports) — wrote powerfully about the intense emotions she and her teammates felt after the cancellation. (The Staples boys team was also affected: After their best season in many years, they were eager to begin their own state tournament quest. It ended 6 hours before the opening tip-off.)

Her piece was published yesterday in The Ruden Report — the go-to platform for local high school sports, run by Staples grad Dave Ruden. It appeared yesterday morning, just hours before the Westport Public Schools announced they were closing for the foreseeable future. Marisa wrote:

As a kid, I had always dreamed of that one “great moment.”

I dreamed that I was scoring the World Cup winning goal when I practiced my penalty kicks on the “big girl” nets outside of school. I dreamed of making the buzzer-beater basket in the WNBA Finals when I counted down “3..2..1..” while trying to sink the craziest shot I could make up on the spot.

The “crowd” would go crazy. I would be running around, hands reached out to the sky, cheering at the top of my lungs.

Marisa Shorrock in action against Norwalk High earlier this year. (Photo/Mark Conrad for The Ruden Report)

One day. That’s what I would tell myself. One day I would have my own great moment.

As I got older, I realized that great moments don’t just happen, you have to work for them. Hard. You work through school breaks and race to practice right after the final bell rings. Your muscles always ache and bruises seem to pop up in a new place on your body every day. Injuries will come and go, but you will always work your way back.

You never give up, because you know that no matter the blood, sweat, and tears that you have shed for this sport, the reward at the end will always be worth it.

But what if that reward was just stripped away? Without warning.

Marisa Shorrock battles Greenwich, in the FCIAC tournament last month. (Photo/Mark Conrad for The Ruden Report)

I woke up yesterday [Tuesday] morning, coming off the high of a win that marked my team’s advancement into the state semifinal round, to find out that my season was over. My whole entire basketball career was done. Finished. While the CIAC will be back next year, I, and all of my fellow seniors, will not.

It took a while for the reality of the situation to fully sink in. It was like my brain couldn’t physically processes the information. How could I go from playing in front of a hundred fans to not being allowed to step foot on the court with my thirteen teammates, all in the span of less than twenty-four hours?

There would be no state tournament. No title. No celebration. No great moment. There wouldn’t even be the opportunity to lose.

When my team lost the FCIAC finals in double overtime, the core-shattering devastation felt like an out-of-body experience. I thought that I would never feel anything worse than the emotions I felt after that game. I was wrong.

Marisa Shorrock’s teammates included (from left) Nicole Holmes, Kat Cozzi and Abby Carter. They pressured Glastonbury High’s Charlotte Bassett Monday night, in what turned out to be the Wreckers’ last game of the season. (Photo/Mark Conrad for The Ruden Report)

Although I absolutely hate losing, nothing is worse than not even being able to compete. There’s no closure. It’s unsettling.

The title was right there. Two more games. Just over an hour of play time. That’s all we needed. I know that we were not guaranteed to make it to the finals and we might not have pulled off the magical finish I had always dreamed about; however, after all of the hard work and fighting through adversity, not even having the opportunity to compete was heartbreaking.

I understand that with a global health pandemic decisions need to be made. However, how is it that I am still attending a 1,900 person school every day? How is it that the same day the tournament was cancelled, my 10th grade brother was allowed to play rec basketball at Staples with hundreds of other boys and referees? When the rules don’t make any sense, that’s when I begin to question the decisions being made.

Tomorrow marks my 18th birthday, the day before what would have been Staples’ first semifinal basketball game in 25 years. Instead of spending the night as the kid that would always dream about the endless possibilities, I am left contemplating the harsh reality as I enter the adult world. There will always be a new decision to be made. There will always be controversy. The world’s not fair, but soon I, and hopefully all of my fellow seniors, will learn to accept the outcome and continue to dream for those great moments.

(Click here for the Ruden Report.)

Skip Gilbert: US Youth Soccer’s New CEO Is Our Neighbor

The Westport Soccer Association is one small cog in the soccer world. It’s overseen by state and national organizations, and ultimately the biggest ruling body of all: FIFA.

But Westport has always punched above its weight in soccer. We’ve produced far more than our share of professional players. NBC Sports analyst and former national team athlete Kyle Martino is a Staples High School product; so is noted Clemson University coach Mike Noonan. His brother Mark is a former MLS executive, and recently returned from a stint as CEO of one of Africa’s top clubs.

