August 10, 2007
By NIRAJ CHOKSHI, Courant Staff Writer
Her oar cutting into the water, Alicia Segarra was one of five women propelling a long, white sliver of a boat as it glided along the Connecticut River.
She's not rich or from the suburbs. She's not on the crew team at an elite school.
Segarra is a member of the Hartford Rising Stars, a team of eight young, inner-city mothers - some of them teenagers - learning to row. The proud mother of a four-year-old and a two-year-old, Segarra, turns 22 today.
Rowing has given her confidence.
"If I can do this, I can do anything," she said. And the attention and praise aren't so bad either, she added.
The Hartford program is a satellite of Rowing Strong, Rowing Together, which is based in Holyoke, Mass., and uses rowing to show young women who have children or are pregnant that they can be successful.
Russell Powell, the director of Rowing Strong, Rowing Together, said the program helps women overcome the effects of objectification in addition to offering time outdoors.
"If they've been recognized for their physical presence, it's been for their physicality and not their athletic presence," he said.
"When you see them come off the water and this big crowd is [cheering] ... they can't believe they're being cheered for this. That's one clear way that you can see how positive an experience this is."
The program was created eight years ago by Anne Teschner, a rower and the director of a Holyoke nonprofit that offers classes for pregnant and parenting teens. Teschner started Rowing Strong, Rowing Together after she noticed that many academically successful elite prep schools mix extracurricular activities and academics.
The Rising Stars will compete against similar teams from four Massachusetts communities in a regatta Aug. 18 in South Hadley, Mass.
Rowing offers more than most other sports, said Renee Jones, the Hartford team's coach. For one, all of the women come to it with a clean slate.
"If I say, `all right, we're playing basketball,' and I throw a ball out there, we'd probably have a superstar," Jones said. But when it comes to rowing, "nobody's the superstar. We're always starting off at the same spot, same place, same level."
Jones works for Riverfront Recapture, a local nonprofit dedicated to connecting the community to the waterfront. The group also owns the equipment the young women use. The program is sponsored by the Village for Families & Children, a Hartford nonprofit group.
There are a lot of things Segarra says she likes about rowing, but what does she like most?
"I get a tan," she said, only half-joking.
"I like being out in the water. It's calming."
Segarra was the only team member at practice Thursday. Several staff members from the Village for Families & Children joined her in rowing the boat.
The absence of the other team members underscored the difficulties associated with being a young mother. Members sometimes miss practices because of doctor's appointments, work conflicts and difficulty finding affordable, quality day care.
The Hartford chapter had been dormant for several years until it was revived last year by Powell. The Rising Stars will compete in the Seventh Annual Young Parents Regatta, launching at 10 a.m. Aug. 18 from Brunelle's Marina in South Hadley, Mass.
As much as she enjoys her time out on the water, Segarra said rowing is not her favorite sport.
"It's fun," she said. But, "it ain't better than volleyball."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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