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City Sports: Bedford crew rides wave of popularity

Union Leader Sports

October 26. 2012 8:41PM
The Bedford High School eight that competed in the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston last week included rowers, from left, Lauren Misage, Katherine Berg, Emily Lane, Kim Ginsberg, Vicki Cormack, Emma Ashooh, Allison Lovely and Sarah Andrikowick, and coxswain Reed Swain. (Courtesy)

TWO YEARS ago, a group of kids at Bedford High expressed an interest in starting a crew club.

Because the NHIAA doesn't sanction the sport and the school district doesn't fund it, it appeared the whole idea was dead in the water.

Until, that is, Lori Ashooh and her husband, Rich, came to the rescue.

'I rowed for four years at the University of New Hampshire, and that's how I met Rich, who was also on the team,' Lori Ashooh said. ' For us, it's a lifelong sport. To this day, we keep in touch with our teammates from UNH. It's just a special bond. So when we heard the kids, including my daughter, wanted to start a team, my husband and I felt we could help the process along.'

Today, Lori Ashooh is vice president of the Bedford Crew Club. She's pleased with how for the club has come in a short time.

Two years ago, she said, Bedford Crew had 27 rowers but had no boats or oars to train with on water. Ashooh turned to her alma mater for assistance.

'UNH helped the cause by giving us three eight-man boats,' she said. 'They had some old boats they weren't using anymore, and one of them happened to be the one I used in college. They were old but still in good condition, and it was a good start for us .'

Fund-raisers led to the purchase of additional boats.

'Rutgers University sold us two four-man boats for $1,000 apiece,' Ashooh said. 'Shortly after that, we bought two more boats from Manchester Central (High School) and another one from Southern New Hampshire (University).'

The club now owns 11 boats and has 132 members. Of that total, Ashooh said, 92 members are Bedford High students (38 girls, 54 boys), and another 40 are eighth-graders.

Six coaches are paid to work with the kids.

Alaina Galvin is the head coach. Ollie Cardin and Tim Riddell are the boys' coaches, while Trina McGillis works with the girls. Alison Batey oversees indoor ergometer training, and Dala Johnson coaches the middle-school kids.

'It has to be a collective effort. It's too much for one person to run the whole operation,' Ashooh said. 'Personally, I put 40 hours into this a week. But so do many others, which is why I don't deserve or want any of the credit. I just wanted to help the program get on its feet, and collectively we've done it quicker than we anticipated two years ago.'

The number of kids who have signed up initially caught Ashooh off-guard.

'It's really wonderful, but now we've reached the point where we can't handle any more,' she said. 'I hate turning people away from our sport. We had parents from Trinity, Bishop Guertin and other schools who wanted to sign their kids up, and we couldn't take them. I just hope they can do what we did and start their own program.'

Steep financial requirements obviously haven't scared off many prospective members. Each member pays a $400-per-season (spring and fall) registration fee, plus a $100 fund-raising charge.'

'The fee covers the operating cost for one season,' Ashooh said. 'It also covers insurance, coaches' salaries, gas, transportation and the entry fee of $100 per boat for each race we enter. We recently raised enough money to purchase two brand-new 60-foot long boats, which cost $30,000 apiece. That doesn't include the $3,000 cost for oars. It's very expensive, but all the effort, time and money raised has paid off.'

A big pay-off for nine members of the Bedford Crew Club came last week, when an eight-girl crew plus coxswain were among more than 9,000 competitors in Boston's 48th annual Head of the Charles Regatta.

'There was so much energy and excitement from our kids,' Ashooh said. 'The event does a lottery, and our girls' team got picked to compete this year. Our boys' team competed in the Charles Regatta last year, as well. Our girls finished 53rd in a field of 85 high schools representing 38 states last weekend. There were over 1,400 volunteers, and our kids got to compete in front of an estimated crowd of 400,000 people along the Charles River on a beautiful weekend. It was special and made possible by the hard work our club and kids put into the season.'

Bedford's rowers included Ashooh's daughter, Emma, Katherine Berg, Sarah Andrikowich, Lauren Misage, Vicki Cormack, Kim Ginsberg, Emily Lane, Emma Ashooh and Allison Lovely. Reed Swain was the coxswain.

'Reed's role as the coxswain is very important,' Lori Ashooh said. 'She's in charge of $40,000 worth of equipment, the boat itself. She's in charge of steering the boat, encouraging her teammates and keeping them in line. You have to have maturity, confidence, control and a positive attitude to handle that role. Reed just does it all so well.'

The Bedford Crew Club averages four practices a week on the Merrimack River, near the Hooksett Boat House. Competitive distances range from the 1,500-meter sprint to the 3-mile head races.

'Rowing is not an easy sport to break into,' Ashooh said. 'There's a lot to it mentally and physically. But I can tell you, many of the kids in our club were ones who never found their niche in a particular sport. So they turned to us and felt comfortable once they saw everyone was on a level playing field.'

The crew club also holds a winter program for anyone wishing to train on the ergs at the high school.

'Bedford, Central, Concord and Hanover are the four high schools I know in the state that have a crew club,' said Lori. 'The neat thing is, each school paints their school colors on the oars. We paint ours black, red and white.'

Eric Berg is the president of the Bedford Crew Club, succeeding Rick Durand, who, Ashooh said, 'spent countless hours making sure our club remained active and strong. He and Eric deserve a lot of credit for allowing our kids to experience something special.'