We don’t hear enough about rowing so it can take a certain commitment and courage for someone to get into a boat for the first time and push against the stream.
Yet there is an increasing number of people across Britain who live by the sport – whether recreationally or competitively, indoors on rowing machines or outdoors on our rivers and canals – and it can do wonders for their mental health as well as offering obvious physical benefits.
Rowing or sculling isn’t only for the outer-city dwellers either. There are some beautifully calm waterways up and down the country where rowers can be found gliding gracefully for long stretches.
The value of green spaces is well established but our “blue spaces” are also inspiring people to lead an active and healthy lifestyle and around half a million people are now taking up rowing nationwide.
So just as we call on the government and local economy to make our city’s parks and woodland more appealing for physical activity, it seems only logical that our decision-makers invest in our waters too and treat them as another avenue to boost participation in grassroots sport.
We are hearing positive statements both in the public health and private sectors with regards to the importance of sport to the local economy. The link between physical, mental, and fiscal health is becoming well established, especially here in London, but there is still room to improve access to, and publicity for, community clubs and charity-run events.
In a bid to capitalise on the sport’s momentum in recent years, our team at London Youth Rowing (LYR), a charity dedicated to grassroots rowing in the UK, is working to help galvanise the watersports sector. One aspect of that effort is The Centurion Challenge, which recently saw clubs across the UK nominate one representative to row 100km to raise funds for a community outreach project.
This summer it was my pleasure to follow and support Lucy Radley, a rower from Teesside diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, as she embarked on her own 100km challenge to raise money for the Boston Rowing Community Project.
Her superhuman effort demonstrates the power of rowing to the collective as well as the individual and helped inspire last month’s Centurion Challenge.
That in turn prompted a new collaboration between LYR and City investment firm Elston Consulting. Held during the Lord Mayor of London’s eighth annual City Giving Day, 500 businesses and charities were given a platform to showcase their positive work, while the Right Honourable William Russell himself took to a rowing machine outside the Royal Exchange to celebrate the partnership.
This journey continues in January with Race the Thames, an event in which we help companies maintain a healthy and motivated workforce through getting active, and maybe a little competitive, during the darkest months.
Having led a life on the water, and one which has brought me a great deal of joy as an Olympian, I know first-hand the benefits that rowing offers. However, without proper investment, community sports can easily be overlooked.
So, as we encourage our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues to be more active, it is vital that our local economy supports watersports such as rowing, and to help us grow their appeal.
Andy Triggs Hodge is a three-time Olympic champion and director of London Youth Rowing.