April 27, 2021

As I rowed down the river, I stopped to watch a deer run along the shore. There was something majestic about it, not that I had never seen a deer before, but that I’d never viewed one from this perspective. This was my first time sculling on the river with the Des Moines Rowing Club. Sculling was something I never thought I would have the chance to do. I had seen sculling in the Olympics and thought it was a sport that belonged to wealthy East coast people who could afford to send their children to Ivy League schools. However, I happened to see something about rowing on IPTV and I thought it looked like it would be fun.

Getting Started

I reached out to Des Moines Rowing and was soon contacted by Tonya Logan, the president of the club. She explained to me that anyone can begin rowing and that there is training available. As I listened to her talk of rowing, I began to get excited about the possibility. It seemed like a great sport for someone who doesn’t want high impact exercise, but at the same time wants to be active.

A Change of Pace

I retired from the Iowa National Guard in 2017. I had served as a full-time chaplain with the Guard and as a battalion chaplain with the 224th Engineer Battalion in Iraq in 2005. Working with soldiers and family members as they dealt with the effects of war was both rewarding and challenging, and by the time I retired, I was looking to rest and rejuvenate.

Rowing has been good for my physical, mental and spiritual well being. There is a precision to sculling which makes me focus. When I am in a boat and rowing, there is not much else I can think about. If I lose focus, it is easy to lose balance or bring the oars into the water at the wrong angle and tip the boat. That has happened to me on a few occasions. Tonya taught me how to right the boat and get back in and continue rowing. I always feel like a fool falling into the water, but Tonya tells me each time, “There is no shame in falling in. Everyone who rows has times when they fall in the water, even the most experienced rowers.” It is good advice for rowers and a good metaphor for life.

Fresh Perspective

When I row on Gray’s Lake or on the Des Moines River, there is a peace that comes to me. For me as a person of faith, there is a sense of being with God in the creation He created, flowing through the water, enjoying the sun on my face, hearing the oars slice through the water, focusing, almost meditatively as I glide through the water. It is almost like a mindfulness exercise to enjoy the here and now.

As I watched the deer run along the shore of the river, Tonya’s boat came gliding up next to mine. I pointed out the deer to her and told her how majestic it seemed from this point of view. She looked at me and said, “We are the luckiest people on earth to be able to be out here rowing.” Yeah, I am fortunate to be able to enjoy the waterways of Iowa in such a unique way.

About the Author: Gary Selof is a retired military veteran and a participant in Des Moines Rowing’s adaptive rowing program. Last summer under COVID-19 restrictions he trained to row on Gray’s Lake and moved to the river toward the end of summer. The AMI (accessible membership initiative) program has a strong outreach into the military community, providing rowing opportunities to many veterans.