Add one more Westport name to the list of soccer luminaries. Skip Gilbert was recently named CEO of US Youth Soccer. With over 3 million players ages 5-19, 300,000 coaches and 600,000 volunteers and administrators, it’s the largest member of US Soccer, the sport’s American governing body.

Skip Gilbert at the University of Vermont …

Gilbert is not a native Westporter, but his soccer pedigree is as impressive as anyone who is. He grew up in Oyster Bay, Long Island, and attended Lawrenceville Academy in New Jersey. His love of goalkeeping was cemented when his JV coach told his parents, “Skip has absolutely no regard for his personal safety.”

His select Mercer County team played men’s squads from Europe, and NASL reserve sides. “We got our butts kicked,” he says. “But it was a great learning experience.”

Gilbert rose up the soccer ladder: Olympic Development Program, University of Vermont (majoring in economic and political science), Tampa Bay Rowdies, training with Sheffield United and clubs in Holland and Hong Kong.

But the NASL folded. The indoor league paid poorly. “My parents had put way too much money into my education,” he says.

So Gilbert sold advertising for Ziff-Davis and The Sporting News. Then his career got really interesting.

He worked in management capacities with the US Tennis Association, USA Triathlon, USA Swimming and US Soccer. He was chair of the National Governing Bodies Council.

… and Skip Gilbert today.

Most recently Gilbert was managing director of operations, marketing and development for the US Anti-Doping Agency.

He, his wife Jenifer and their 3 children lived in Colorado, Darien, South Norwalk and Ridgefield, before moving 4 years ago to Westport.

“My wife is a general contractor and interior decorator,” he jokes. “It’s much better to trade houses than husbands.”

Now he’s back in soccer — the sport he loves. He oversees those 3 million players, along with 55 state associations, a national championship series, many other programs, and 13 conferences. He’s youth soccer’s liaison to the national US Soccer governing body.

His take on the state of youth soccer overall will interest the parents of Westport’s many young players — and those in other sports too.

“So much of our clubs, leagues and national association is focused on our top 15% pyramid,” he says. “We have to spend more time on the recreational side.

“It’s a social issue. Kids get to 13 or 14, and think if they’re not on the competitive side of the game, they can’t play. That’s a huge opportunity we’ve lost. We need to keep kids involved.”

He advocates eliminating “recreational” from the vernacular. “If you’re on the field, you’re a player,” Gilbert says.

He also realizes the need to “get control of sideline conduct. It’s the worst now it’s ever been.”

His daughter Greta no longer plays soccer (she’s a high-level rower at the Saugatuck Rowing Club). But when she was on a club team a few years ago, Gilbert says he was “shocked at what I heard on the sidelines. And coaches didn’t address it.”

It’s endemic to all sports. So Gilbert is working with his counterparts at national organizations for football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball and other sports to find solutions.

“We’re losing volunteers and referees everywhere because of the sidelines,” he says. “70% of referees say they’ve been verbally abused. Some are physically abused. And 50% don’t report it.”

It’s hard, he knows, for parents to keep quiet. But, he notes, “if you want your kid to have a voice on the field, you can’t have a voice on the sideline.

“You can’t yell at coaches and referees. And you can’t yell at your kids, or talk about coaches and referees, on the ride home. If you do, we won’t have a sport.”

The ability to do something about issues like these, Gilbert is says, is “why I’m thrilled to be here. I want to leave the sport in a better position.”

Gilbert has not been involved in Westport’s soccer programs. When Greta played, he says, “I was just a parent.”

But now he’s in charge of hundreds of thousands of parents, and millions of players. To get a sense of life at the ground level, he may check out a game or two this spring with the Westport Soccer Association.

If you see him, say hi.

Quietly.

COVID-19 Update: Lamont Declares Emergency; Library Cancels Programming; “Seussical” Postponed; State Basketball Tournaments, WIN Canceled

The coronavirus continues to play havoc with Connecticut life.

Gov. Ned Lamont has declared both a public health emergency and a civil preparedness emergency.

The first edict gives the state power over quarantine. The second allows the governor to restrict travel, and close public schools and buildings, among other powers..

Right now, however, Lamont says that decisions about school closings and large gatherings are being made by local government and public health officials.


The Westport Library will postpone or cancel all “in-person programming” through the end of March. Some events may be live-streamed — as was Sunday’s public meeting on the COVID-19 virus.

