MEMBERS of the RowLA girls team, which competes in numerous races in the local area, strive to achieve excellence in rowing, academics and within the community.

The RowLA girls rowing team in Marina del Rey has recently been awarded the Anita DeFrantz Award for Advancing Diversity in Rowing. The team, comprised of girls in grades nine through 12, will be traveling to New York to receive this honor at the U.S. Rowing Association-Golden Oars Award Dinner on Nov. 14.
Row, train and study. This is the day in the life of a typical RowLA team member. RowLA is a tuition free program, where public school girls are given the chance to prepare themselves for university rowing. The team strives to achieve excellence in rowing, academics, and within the community as well.
Back in 2009, there were four women masters rowers, Wendy Beckendorf, Erin Berman, Debra Shaw and Suzan Vigil, who had been rowing in Marina del Rey.
“We noticed that there was not a lot of diversity and we also knew that were college opportunities for high school girls. We said, ‘what about the other girls who are in public schools, whose parents can’t afford that?’ That’s where we started the program,” said Liz Greenberger, founder of RowLA.
“The purpose of the program is to change the lives of public school girls who may not have envisioned higher education as an opportunity available to them. Through hard work, dedication and all the hoops we give them, they see that they can go to college and even afford to go to college. I wanted to start this because I felt that access to rowing scholarships should be open to everybody.”
The team consists of 15 members altogether. The girls come from 12 different schools in the local Los Angeles area, from Culver City to Torrance. Six of the 15 are seniors who are applying to colleges right now, while four have been members since 2009.
“Rowing to me is teamwork, dedication and hard work, but most of all, ‘never say never.’ Keep trying, because at the end of the day the feeling when you won or accomplish your goal is a feeling like no other,” said Michelle Castanaza, a member of the RowLA team.
When the girls first started with the program, they each had no experience with any sport. Wendy Beckendorf, who is a Culver City teacher, was the one who got the group of girls together. “They got excited about it, told friends, and it expanded from there. It was an attraction for the girls,” said Greenberger.
RowLA team member Teresita Lozano recalled what drew her to the program. “I joined this program because I wanted to be part of something new. In a blink of an eye RowLA became the most important thing to me.”
Greenberger said, “They were really looking for something different and unique and they really ate up the discipline. We started with one boat, we got a grant, and the girls spoke before the grant committee.”
The team is divided among two groups that are very dedicated. Eight varsity girls train five days a week, four afternoons and Saturday mornings, and seven girls on the novice team train two afternoons and Saturday mornings. Along with rowing on a daily basis, the team trains extensively on an ergometer, a device that measures muscle power. They also do a lot of running, land training, and circuit training with weights and jump ropes.
“Rowing means a lot to me, it’s where I’m able to forget everything for two hours a day and just focus on myself and my health,” said Lozano. “Rowing became a part of my life, and I’m going to continue rowing in college.”
The team is proud to have coaches who both have international rowing experience. Head Coach Nick Harding is a British rower who competed at Oxford University. “We are delighted to have him!” said Greenberger. The assistant coach is Gabi Abreu, a Brazilian national champion. “She’s 20 and really can relate to the girls; she’s great.” added Greenberger.
The RowLA team competes in numerous races around the local area all year round. On Nov. 3, the team will be competing in a 5,000-meter race in The Head of the Marina. The team will compete with two boats and nine girls. On the following day is a 5,000-meter race in Newport Beach. In February, the girls will also do a race on rowing machines in Long Beach.
The team does so much more than just rowing. “We do lots of other things with them. We do nutrition sessions with them and their parents, college counseling, and tutoring on Saturday afternoons after practice for anybody who has a C (average) or below,” said Greenberger.
The team also does community service to give back to the community. Every year the team visits the Junior Blind Foundation and teaches blind kids how to row, participating in the Junior Blind Olympics. In addition, the team takes part in beach clean-ups and helping other clubs like the Los Angeles Rowing club with their boats and boat maintenance. “We are very much a part of the community,” said Greenberger.
Not only does the team thrive in rowing, but in their scholastics as well. For the six seniors, college coaches are calling them and emailing them on a continual basis. Last year, one rower received a full scholarship to Smith College in North Hampton, Mass.
“We have big plans; we really want to grow. We are looking at a 10-year plan and we want dedicated facilities for the program,” said Greenberger. “Here in the Marina we are making due with what we have. We want to keep the girls safe. We want to move locations for a dedicated space for us and something that we can expand and grow.”
The RowLA team hopes to expand to 45 members in the future. “We want to move into it slowly; we want to do things right,” said Greenberger.
Prior to the spring season, RowLA will be having another tryout in January in hopes of expanding the team by about seven to nine girls. No experience is necessary for tryouts. For more information on RowLA, Greenberger at girlsrowla@gmail.com.

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