Breast cancer patients are gaining community and confidence thanks to this rowing club.

In 2016, Tara Hoffmann was a little intimidated as she watched a boat of inexperienced rowers maneuver among the water taxis and other marine traffic on the south branch of the Chicago River.

She says, “It felt a little insane. “However, I became hooked at the same time. I felt certain I would return, and I also knew I wanted to be in that boat.

Hoffmann has recently faced tougher challenges than the thought of rowing down the congested street. She had received a breast cancer diagnosis earlier that year during a routine mammography screening, and one of her doctors advised she look into Recovery on Water (ROW), a Chicago-based rowing club for breast cancer patients and survivors, while she was through treatment. Hoffman joined ROW soon after going to her first practice, and she currently holds the position of executive director.

ROW provides live and virtual workouts seven days a week with year-round programming. When the harsh Chicago winter arrives, members can retreat indoors for indoor team training on rowing machines (an alternative that is accessible year-round). Members in Chicago can engage in outdoor rowing practices and competitions during the spring, summer, and fall.

Here are some examples of how ROW has evolved into a haven for breast cancer patients and how the group is attempting to reflect the variety of groups that are diagnosed with the disease through open-minded outreach initiatives.

HOW ROWING ADVANCES PATIENTS WITH BREAST CANCER AND SURVIVORS Contrary to popular belief, the majority of ROW members have never touched an oar in their lives, and some of them aren’t even proficient swimmers, according to Hoffmann. Hoffman makes it clear to prospective new athletes that many current team members are participating in ROW for the first time ever in structured team sports.

For our crew members, “identifying as an athlete might be extremely fresh,” she says. Many people are naturally anxious about being the new kid on the block because rowing has a reputation for being a physically demanding, all-body workout.

So why did this squad chose rowing as its sport of choice rather than something more mainstream like jogging or biking? According to Hoffmann, a significant aspect of what ties members together is sharing that beginner’s path. Rowing equalizes the playing field as nobody learnt it on the playground, according to her. There aren’t many visitors with prior knowledge. Rowing’s emphasis on teamwork also prevents anyone from feeling singled out or personally accountable for the group’s success, she continues.

Hoffman claims that, regardless of prior fitness experience, many people can physically participate in rowing. It’s one of the aspects of rowing that she describes as being quite magical. The ROW team members’ ages range from 30 to 70, so it’s “extremely scalable, very accessible, plus it’s low-impact, gentle on the joints, and really efficient,” says the researcher.

Rowing, of course, offers a lot of physical advantages. As previously mentioned by Shape, rowing provides a full-body workout while also enhancing cardio fitness. Importantly, exercise after an early-stage cancer diagnosis is linked to an reduction in the risk of metastatic disease recurrence and mortality for breast cancer patients and survivors, according to Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews.

Hoffman and the ROW team firmly believe that movement has therapeutic properties, despite the fact that exercise isn’t a magic cure for preventing cancer recurrence. When the subject of exercising while receiving treatment is brought up, she believes that many patients, survivors, and family members are taken aback. But according to Current Sports Medical Reports , “exercise is kind of the best remedy for dealing with that laundry list of side effects,” which includes difficulty with range of motion, lymphoma, muscle atrophy, exhaustion, and nausea. Prior to every session, ROW members check in with a coach to discuss how their bodies are feeling and what amount of exercise they are ready to undertake. (To be safe, every ROW member must be given the go-ahead by their doctor before participating in practice.)

Last but not least, learning to row gives breast cancer patients and survivors a sense of power over what they can achieve and how they can affect their own recovery. Hoffmann says, “As a patient, I had felt quite passive.” “I was delighted to be pointed to ROW because it was something I could concentrate my energies on to attain the best results in cancer therapy,” the patient exclaimed.

The feeling of learning something new and mastering it can have far-reaching effects. When she was 43, she explains, “I felt that making changes in my life had become a little challenging.” But if I could pick up a sport at this point in my life, I could also make improvements in other facets of my life. It’s a major matter to feel empowered and realize that learning is attainable at any age.

The goal of How Row is to “REFLECT THE TRUE FACE OF BREAST CANCER.” Breast cancer, which accounts for around 30% of all new cases of female cancer each year, is the second most prevalent cancer in women in the United States behind skin cancer. Despite a 30-year drop in breast cancer death rates, Black women still experience a mortality rate that is 40% greater than that of White women, according to a previous article in Shape.

According to Hoffman, ROW is concentrating on establishing connections with like-minded neighborhood organizations to “represent the genuine face of breast cancer” and make sure that the rowing squad is accessible to people of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. She continues, “Increasing ROW program accessibility and purposefully inviting underserved populations to participate and benefit is a strategic pillar of the ROW organization.” “That work” will be the organization’s primary focus in 2023. In order to build long-lasting, meaningful connections, they will first identify the social support networks that already exist in Chicago’s underprivileged areas (some of which they have already linked with). Over time, these partner organizations will be able to suggest anyone currently utilizing their services to ROW if they think the person might like the camaraderie of the team and the physical challenge.

Rowing Organization (ROW) lowers member costs, which would normally include equipment, practice space, coaching fees, boat repairs, and other expenses. Rowing is a costly sport to participate in regularly, thus ROW wants to make sure that it is accessible to all interested athletes. The ROW leadership team’s year-round fundraising efforts, grants, contributions, and scholarships enable them to provide focused programming.

Additionally, ROW has anti-discrimination policies in place to guarantee that members are never judged according to their body type, present exercise routines, or preexisting conditions. To determine potential restrictions and suitable changes for individuals, the organization collaborates with coaches and medical teams. Any obstacle an athlete faces can frequently be overcome, and Hoffmann emphasizes that they are likely not the only ROW member that is in a same situation.

Finally, while spending the most of their time together in the gym, the ROW members go above and beyond the gym to practice inclusivity and a team spirit.

According to Hoffmann, “We are fundamentally a cancer support group that uses rowing as a technique to provide support.” Even though the group isn’t a standard support group, it’s crucial for us to be able to connect women and people who have suffered breast cancer in a group of those who have had a similar experience. Hoffmann points out that making rowing the primary activity allows for the emergence of more natural links. Having the group as a resource is important whether one member is asking a question about treatment or is discussing a concern of recurrence. The goal of ROW is to make its safe environment even more welcome for all breast cancer patients and survivors by putting an emphasis on diversity and a varied group of members.

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