Stroke on The Water

Williamsburg Boat Club Opens Doors to Junior Rowers

High school students looking for a new sport involving concentration, teamwork and being outdoors should try their hand at rowing.

Williamsburg Boat Club offers a juniors program for students in ninth through 12th grades attending public and private schools, or homeschooling, in the Williamsburg, Virginia area. The program began last September with 15 participants and quickly doubled in size. Junior members practice, travel and compete in long races during the fall session, which runs September through November, or sprints during the spring session, which runs March through June. Students compete as a team in sprint races in the spring and longer races in the fall. No experience is necessary to join.

Tom Rooks, an avid rower, is the Williamsburg Boat Club’s vice president and an assistant coach for the juniors program. He says the boat club added this program to allow younger rowers more freedom to row on their own for a longer stretch of the year, and give them more opportunities to compete.

Junior members practice for two hours daily five days a week at Chickahominy Riverfront Park. Competitions have been held throughout Virginia, mostly in Richmond or at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. A few of the members who joined the program last year had never rowed before. They quickly picked up the basics during the first two weeks of each session—a trial period where coaches show participants the ropes.

“It’s been a pleasant surprise how fast they’ve taken to it,” says Rooks. “Some of them have never been in a boat before. It is fun watching them learn a new sport; learn a new skill. It is a fun thing to be a part of. It’s been a tremendous experience.”

While it may appear that rowing only strengthens the upper body, the sport actually works the entire body. A person can burn up to 600 calories an hour while rowing, as they are using not only their arms but also muscles in the core and legs. 
In addition to its physical health benefits, this low-impact exercise also aids with mental health. Rowers must learn to work in sync with each other to develop a rhythm on the water and many find a sense of peace while out there. Teamwork is also a big factor in rowing, since rowers compete in either a four-person or eight-person boat.

Mitchell de Jager, a sophomore at Bruton High School, is an avid swimmer who decided to give the rowing program a try thanks to a friend.

“It’s definitely the most team-oriented sport I’ve ever been a part of,” he says. “Everybody has to work together in order to be successful. Mentally, it helps build you as a person, since you have to put your faith in others to be successful and you have others who must put their faith in you.”

Sarah Wells, a sophomore at Jamestown High School, loves to row.

“It’s made me stronger,” she says. “It’s made me eat better because when you eat better, you work better. I love how we are able to move through the water so quickly. It’s very rhythmic. It’s definitely one of the most enjoyable and rewarding sports I’ve ever been involved in.”

Whether you want to row for competition or recreationally, Rooks encourages anyone who is interested to give it a try.

“In the Williamsburg Boat Club, we have young people and we have retired people,” he says. “Our goal is to get as many people as we can get to take as many strokes on the water as they can take.”

For more information on the Williamsburg Boat Club and the juniors program, visit