Lilli Walker, 22, stands near the staging area at the Chattanooga Rowing Center. Walker has been rowing for one year. She is a senior psychology major at Covenant College. Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press
When Lilli Walker moved to the Chattanooga area for college four years ago, she resolved to learn to row before she graduated.
“All through college I’d see regattas and think, ‘One day I’m going to be rowing on that river. I’m just going to do it,” said Walker, who is from Little Rock, Ark., and is now a senior at Covenant College.
Walker’s only experience with rowing was as a spectator. But last summer, she became determined to find a rowing class. That’s when she found the Lookout Rowing Club, which offers courses for novices.
Adrienne Powell, the club’s Learn To Row coordinator, said leading new people to rowing is one of the club’s main goals.
“Not a lot of people know about the boathouse or the club,” she explained. “We’re all about introducing people to the sport, and hoping they like it as much as we do.”
After two weeks of the class, Walker was sculling — rowing a boat with two oars — on her own. She joined the club and was soon on the water at every opportunity.
“It’s tricky at first, but its doable. And once you’ve got it its a pretty great feeling,” she said.
The club’s courses begin again in May, and will teach new rowers techniques and how to handle the fragile equipment. Once a rower is deemed proficient, they have the option to join the club, gaining full access to the equipment at the boathouse and rowing on their own schedule.
With its array of Riverfront facilities, Chattanooga is increasingly becoming a rowing hub in the Southeast, according to Philip Grymes, executive director of Outdoor Chattanooga.
“It is pretty incredible how many rowers are in Chattanooga,” Grymes said. “A lot of people move here and become interested in trying it out.”
Baylor School, Mcallie School and Girls Prepatory School all have rowing teams, as does the University at Tennessee Chattanooga. Chattanooga Junior Rowing also offers high school age athletes an outlet to row competitively.
But rowing isn’t limited to those who grow up with the sport.
“It’s really more accessible than people think,” Walker said. “It takes a long time to learn advanced technique, but pretty much anyone can walk into the sport and learn the basics. I didn’t know a thing when I walked into that class last summer.”
Powell was 41 when she decided to try rowing for the first time. She said people frequently come to the sport later in life.
“Its great because its a tough workout, but its a low impact sport. You can push yourself as hard as you want,” Powell said.
Rowing provides a total body workout, Powell explains. Rowing is hardly just an upper-body effort — it continuously works leg muscles, torso muscles, lower-back and arms.
Rowing regattas in Chattanooga
- Head of the Hooch — First weekend in November
- Chattanooga Head Race —Second weekend of October
Those without access to the river can easily gain the sport’s health benefits by using rowing machines, or ergometers—an essential at most gyms.
Powell says one of the greatest benefits to the sport is the sheer joy of skimming across the the water.
“We have this beautiful river right at our fingertips, and there is not a better way to enjoy it than to row it,” Powell said.
Walker agrees. “Getting on the river is just really peaceful, really beautiful,” she said. “When there’s no one around, and all you can hear is the sound of your oars in the water — it’s pretty wonderful.”