Earlier this month, Saugatuck Rowing Club’s junior women won the US youth 8+ championship in California. It was a remarkable 4th straight national title for the local club.
Two other boats medaled: the women’s youth lightweight 4+ earned a silver, and the men’s pair a bronze.
Nine of SRC’s champion rowers are from Westport.
Saugatuck Rowing is part of an area-wide hotbed of success. In fact, Rowing Magazine recently profiled 8 clubs on the I-95 corridor from Rye to Westport (and one in New Milford), with the headline “Connecticut Rules.”
The secret to their success, the story says, is “good water, good coaches and great athletes.”
“Fairfield County is an area of excellence,” notes Sharon Kriz, SRC’s director of rowing. “Everyone strives for the best, in everything they do.”
Rowing is a natural extension of that. But simply having “great kids, supportive parents and excellent facilities” is not all.
Since arriving in 2007, Kriz has developed an all-encompassing culture of sportsmanship and leadership. It filters down, from one group of rowers to the next. The boat that captured the 4th national title this month is completely different than the first winners in 2015.
Alumni return often, to pass along the lessons they’ve learned. All 7 summer staffers are former SRC rowers. Some are still in college. Others plan to be full-time coaches — hopefully, at the handsome Riverside Avenue club.
A mentorship program has moved from the girls to the boys, and now to the parents. Every new rower and adult is pared with an experienced one. The result is twofold, Kriz says: support and relationships.
In a high-powered, hard-driving area like Fairfield County, managing expectations can be hard, Kriz admits.
“We have 60 boys and 60 girls. Not all of them will be star rowers. That’s the nature of a competitive team.
“But if they’re passionate and work hard, they’ll get results. Good communication can alleviate some issues.”
Winning is not the main goal of the club, she says. But it flows from the SRC culture. And, she notes, “You have to learn how to lose in order to win.”
Saugatuck Rowing has plenty to offer, besides top-notch coaching, a clear and cohesive philosophy, and excellent equipment.
The facility itself is a draw. Parents — who come from several towns, besides Westport — can drop off their youngsters, go upstairs and work out themselves.
They can have a drink or meal at the restaurant, or just sit on the patio and gaze at the water. “It’s a special place,” Kriz says proudly.
Of course, the Saugatuck is also a tidal river.
“We’ve learned to adapt,” Kriz says. “Sometimes it’s pretty low. We make the best of it.”
But in the end, Saugatuck Rowing Club’s success — and draw — comes down to the people in the boats. And on land.
“We’ve got a great group of hardworking kids, coaches and support staff,” Kriz says. “I couldn’t be prouder of all of them.”