Rowing gaining popularity as sport, especially with 2 Central Catholic alums on Team USA

PITTSBURGH — With two local rowing athletes competing for Team USA in Tokyo, the sport is gaining in popularity.

From rowing machines at local gyms to boats skimming the surface of local rivers, more people are becoming interested in rowing every single day.

“I actually never knew it was an actual sport. I thought it was just a thing that people did. You know, go have fun out in the water,” said Victor Nernberg, Squirrel Hill.

Central Catholic High School hosts rowing camps throughout the summer to introduce the sport to incoming middle and high school students. The camps are growing, but having two Olympic rowers from Pittsburgh is helping bring more interest to the sport.

“My parents heard there’s two Central alum in the Olympics this year. So, they wanted me to try it out,” said Rowan Griffen, Aspinwall.

While the kids practice their strokes, they are learning rowing is much more than a physical sport.

“A lot of people think rowing is arms, but your legs are really involved. It’s a whole body sport. And, then there is a mental component. Conditions can change. Your competitors change. The environment changes,” said Molly Schneider, Assistant Rowing Coach, Catholic Central High School.

With Pittsburgh’s waterways, it is no surprise rowing has a rich history in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The sport dates back more than two centuries.

“Going back to the 1800s, there were rowing races on all of the rivers. A lot of times, there would be rowers at different steel mills or in different industries on the river  that would just end up racing each other,” said Matt Logue, Three Rivers Rowing.

While some assume rowing is for the wealthy or ivy league, Logue says several local school districts are starting to incorporate the sport in their programs, all in an effort to make rowing more diverse.

“I would say that’s the past and the future is completely different. We are really committed to making the sport 100% accessible regardless of background, ability or class. We remain committed to making sure money is no boundary when it comes to participating in our sport,” said Logue.

“You know, with football, they go for an hour or longer. With basketball, kind of the same thing. But, with rowing — it’s just five minutes. Five to six mintues as hard as you can. Finishing the race. First one to cross the line, wins,” said Chuck Russell, Freshman Rowing Coach, Central Catholic High Schools.

The sprint, competition and allure of head-to-head battle on the water is drawing Pittsburgh kids in. And while they are learning a new sport, they are also learning much more — like teamwork and determination.

“You have to be the person who’s willing to sacrifice their ego to be able to win,” said Russell.