The Spring Book Sale scheduled for this weekend has also been canceled. The summer book sale will be held July 18 through 21, at a new location: Staples High School.

Right now, the library plans to remain open for patrons, and is “extra vigilant” about cleanliness.

Executive director Bill Harmer encourages users to take advantage of the library’s “extensive downloadable and streaming digital resource, eAudiobooks, eBooks, eMagazines, music, movies, and many other entertaining and educational resources are available to all cardholders.” Click here for links to the digital collection.


Staples Players’ production of “Seussical” — scheduled for a 2-week run, beginning this weekend — has been postponed until April 24 and 25 (matinee and evening shows) and April 26.

Ticket holders will be contacted by the box office within the next few days regarding transitions or exchanges.

“We will work as quickly as we can to respond to patrons, but we ask the public to be patient,” say directors David Roth and Kerry Long.


The actors and tech crew — who have dedicated themselves to the show since December — are not the only Staples students disappointed by the effects of the rapidly spreading virus.

Wrecker basketball players were stunned today to learn that the Connecticut State Interscholastic Athletic Conference canceled the boys and girls state tournaments. (Click here for a video of the announcement.)

Both Staples teams were having their best seasons in decades. Last night, the girls beat Glastonbury to advance to the semifinals. The boys were set to begin their tournament this evening, home against Enfield.

It’s an abrupt ending for both squads.


Meanwhile, the Westport Soccer Association’s WIN tournament — for over 30 years, the kickoff to the spring season — has been canceled too.

The event — which draws over 160 boys and girls teams to indoor and outdoor fields at Staples High and Bedford Middle Schools — is a fundraiser for the Coleman Brother Foundation.

Over the years, it has collected and donated more than $100,000 in scholarships.


The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — which looks out for the interests of local businesses — has forwarded a CDC document: “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers/Plan, Prepare and Respond to Coronavirus.” Click here for the link.

Vivek Kanthan Races To The Top

Anoop and Lee-Ann Kanthan know a lot about the world.

He grew up in Australia; she’s from South Africa, but her family moved Down Under in the 1980s. Anoop travels frequently for business.

Now Lee-Ann and her son Vivek are on the road often too. And the family is learning a lot about one particular kind of world: karting.

Vivek is a New York State champion. Now he’s competing at the national level. Not bad for someone who took up the sport just a couple of years ago.

Oh, yeah: Vivek is just 10 years old.

Vivek Kanthan, with some of his trophies.

The family — including his 14-year-old brother Nikhil and 13-year-old sister Shivali — moved to Westport from Manhattan 5 years ago.

His parents were huge Formula 1 racing fans. Anoop has gone to the track in Melbourne; this summer, they head to the Grand Prix.

Two and a half years ago, Anoop took Vivek to an indoor go kart track in Bedford, New York. The youngster liked the speed, the challenge of getting the right “lines” on the track, and the competition. “I like winning,” he says simply.

He joined a junior league, and competed there every weekend. Outdoors, he raced at Oakland Valley Race Park in Cuddebackville, New York, a 3/4-mile professional track. One lap takes about 40 seconds.

Quickly, he moved from 2.5 horsepower karts to 9. His machines are now 10 to 12 HP. They reach speeds of 60 miles and hour.

Vivek Kanthan, in his kart …

Vivek’s karts are the real deal. A mechanic works on his kart alone. On the road, he’s joined by a team manager and coach.

There’s a lot to deal with: tire pressure, engine temperature, steering and throttle inputs, even the track temperature and precipitation. Vivek’s team analyzes all the data, and tells him the best “racing line” (route) to take on that course, that day.

Then it’s up to the 10-year-old to execute.

“You need self-esteem. You have to push to the limit, and not be afraid,” Vivek explains.

On a new track, “you have to learn the fastest ways to get to the corner, and when to accelerate.” He seldom uses his brake.

“And you need patience, and the will to win,” his mother adds.

Vivek prepares for a race by watching GoPro videos of himself. He pictures in his mind what the track looks like; how to roar into and out of corners, and when to throttle up and down.

The goal is to come as close to the curb as possible — within millimeters — without hitting it, and spinning out.

Vivek says he does not get scared. “I do!” his mother says.

… and in the lead.

