June 3, 2011 at 10:27 am EST | by Kevin Majoros
In sync

The D.C. Strokes in action. (Photo by Kevin Majoros)

If you have had the pleasure of strolling along the banks of the Anacostia River, then you have probably been witness to the members of the DC Strokes Rowing Club. The beauty and mystique of the athletes rowing in sync can be mesmerizing.

I recently asked a Strokes member how he got started with the club and his response did not surprise me. He frequently rode his bike along the Anacostia and became transfixed with watching the rowers. With no previous rowing experience, he became a member and is now competing in regattas.

The Club began in 1991 with eight gay runners looking for a cross-training activity. It has grown into a multifaceted LGBT sports club offering all sorts of programs for all levels of rowers. The club is based at the Anacostia Community Boathouse and is entering its 20th season boasting over 150 members with more than 2,000 alumni.

On Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Strokes will host the 18th annual Stonewall Regatta. In 1994 during preparations for the New York Gay Games, the Club discovered there were no other competitions for LGBT rowers. They quickly organized a regatta in New York’s Pelham State Park and named it in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.  The event was such a success that it was brought home to D.C. where it has since been held every June.

This year’s event will feature athletes from as far away as Chicago competing in 32 events. The Women’s Masters 4+ race alone has 24 entries and the Men’s Master 4+ has 22 entries. The Pennsylvania Ave SE Bridge as well as the Anacostia Boathouse launching platform offer ideal viewing of the races. Parking is available at the Washington Navy Yard.

The programs maintained by the D.C. Strokes include something for everyone. There is Winter Erg training, a Pre-Season camp, a Learn to Row program, a Novice program, a Club program and a Competitive program.  With the Eastern seaboard colleges being chock-full of crew teams, the Strokes also established a program for rowers who are in D.C. for the summer. The College Rower program offers the athletes a chance to take advantage of their time off from studies. Many of the alumni from this program have returned to college and posted their best times.

The Club is a member organization of the United States Rowing Association (USRowing) which is 16,000 members strong and recognized as the governing body for the sport of rowing in the United States. This weekend’s Stonewall Regatta does not just promote rowing in the LGBT community, it also kicks off the circuit of adult sprint race competitions in the mid-Atlantic region.

Community outreach has been a longstanding tradition for the D.C. Strokes. Brian Heath, president, says 2011 brings three new ventures for the rowers. The Strokes, along with USRowing and the Anacostia Community Boathouse Association has formed a partnership with Athletes Without Limits. The program is called “America Rows” and will be a launching pad for athletes with intellectual disabilities and Paralympic dreams.  Volunteers from the Strokes are training the athletes for several 2011 regattas. More information on the program can be found at www.athleteswithoutlimits.us.

This year saw the Club offer scholarships to economically challenged individuals who were granted access to their Learn to Row program.  Awards were granted to two members of the LGBT community which enabled them the opportunity to row with the Strokes.

Also on the docket for the Strokes this summer is a partnership with the D.C. Department of Parks & Recreation. Coming on the heels of filling all 80 slots in their own Learn to Row program, the Strokes will be volunteering instruction for city youths in a week long Learn to Row program.

Watch the Strokes in action this weekend on the Anacostia. For anyone who doubts the competitiveness of this group, they won a gold and two bronze medals at the 2009 US Masters Nationals and are always looking to better themselves.

For more information, go here.

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