There is something special about being part of the Philadelphia rowing community. It is a neighborhood in a sense, spanning miles of the Schuylkill River, from the iconic Boathouse Row to the newer clubs up-river, Whitemarsh and Upper Merion. They all have their own flavor but they share a common bond, love of the sport and an appreciation for what it takes to participate in the sport.
Having been an athlete through high school and college I clearly understood the motivation and dedication it takes to compete. I was accustomed to working mentally and physically hard and ignoring the minor aches and pains that are ever present in an athlete’s body. For me, it was never a burden getting up at 5:30 in the morning or rowing an extra 2,000 meters after a full practice; it was a challenge, not a chore. Bloodied knuckles and oozing blisters were more of a badge of honor than a painful reminder of many miles on the river. When my quads burned and I was gasping for air because I had pushed as hard as I could, I felt I had given the best I had in me. In all my years of playing sports I never felt so happy and alive as when I was in a boat and I thought that I would be able to row well into my old age.
Sadly, I now know that won’t happen. My plans for rowing, indeed for everything I had planned in my life, were changed when, in September 2013, I was diagnosed with ALS. ALS, also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that progressively takes away a person’s ability to walk, speak, swallow and breathe. Doctors don’t know why it attacks those who have it and there is no cure. ALS is usually fatal within 2-5 years.
Life doesn’t always go as planned but that doesn’t mean it has to stop, either. My disease has taken its toll in a small way already. I can no longer bow or cox a boat because my voice isn’t strong enough but I can still row and will continue to do so as long as I can. Every time I’m in a boat my mind will be my camera, capturing the sights and sounds around me. I will relish every blister and every track bite, and when my quads burn and my lungs hunger for more air, I’ll store the pain away because one day, and I don’t know when that is, I will no longer be able to hold an oar or push my legs to move the boat or even breathe. I will be left with only my memories. Until then, I plan on making every stroke I take count.
For every mile I row I will make a donation to Project ALS, a non profit organization that identifies and funds the most promising research that will lead to the first effective treatments and a cure for ALS. Please join me in this effort to raise funds for research for a cure so that in the future people won’t have to suffer from this devastating disease.