A typical race in Vivek’s 8-11 age group is 15 to 20 laps, against 20 or so competitors. Last year — his first as a competitor — Vivek won his very first race, in the pouring rain.

He reached the podium 12 more times, including 6 on the top step. The only 2 times he did not was when his kart failed. The season culminated in his state championship.

His most recent race was in Ocala, Florida — his second visit to the state in a month. Just 3 days after seeing the course for the first time, he finished in a time one-tenth of a second slower than the record for his age group.

He returns to Ocala this month, for a Gran Prix competition.

Go karting is a big deal. Races are streamed online, with commentary. Vivek’s relatives in Australia watch avidly.

His goal is to be a Formula 1 racer. But the funnel to get there is narrow, his mother notes.

That’s okay. Vivek — who because of his rigorous travel schedule is being schooled online this year, after attending Saugatuck Elementary School from kindergarten on — has many other interests and options.

He plays string bass in the Greater Connecticut Youth Orchestra (they performed at the Klein Auditorium the other day). He studies classical piano at Suzuki.

And he’s a junior black belt at Kempo Karate.

Vivek Kanthan is clearly on track for big things.

Don Sullivan Sails Through Retirement

After retirement, some men drive around looking for things to do. Some drink beer. Some clean out their garage.

Don Sullivan drove for Uber. He brews craft beer. And he’s built 2 boats in his garage — the latest a 20-foot yawl.

All in the past 3 years.

He and his wife Dawn have lived in Westport for 41 years. They raised 3 children here. She was very active in Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, He says he was “somewhat” involved.

Don and Dawn Sullivan, in 2005.

After a career spent selling large technology systems to the publishing industry, Sullivan retired at 63. A gregarious “people person,” he began driving for Uber. It was fun, and he made nearly 2,700 trips. But he gave it up a year ago, when the novelty wore off and it became “a commodity.”

He and his friend Steve Knapp created a great-tasting beer. They named it Valley Forge Brewery. They just finished their 12th batch. Each is only 48 bottles. “We don’t sell it. We drink it,” Sullivan says.

But all of that pales next to his boats. His interest was piqued when he saw photos of Henk Hoets’ flat-bottom lumberyard skiff.

Don Sullivan

Though he’d sailed all his life, Sullivan had never given a thought to building a boat. In fact, he’d never built anything.

Suddenly though, he was motivated.

He bought plans and lumber, and went to work. Two months later, it was done. It’s now moored at Longshore.

That project done, Sullivan gave his tools away.

But at a 2018 boat show in Mystic, he saw a beautiful Caledonia yawl. It was there last year too.

So Sullivan decided to build it.

Constructing a 2-masted, double-ended sailboat is a lot more difficult than a skiff.

But Sullivan bought plans from a man in Scotland. He gathered all the tools he needed. He headed to a specialty lumber yard in White Plains.

Then he got to work.

An early stage …

“I just followed the plans,” Sullivan says, as if describing how Waze helped him get home.

“The plans” included putting planks over a mold — upside down. Then he flipped it over, and worked on the interior.

… a work in progress …

It took 500 hours, over 5 months. Much of that time he was on his knees, or in awkward, uncomfortable positions.

He worked alone. It was physically demanding — the planks are 24 feet long — and mentally exhausting too. “There’s a constant, anxious challenge of getting it done,” he explains.

But, Sullivan notes, “This was a calling. Driving home from Mystic, I knew I had to build this boat. And convince my wife of it.”

… nearing completion….

This project became the most enjoyable thing he’s ever done. “I’ve never been happier, prouder or more enthusiastic about anything,” he says.

The yawl launches in April. He’ll sail in local waters, then head to Cape Cod.

His wife will be on board — physically, and emotionally.

“We’ve been married 42 years,” he says. “It gets better every day.

“But this was not my finest moment. For 5 months I was constantly focused on this. Dawn was 100% supportive.

“Now I’m looking forward to doing things together again. She’s a great first mate!”

… and finally shipshape.

Sullivan does not know what his next project will be. He will not, however, build another boat.

Although, he admits, “I said that after the first one too.”

(Hat tip: Jeff Wieser)

EJ Zebro Turns Heads At NFL Combine

A year ago, EJ Zebro was the new kid at the NFL Combine.

As the owner of TAP Strength Lab downtown, the certified movement and performance coach was eager to show that the Optimal Human Motion machines — and methods — he uses can minimize, or even eliminate, pain athletes may feel from injuries. The key feature is limiting joint compression forces.

