Tag Archives: Diana Kuen

Change In The Air At Saugatuck Rowing Club

You’d think the Saugatuck Rowing Club‘s biggest COVID concern is its regattas.

Sure, races are held outdoors. But rowers are packed tightly together. They breathe heavily. The cox shouts.

The coronavirus did impact competitors. All 2020 regattas were canceled. Junior rowers are still not allowed to practice until at least January 19.

But fewer than 20% of Saugatuck Rowing Club members actually row. Most adults join for the state-of-the-art fitness center (and social activities).

Saugatuck Rowing Club (Drone photo/Ward French)

So when SRC opened up again in June, one of the most important issues was air quality and circulation in the weight and cardio room.

Which led the club to something most rowers and coaches never think about: ionization.

After diligent research, SRC installed “needlepoint bipolar ionization” —a technology used in hospitals, airline terminals and office headquarters around the country that deactivates airborne bacteria and viruses by up to 99%, while reducing allergens and mold — in their 9 HVAC systems.

They overhauled their infrastructure, making the entire building — including the restaurant — as safe as possible. 

Ionization work at the Saugatuck Rowing Club fitness center.

The $12,000 job was completed in November.

“You can’t put a price on safety,” says director of marketing, membership and events Diana Kuen. “It was important to do more than just open windows and hope for the best.”

That’s not all. Owner Howard Winklevoss took advantage of the downtime to replace the entire back wall with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, creating a sweeping view of the river.

New full-length windows in the Regatta Room.

He’s adding a full-service café, and replacing the carpet with (cleaner) hardwood floors.

A big party is planned — as soon as large crowds can gather again.

Meanwhile, a new app allows the club to monitor usage (only 12 people are allowed on the gym floor at a time), and trace contacts. (As much fitness training as possible is still done outdoors.)

Outdoor workouts, at the Saugatuck Rowing Club.

A special website allows members to take classes from home (Zoom or livestream), or in person. There are over 100 group fitness videos in the library.

Because only 4 junior rowers are allowed on site at a time, the club lent 70 indoor rowing machines to those who did not already have them. They’re continuing winter training via Zoom, 5 times a week for 2 1/2 hours a day

Meanwhile, Kuen continues to coach the breast cancer survivors (“Survive-OARS“) 3 days a week.

The pandemic has not slowed them — or any other member — down.

And when they work out inside, they are grateful to do so surrounded by newly ionized air.

(To learn more about the ionization technology, email SRC general manager Scott Armstrong: sarmstrong@saugatuckrowing.com.)

Ssaugatuck Rowing Club Pulls Together In Pandemic

The boats are out of the water. The Boathouse restaurant has served only curbside and takeout meals. Yet despite the pandemic, the Saugatuck Rowing Club has been almost as busy as ever.

In true rise-to-the-challenge fashion, as soon as management realized closure was imminent, they reacted. They created website with a video library and daily livestream and Zoom classes.

Members had a choice: continue paying dues (if possible) for access to the “virtual club” site, or freezing their membership. Paying dues would allow the club to continue paying staff. Over 50 employees are being paid during the shudown, thanks to many members and owner Howard Winklevoss.

Saugatuck Rowing Club (Drone photo/Ward French)

US Rowing cancelled all regattas through June, which devastated dozens of young rowers. Parents had paid all racing fees in advance. But instead of requesting refunds, they donated the entire sum — $12,000 — to Feed the Frontline, a program that supports healthcare and other essential employees, while providing work to area restaurants.

Of course, like many restaurants The Boathouse at Saugatuck Rowing Club was  itself struggling. After reading an “06880” story about meal trains — SRC’s Diana Kuen had an idea: give food directly to Norwalk Hospital.

She sent an email to club members. In 3 days she raised over $8,500 — enabling The Boathouse to prepare 160 meals a week for the hospital.

Delivering Boathouse meals to Norwalk Hospital.

Kuen thanks the Saugatuck Rowing Club’s generous members — and the greater Westport community — for their contributions of over $20,000 to help feed healthcare workers, and keep local restaurants (including their own) afloat.

As for rowing itself: That’s continuing too (virtually). The 5-straight national champion junior girls and other teams are training on their own at home. Many have their own indoor machines. For those who do not, the club lent 65 ergometer rowing machines, and 12 erg bikes.

