When Cassie Alley said, “anybody can row,” it was kind of hard to believe her.
Coming from the mouth of a physically fit, retired Lansing Police detective, her fearless attitude surely makes rowing a cinch. But on a beautiful morning in June, Alley proved that anyone can row, and the truth is — they do!
When we arrived for the cover photoshoot at Grand River Park off Lansing Road, there were dozens of cars parked near the Lansing Rowing Club’s (LRC) boathouse. Down at the dock, rower after rower came in off the river. Stepping gracefully out of their tiny shells, members of the LRC represent a myriad of shapes, sizes, heights and ages.
“Rowing is a lifelong sport,” explained Alley. “(The LRC has) teens, to people rowing in their 70s. One of our members is 72 — and he has the body of a 20-year-old, from rowing.”
Originally looking for a way to stay in shape after retiring from the Lansing Police Department, Alley joined the LRC in 2007 after a close friend and fellow rower Laurel Winkel encouraged her to look into the sport.
“Before talking with Laurel, I had no idea there was a rowing club in Lansing (like most people),” said Alley. “After I retired, I wanted to get involved in an exercise that was more than just an exercise. I wanted something more like a sport that I would compete in.”
After speaking with Winkel, Alley logged onto the LRC’s website and saw they offered a learn-to-row program. Within weeks Alley was on the river and rowing with the best of them. And like many rowers, she admits to being hooked from the start.
“Like any exercise, it’s very addicting. When you’re done it’s that endorphin release — it just feels great,” Alley said. “It’s a full-body workout condensed into one activity. You’re working everything from your arms, your back, to your core, your legs … your full body.”
The LRC offers three boat options: singles, doubles and quads. On the day of our shoot most rowers were rowing singles (a boat built for one); however some rowers, like Alley, often row doubles or quads — especially in competitions.
“There are clubs all over the state. We compete with clubs in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Detroit … and we have a regatta here in Lansing,” explained Alley. The regatta, sponsored by the MSU Crew Club, typically takes place the third Sunday in October. This year, the regatta will be hosted on Sunday, Oct. 16.
For competitions, Alley rows quads. On the day of the shoot, Alley’s rowing partner, Deb Traxinger, joined us to demonstrate the synchronicity of the rowers on the water. It was amazing to see the sets of long, slender oars moving together so mechanically in unison.
The only thing more impressive than how easy the athletes make rowing look, is the dedication they have to their sport. Most of the rowers coming in off the water at 7 a.m. were at the boathouse between 5:30 and 6 a.m. Alley explained when practicing for a competition, it’s not uncommon to be out there twice per day.
“We’re out there every morning at daybreak, training,” said Alley. “You can find us out there pretty much every day in the summer.” But don’t be fooled — the only thing that keeps the rowers out of the river is the ice.
“We’re rowing from the time the river thaws to the time it freezes,” said Alley. “We row until early December; we even row in the snow. People might think, ‘you’re crazy’ but we do take precautions.”
When the river thaws in early March, the rowers emerge from their indoor rowing machines and gyms to take to the river once again. To ensure safety from the cold, Alley explained they have lots of protective equipment — from layered clothing, to vests, to personal flotation devices.
Beyond the physical benefits of rowing, Alley’s time on the river offers a connection to the world around her; a world that is full of wildlife and beauty, no matter the season. Being part Native American, Alley often reflects on her heritage while rowing. “When I’m out there I think, ‘my ancestors did this,’” said Alley.
Many rowers bring their cameras with them to capture the breathtaking sights along the route. From deer, to herons and even an eagle, the rowers see the river from a perspective very few have seen.
“It’s such a peaceful, tranquil sport. To be out on the river, especially when you’re out there in a single … it’s like you’re almost one with nature,” said Alley. “The animals are unafraid. They look at us like we’re one of them.”
Like so many Lansing residents and visitors, Alley does not take the resources of our region for granted. While Alley admits if she ever moved it would be to a rowing community, she plans on being in Lansing for many years to come.
“I have no plans to go anywhere, just stay here and continue raising my family,” said Alley.
When Alley isn’t on the water, she enjoys spending time at home with her husband Mark and their children, both biological and extended. The Alley’s have two children, Alys (prounounced Ah-lease) and Charles, as well as exchange students they welcome each year.
On a table in their living room next to pictures of Alys and Charles is a picture Havier, an exchange student from Madrid, who recently returned to Spain after a wonderful stay with the Alleys.
“When (Charles leaves for college), I plan to have two female exchange students. I just can’t imagine not having kids at home … so, I’ll ship them in from other countries,” laughed Alley.
A warm and inviting place, any student would be lucky to have a ticket into the Alley’s home in south Lansing. Of course, it isn’t a requirement to row — but Alley certainly encourages them to try. They really have no excuse not to, because like she said, “anybody can do it.”
Dragon boat racing is a 2000-year-old Chinese sport and is one of the fastest growing team sports in North America. The Capital City Dragon Boat race will use 40 foot Taiwan-style dragon boats, which require 18 paddlers, one drummer, a flag catcher and professional steersman. This event was brought to Lansing to celebrate our rebirth as a waterfront community. For more information on the 2011 Capital City Dragon Boat Race, including historical information and volunteer opportunities, visit www.capitalcitydragonboat.com or call (313) 731-2628.