Crew moms band together and race in PRRA event
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Back in 1982, out of athletic curiosity, then-Kearny High School student Paula Cavalier wanted to see what it took to become a member of the school’s prestigious crew team.
At the time, Cavalier was told that she could not be a part of the program because she was a girl and Kearny didn’t offer crew for girls.
“I wanted to see what I could do to start a girls’ team,” Cavalier said.
Fortunately for hundreds of young ladies over the years, a girls’ team was eventually formed and the girls’ crew program at Kearny has won countless championships and even produced a United States Olympian in Jen Dore.
“I was always fascinated by the Passaic River,” said Cavalier, who is a spin instructor at King’s Court, the athletic training facility located right on the banks of the river in Lyndhurst. “I was always intrigued.”
It turns out that Cavalier wasn’t alone.
Amy Beth Baptista is a Kearny High School teacher.
“Ever since I moved to Kearny, I always watched the boats racing, coming down the river,” Baptista said. “I always loved rowing, going to camp, canoeing, row boating.”
The fascination spread.
Patti McCurrie is another Kearny resident with rowing curiosities.
“I always wanted to do it, but I was from Harrison and we didn’t have a team,” McCurrie said.
It was more of the same for Cindy Springer.
“I was always curious about it,” Springer said. “I grew up in Kearny and watched the races on the river. I was always impressed by the kids who did it. I thought it was kind of cool. I knew I couldn’t do it.”
The four Kearny residents also all had something in common. They had children who were all part of the Kearny High crew program. Cavalier’s daughter, Jessica, is a sophomore on the team – the same for McCurrie’s daughter, Erin, and Springer’s daughter Amanda.
Baptista has two children involved, daughter Gabriella, a junior, and Jeremy, a freshman.
So the women always found themselves at Kearny crew events, watching their children and wondering if there was somehow, someway to get on the river themselves.
Enter the Passaic River Rowing Association, which instituted a “Learn to Row” program earlier this year.
The PRRA, headed by Belleville High School coaches Jeff and Gail Lahm, a dedicated husband-and-wife team, has been allowing adults the opportunity to first learn the proper techniques of rowing with extensive lessons and training, then giving them the chance to get on the river and race competitively.
Baptista was the first of the Kearny crew moms to join the program in June.
“I guess I was the pioneer for the Kearny women,” she laughed. “I found out that the PRRA had this program and that adults could do it. That was it. I was convinced I was doing it.”
Baptista had a major change in lifestyle a year ago.
“I used to weigh more than 300 pounds,” Baptista said. “I was morbidly obese. But through diet and exercise, faith and perseverance, I lost 160 pounds. I never imagined I could get in a boat. I thought I probably would have sunk the boat.”
Baptista, who is regularly seen running up and down Kearny Ave. with weights in hand, also competed recently in the Kearny 5K road race. She was able to lose that much weight naturally, with no surgery.
“Thank God, I’m doing things now I never would have been able to do,” Baptista said.
Soon after Baptista signed up for the “Learn to Row” program, the other three moms followed suit.
“I did it just to see if I was coordinated,” Cavalier said.
“We had a picnic last year and I was allowed to go in the boat,” Springer said. “But I couldn’t even get the oar in the water. It was so embarrassing. So when I heard about the program, I signed up because I didn’t want my daughter to be embarrassed. I found it amazing what these kids are able to do.”
McCurrie was encouraged after she found out Baptista got involved.
“I knew Amy Beth was doing it, so I just said, `Let’s all do it,’” McCurrie said. “Cindy, Paula and I all joined together (in July).”
The “Learn to Row” program was certainly extensive. It was not just getting together and then getting on the river. The Kearny moms got to learn about the pain of the ERG – the stationary device called an ergometer that measures the amount of work and simulated distance.
“Because we were older, it was definitely challenging,” said McCurrie, who works as a paralegal and a realtor. “Starting off was very tough, but we stuck with it. I actually found it addicting. It’s like when you learned how to drive a car. You wanted to get back in the car as soon as you could. Well, this is not like joining a gym, because there were four of us involved.”
“We trained together as a team,” Baptista said. “We got together three days a week and we really worked hard.”
Baptista was the team’s driving force.
“She’s the strength,” Cavalier said. “She’s the one who pushes us. I’m more of a clown, goofing around. Amy Beth takes it very seriously. She tells me, ‘Paula, focus.’ It makes for a nice blend.”
“Our daughters laugh at us, because we’re so corny,” Springer said. “We drive to the girls’ meets together at 4 a.m., giggling and slapping each other silly. It’s good we get along so well. We have a lot of fun together.”
Cavalier is the eldest of the group, but all four are over 40. Women’s ages should never be published as just common courtesy.
Springer loved the attention to detail that the team received from the PRRA coaches and instructors.
“The people are so great,” Springer said. “Our first coach, Fabian (Cortez, who recently started the competitive program at North Arlington High School), was really amazing with us. Gail Lahm was awesome with us. They really taught us well.”
Last Saturday, the quartet of Kearny crew moms took to the water as a team for the first time in a competitive race as part of the PRRA’s Fall Regatta. They had T-shirts made, proclaiming themselves as the “Kearny Oarsome Foursome.”
“I saw the buoys in the water and I started to get a nervous stomach,” Cavalier said. “I was excited. I was scared. I definitely feel like I’m the weakest link of the group. I didn’t want to mess it up. It was taking me the longest to get it down. I just had to get it out of my head and just do it.”
It didn’t matter that there wasn’t a boat to race against. There wasn’t another novice quartet entered.
“We crossed the finish line, so in my mind, we won,” Baptista said. “The goal was to row and learn the sport, learn to love it. We didn’t care about time or winning medals. We’re unified. We’re Kearny’s Oarsome Foursome.”
Baptista had medals made, just so the group felt like winners.
“It was great fun,” Cavalier said. “It taught me how to challenge myself.”
Cavalier has also taken on a recent challenge, training in cycling with a local organization, the Portuguese Cycling Group.
Chances are that the “Oarsome Foursome” will be challenging each other on the Passaic River – and as dedicated Kearny crew moms – in the future as well. A new crew quartet has been formed, thanks to the PRRA.
For more information about the Passaic River Rowing Association’s “Learn to Row” program, log on to www.prra.org.