Ahead: next month’s online national event.

Meanwhile, with Connecticut restaurants reopening, The Boathouse offers outdoor dining. The view is great.

And — because privately owned boats are allowed on the water — you’ll see the welcome sight of rowers gracefully (and powerfully) plying the river once again.

The Saugatuck Rowing Club has weathered the pandemic. As always, everyone there is a winner.

(For a free 3-day pass to the Saugatuck Rowing Club’s online workout library and livestreams, click here. Questions? Email dkuen@saugatuckrowing.com)

A welcome sight. (Photo/Diana Kuen)

Roses Are Pink, The River Is Too

Every spring, the Sunrise Rotary Club fills the Saugatuck River with plastic yellow ducks. It’s a cute, fun fundraiser.

Well, Diana Kuen thought: If they can do that, what about rose petals?

She is the director and head coach of the Survive-OARS — Saugatuck Rowing Club’s breast cancer survivor rowing program.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink is its symbol — and the color of roses. What better way, Diana asks, to commemorate all of the warriors, past and present, who have been impacted by breast cancer than to turn our river pink?

And at the same time, raise money for charity.

Saugatuck Rowing Club Survive-OARS work out, on a beautiful day.

The 1st annual River of Roses Soiree is set for Saturday, October 5 (4 to 8 p.m., Saugatuck Rowing Club). Proceeds benefit the Saugatuck Survive-OARS program, in partnership with the Smilow Family Breast Health Center at Norwalk Hospital.

The sun sets at 6:30. Right before then, anyone who has purchased a rose petal will be invited to the dock, to help scatter hundreds. The high tide will carry them — biodegradable and freeze-dried — out to Long Island Sound.

The Survive-OARS team will read the names of everyone being honored.

That’s an important ceremony. But the event is also a celebration. Hummock Island will provide oysters — which they’ll shuck right there — plus champagne (sparkling rosé, very fitting) thanks to Chandon California. Cocktails are courtesy of TUCK Gini (named after the SaugaTUCK River), and Blue Ice Vodka.

The rowing club will serve clam chowder, lobster bisque and seasonal soup. Dessert includes apple strudel, and a huge wall donated by Donut Crazy.

Live music is courtesy of Fake ID, while Design Within Reach is loaning patio furniture. Le Boudoir Blow Dry Bar has offered to do ladies’ hair before thee vent.

A few of the rose petals, during a test run in the Saugatuck River.

Diana made sure to get approval for the petals from conservation director Alicia Mozian. A short time after that enthusiastic okay, the Saugatuck River suffered back-to-back sewage leaks.

“Now more than ever,” Diana says, “Westport will appreciate a river filled with beautiful rose petals, packed with powerful antioxidants and antiseptic properties!’

Not to mention, a great cause backed by some wonderful, very courageous women.

(To purchase tickets to the event, and/or rose petals — including those in honor of someone, even if you can’t attend — click here. To volunteer, email Dkuen@saugatuckrowing.com

Diana Kuen’s CharityRaggs

Diana Kuen’s blog is called Girl Reinvented.

That’s an apt name. In 2010 she quit her life running a successful publishing business, managing and producing travel sections for the New York Times and Boston Globe — with summers spent in the Hamptons, and winters snowboarding in Vermont — to take a long road trip across America.

She gave up her apartment. For nearly a year, she lived in a camper.

It was the first time she’d ever slowed down, and figured out what really mattered to her.

Diana Kuen, on the road.

The epochal journey helped her rejuvenate the right side of her brain. “It sat pretty dormant for years while I ran in the hamster wheel,” Kuen says.

In the summer of 2016 — still exploring new passions — she learned how to sew. She also took a Brooklyn screen printing workshop (“because, why the hell not?”).

Kuen became so excited, she formed a textile company making whimsical dish towels. Soon her creations were in 120 Camping World stores nationwide.

Faith and risk have carried her far. All the way, in fact, to Westport.

While living with her brother in Fairfield, she found the Saugatuck Rowing Club. She fell in love with the neighborhood and its people.

Now she lives nearby. She rides her bike to the club, where she coaches rowing. She teaches standup paddleboard and runs clambakes for Downunder.

