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Glide along with an alternative way to get fit

Miles Schwartz wasn’t that coordinated while growing up on the Jersey shore, so baseball, football and basketball were left off his high school agenda.

“I wanted to do sports,” Schwartz said, so he dipped his toe into the world of rowing.

It led him to stints on his high school and Mercyhurst University rowing teams, and then to Buffalo, where he serves as director of boathouse operations at the West Side Rowing Club.

“Rowing is really physical, really intense. It takes a lot of skill but they’re different kinds of skills. You have to learn technique and put in the time for training,” said Schwartz, 27, who met his wife, Western New York native Anna McCarthy, in college. The couple moved to North Buffalo four years ago.

Schwartz will be among those on hand from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the rowing club during an open house that will show visitors what the region has to offer those intrigued by the sport.

“People love being outside on the water and there’s no place better to be in the summertime in Buffalo,” said Megan McLaughlin, director of administration with the nonprofit club.

It won’t cost visitors anything to stop by this weekend for a peek at the club and neighboring Frank Lloyd Wright Fontana Boathouse, off Porter Avenue at 1 Rotary Row. They’ll be able to glimpse teen and adult rowers make their way through the Black Rock Channel, sharing the view with several families of Canada geese, as well as truckers on the Peace Bridge.

The cost of rowing is another matter. It takes commitment – in terms of money and time – commensurate with someone looking to get in shape in one of the region’s top fitness centers. On most days, however, the view will be a heck of a lot better.

“It’s a full-body workout when you’re rowing,” McLaughlin said. “You work everything from your legs to your core, your arms to your upper back – so people really transform if they’re rowing.”

This helps explain the “Work Hard Play Hard” incantation clandestinely painted last year on the breakwall outside the club.

About 500 people row out of West Side every year, ranging in age from almost 12 into their late 70s, McLaughlin said. Some are rowing team members from area high schools and colleges. Others are former school rowers looking to regain their form and physique. Adults who row competitively across the Northeast and Southern Ontario also are part of the mix.

So are dozens of others who want to get healthier by learning how to row.

“We have the widest range of people, which is fantastic,” McLaughlin said. “We have people who haven’t exercised in 20 years come in.”

Skill takes shape on the first floor of the club, where a simulated rowing setup – complete with oars and water – sits in the “Tank Room.” Forty rowing machines are tucked into another room off the boat bays.

Outdoors, rowing can continue as long as the Black Rock Channel remains unfrozen, there is no lightning or fog, and the water and air temperature combined exceed a temperature of 90 degrees. Rowers need not wear life jackets but must prove they can swim.

The club was the first in the U.S. to open to public school students, in 1921, McLaughlin said. City Honors has its own team and students from schools across the region participate on the club’s junior team.

“We try to really stay away from the elite attitude that some people think rowing is all about, that you have to be rich and go to private schools to participate,” McLaughlin said. “Rowing is a sport that can reach anybody.”

Costs for various programs run from $340 to $450. This takes into account coaching pay, overhead and the fact that 60-foot “shells” – the longest of boats, which hold a commanding coxswain and crew of eight – can run $35,000 to $40,000 to buy.

Many members in the club will participate in the rowing races across the Northeast and Southern Ontario this year, including the club’s home summer regatta, the West Side Invitational, on July 12. “It is our oldest race. This will be our 102nd year,” McLaughlin said. The 1,500-meter contest is free and open to the public, as are all other home races: Head of the Niagara Wright Regatta Oct. 11, and the Hogan Fries Regatta for novice rowers on Oct. 31 – maybe. “Last year, we had to cancel it because the wind was too strong for novice rowers,” McLaughlin said.

If you compare the costs to organized sports like hockey or football, rates are competitive, said Ed Corr, a former Canisius High School and Colgate University crew team member who serves on the West Side Rowing Club board and owns Corr distributors, a janitorial equipment supplier in the Town of Tonawanda.

He remembers what it was like rowing out of the club as a teen. All four of his children have since learned to row at the club, including his oldest daughter, Caitlin Corr Riley, who went on from the club and Nardin Academy to row all four years while at Princeton University.

“Rowing is unique in a lot of ways,” Corr said. “You can do it your whole life if you want, not just in high school or college. It’s noncontact, so you don’t have to worry about issues with concussions that other youth sports have. And it’s the ultimate team game.”