This week, at the annual event in Indianapolis, Zebro was greeted like an old friend.

The OHM equipment was used this year by the Giants, Jets and Dolphins. Other teams have placed orders. So has an NBA club, NASCAR, and Quinnipiac University (for its nationally ranked men’s ice hockey team).

EJ Zebro (left) and Optimal Human Motion founder Dave Schmidt, with the OHM machine.

TAP Strength Lab has more of this equipment than any place else in the world, Zebro says — including NFL strength and conditioning rooms. He’s also got devices that are not yet on the market.

Zebro is proud of his work with pro football teams. But he’s equally excited about his local clients. They include up-and-coming athletes — and 80-somethings, who he works with on balance issues.

Of course, Zebro uses the OHM machines too. Otherwise, he says, he’d be unable to run around with his Over-40 soccer team.

That’s his World Cup — and Super Bowl — rolled into one.

Persona Of The Week: Lindsay Czarniak And Marysol Castro

This week’s “Persona Live Westport” interview featured Lindsay Czarniak of ESPN and Fox Sports talking about sports, media careers and motherhood with Marysol Castro, the first Latina PA announcer in Major League Baseball (New York Mets). Both are Westport residents. Click below to watch.

This coming Monday (March 2, 6 p.m., Westport Library Forum), the Persona Live interview features Westporter Darrin McMahon, Dartmouth professor of history and author of “Happiness: A History.” He and Persona founder Rob Simmelkjaer will discuss the origins of happiness as a concept, and how people have come to view happiness not just an possibility but an earthly entitlement — even an obligation.

This and all “Persona Live Westport” interviews are also available on the Persona interview app, currently available in beta for iPhones. You can download the app (iPhone only) here.

Row, Row, Row Your Erg

Everyone can row.

It’s a low-impact activity that builds both aerobic endurance and muscular strength. Cardio and resistance workouts burn ginormous numbers of calories, and use every major muscle group.

But not everyone has the time to get out on the river. (Or wants to — particularly before dawn, and in our fickle New England weather.)

Now they don’t have to.

Row House is open to anyone, for 45-minute sessions on an ergometer.

It sounds like all the work, with none of the fun. Rowers have love/hate relationships with “ergs” — rowing machines. Workouts can be brutal — but at least the reward is a boat on the water. The Row House is just a storefront, in Compo Acres Shopping Center.

Yet there’s something about that workout — competing against yourself, while rowing with everyone else (“all in the same boat”), with music blasting, lights pulsing and a coach urging you on — that keeps people coming back again and again.

Westport’s Row House is owned by Dana and Rob Montefusco. The couple — her degrees are in speech and language pathology; his in architecture and construction management, and he was a personal trainer — were looking for an exercise-related project.

Row House — which grew from its first Columbus Circle location in 2014, to over 250 franchises across North America today — seemed perfect.

Dana Montefusco, at the Row House front desk.

They opened last April. Now the 25 machines are in constant use. The youngest rower is 13; the oldest, 80. There are husbands and wives, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters.

Some rowers work out at 5:30 a.m., before the train. Then come people with flexible schedules. Late afternoon draws the after-work crew. Weekends are a broad mix.

Feedback is great. “I’m surprised — it was fun and enjoyable,” one person said. “I’m not in pain!”

Another headed to Row House after surgery. It was the only exercise her doctor approved.

A third liked the fact that ergs give a full body workout. (Rowing is 60% legs, 30% core and 10% arms, Dana says.) “I don’t have to do something else afterward,” he noted.

One of the 25 Row House ergs.

Row House works hard to make workouts fun. One day there is a rowing relay race; another day, one side of the class competes against the other.

Row House coaches are an attraction too. An eclectic bunch — they include business executives, marketers and teachers — they create a welcoming environment. (They also instruct newcomers on proper technique.)

Colby Mello is one of the coaches. A 2008 Staples High School graduate whose day job is in consulting, she runs evening and weekend classes.

“There’s a huge misconception about rowing machines,” Mello notes. “People think they’re devilish machines. That’s why they’re usually empty at the gym.”

They’re not empty at Row House.

Row House offers monthly memberships (4 sessions for $99, 8 for $135, unlimited for $167), and class packs ($155 for 5 classes,$260 for 10). The drop-in fee is $32. For more information, click here.