She’s also got her own textile business — 2, actually. There’s DishRaggs, and a charitable brand extension called CharityRaggs. She gives part of her earnings to worthy organizations, including Autism Speaks, animal rights and rescue groups, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and Sandy Hook Promise.

“Each towel is a labor of love, a work of art, and a little piece of me,” Kuen says. “Think of DishRaggs the same way you might hang a framed picture on your wall.”

They’re fun and whimsical, with sayings, photos and logos.

And — because Kuen has just been here a few months, but loves “06880” (both the town and the blog) — there are a few special “06880” DishRaggs too. (With matching gift bag!) Each sale benefits this blog.

Diane Kuen’s “06880” towel.

From now through November 15, Kuen offers 20% off all full-price DishRaggs (CharityRaggs excluded).

Get your holiday shopping done early! Find the perfect hostess gift! Support “06880”!

Just click here for Kuen’s entire collection; click here for the “06880” items. At checkout, use the promo code “06880” (without the quotation marks).

The next time you see the way cool — and very generous — Diana Kuen, be sure to thank her.

And welcome her to “06880.”

Diane Kuen’s “06880” gift bag.

Saugatuck Rowing Club Sets Sights On Horizons

Rowing is a great sport.

It’s demanding, but healthful. It teaches discipline, teamwork and goal-setting. It instills self-confidence, self-control and pride. Plus, nothing beats being out on the water at 5 a.m., in a driving rain.

But rowing also has a stigma: It’s expensive, and elitist.

For the past 4 years, Saugatuck Rowing Club has defied that stigma. The Riverside Avenue facility throws open its doors — and provides a place in its boats — to a special group of teenagers.

And the kids have given back as much as they’ve gotten.

Thanks to a partnership with Greens Farms Academy’s Horizons program — a national project that provides underserved children with academic, social, emotional learning and enrichment programs — SRC welcomes more than a dozen 8th graders for 6 weeks each summer.

Three afternoons a week, the Bridgeport children clamber off buses and into the sprawling clubhouse. Very quickly, it becomes their home.

“Our mission is twofold,” says Diana Kuen, a beginner/intermediate SRC coach who oversees the program.

“We want to introduce them to a sport would never otherwise have a chance to experience. And it’s our responsibility to chip away at the socioeconomic barriers that exist in our own backyard.”

They start like many beginners. Some are terrified of the river. None ever touched an oar.

Under Kuen’s direction, they row on an ergometer. When they’re ready, they step into a boat and onto the water. Figuratively — and literally — they jump into the deep end.

Diana Kuen, and a Horizons rower.

Kuen and co-coach Bridge Murphy watch closely. They figure out which kids will work best where, and who is comfortable going out alone.

The new rowers are like boys and girls everywhere. They’re quick learners. They want to succeed. They love to compete.

And they sure have fun.

“These kids bring joy and levity with them every day,” Kuen says. “They are genuine, authentic and happy.

“Each afternoon is filled with laughter, pride and a sense of purpose. When they step into the club, they light everyone up.”

Another day, with Horizons rowers on the Saugatuck River.

None of that comes easily. The coaches demand that these youngsters — just like any new rowers — step out of their comfort zones.

One girl was terrified. The first victory was getting her out on a launch, with the coaches. Gradually, she eased into a boat.

At the end of 6 weeks, Kuen says, “she was an outstanding rower.”

One boy was so successful at rowing with 7 teammates that he asked if he could scull alone. Once he pushed off from the dock however, he froze.

Kuen swam out to get him. “We tell them we will never let anything bad happen. We will do whatever we can to help.”

Every day throughout the Horizons program, the coaches and kids talk.

“They’re great communicators,” Kuen says. “They understand that this is about so much more than rowing.”

On the final day, each 8th grader spoke from their hearts about what the program meant. Kuen and Murphy listened, with tears in their eyes.

That final session ended with a pizza party. An SRC member — someone who’d witnessed the kids’ transformation, and appreciated the can-do attitude they brought every day — bought ice cream cakes for everyone.

On the way out, SRC general manager Suzanne Pullen overheard 2 girls talking.

“I’ll miss this place so much,” one said.

But not as much as the Saugatuck Rowing Club will miss them.

(Hat tip: Frank Rosen)

The Bridgeport Horizons group poses proudly.