February 16, 2021

I have been canoeing and kayaking since high school and have lived in the Des Moines area since the summer of 1994 but had never had an opportunity to be on the Des Moines River until 2016 when I became a member of Des Moines Rowing (DMR). I learned to row in 2015, training on land rowing machines. When we moved the adapted single rowing shell from Gray’s Lake to the river in 2016, man, I never wanted to go back to lake rowing. I was overcome by the peacefulness and serenity the river affords. It is one long run surrounded by trees on both sides with nature all around. All of life’s worries and stressors disappear when you are on the water, making your way up and down the river. It is a dichotomy of peace and excitement, rewards and challenges. When you are rowing on the river, your head is in the moment and you are concentrating on your rowing form and everything that is going on around you. From other watercraft to wildlife, from cityscape to nature, the Des Moines River has it all.

When I think about a life with paralysis, I want others to know that I can do anything I used to do. Sometimes it just looks a little different. I am a fiercely independent person with an attitude that I can do it on my own. Rowing is a sport that gets me part way there. When I am in a rowing shell by myself, I feel like I don’t need anyone else helping me row up and down the river. When I started rowing in 2015, our club only had a one-person rowing shell. I had to do a lot of land training before they trusted me to get into a boat all by myself, but once I was in the boat it was hard to get me back on the land trainer. Once I had the chance to row on the river, I never wanted to row on the lake again.

Head of the Des Moines Regatta

In 2016, the Reeve Foundation bought our club its first double rowing shell. This allowed the club to train new rowers in a boat rather than on the land trainer, but it also allowed members like myself to compete in our club’s annual regatta. In 2017, I trained and competed in my first regatta, the Head of the Des Moines, using the Dana & Christopher Reeve boat. I loved the regatta atmosphere and the feeling of being equal to all the other rowers at the event. I remember rolling through the regatta grounds with one of my coaches and telling her what a great experience it was. Participating in this sport allows me to feel like an equal competitor.

We are fortunate DMR is one of the few rowing organizations in the region that offers para-races. I am a PR1 rower, using only my arms and shoulders to propel the boat, and I loved the challenge of rowing against other rowers in my heat. First, there is the excitement and challenge of rowing for all you are worth against the current and the competition. From start to finish, all you can think about is pulling the boat through the water, keeping your form and out-rowing the other boats in your race. Then you cross the finish line, exhausted, knowing you have given all you have to the sport. There is no better feeling. What struck me most was the festive atmosphere and the feeling of camaraderie with all the other boats and rowers — being a part of something bigger than yourself and connected with people you would probably otherwise never meet, but who are rowers just like you. As I was rolling through the grounds at Prospect Park with my coach, heading to the food pavilion I remember thinking how cool it was to be a part of the “crew” and how much I wanted to do it again. The park was filled with rowing shells, rowers, tents and all the hustle and bustle that goes along with any festival. The atmosphere was invigorating, and I loved it.

Summer Rowing

When I’m not competing, river rowing throughout the summer gives me an independence that I really like. I need assistance getting into and out of the boat but after that I’m on my own. When I row away from the dock, I am always struck by the fact that my chair is left behind on the dock, and I am free from the confines the wheelchair lends. In a boat, I am rowing just like everyone else on the river with the same challenges and rewards.

In six years of rowing, I have had the opportunity to compete on the Mississippi River, Gray’s Lake and the Des Moines River. Our Des Moines River is by far my favorite place to row and race — my happy place — and I look forward to many more years of spending time on our river.

Paralysis Resource Center Services

The Paralysis Resource Center helped me to find a sport that fits my personality. I started rowing the first year our program was formed in 2015. It was a year later that the Reeve Foundation QOL gave us a double rowing shell that was used to train brand new rowers in a safe and comfortable water experience. For me, the new double rowing shell allowed our club to offer the first ever para-event in our annual regatta. I was able to find and train with an experienced rower and together we took gold against the two other competitors in the Dana & Christopher Reeve boat. It was an exhilarating experience that hooked me even further into the world of rowing. I was able to compete in a single shell in 2018, again taking gold, and I plan to compete in the Bayada Regatta in Philadelphia in 2020 as well as our club’s regatta. The Bayada Regatta is the oldest and largest adaptive regatta in the country and I am excited to compete against my peers.

Rowing is a sport that is a leveling field for me. My coach and I are working on developing a dock and a system that will allow me to launch and land completely independently. Our club is currently partnering in a totally ADA-compliant lake development that includes a new boathouse that will be built to give rowers like me complete autonomy. It is a perfect fit for my independent personality, all enhanced by the Dana & Christopher Reeve boat that opened my world to competitive rowing.

About the Author: Scott Turczynski is active in the Des Moines Rowing Club (DMR) and is VP of the DMR Board of Directors. He is CEO for Heartland Companies.