Harboring a love for rowing and a concern for girls' self-esteem, a UNC graduate student has started an outreach program aimed at getting minority girls involved in sports.
Carol Hee-Seagle, a graduate student in the Department of Marine Sciences, founded "If You Let Me Row" in 1997 to teach confidence, strength, commitment and teamwork through free rowing lessons.
"I've enjoyed rowing, and it can be really good for some people," Hee-Seagle said. "Everything in rowing is so huge - the oars are 16 feet long and the boat is 60 feet long. To control that has to make you feel strong."
Hee-Seagle said her friend, Jen Obernier, a graduate student in the pharmacy department, was critical in the initial stages of organization. "She knew a lot more about rowing than I did," Hee-Seagle said. "I was the idea person, and she was the practical one. Jen even did the coaching the first year."
First held in 1998, the program offered rowing lessons to eight students during the first two weeks of August. Getting participants for the first sessions proved to be a challenge, however.
Hee-Seagle and Obernier learned this the hard way while trying to recruit students from the teen center at the post office and Hargraves Center in Carrboro. "It was really difficult getting girls at first," Hee-Seagle said. "This year, getting the (Northeast Baptist Church in Durham) involved has helped."
The second session was planned for last summer but was postponed until Fall Break because of bad weather.
Six students attended the Fall Break sessions, which were taught by members of The Masters Crew, the graduate crew club and three undergraduate rowers. The high school students started the morning by learning the basics. Lunch provided time to bond over the challenges all the girls were facing together.
Hee-Seagle said the afternoon brought improvement in technique and increased enthusiasm. By the end of the session, the girls were rowing together in one boat.
"The Saturday that we had the camp was the happiest day next to my wedding," Hee-Seagle said. "(The girls) looked so nervous at first, but by the end they were laughing and rowing together."
Hee-Seagle said that she got some of her inspiration from a similar program in Philadelphia in the late 1980s.
Due to pressure from minority leaders on the city council, a program was started in an attempt to expand rowing participation beyond its traditionally white, upper-class boundaries.
But Hee-Seagle's program encourages girls to get involved in any sport or activity they feel passionate about. "It's not my goal to turn kids into rowers," she said.
This year, Hee-Seagle wants to increase the participation of undergraduate students in the program and extend the program to adolescent boys. "There's a real value in trying new things," Hee-Seagle said. "For me, I feel like (the high school students) have served me as much as I've served them."
Anyone interested in "If You Let Me Row" can attend the upcoming informational meeting at 9 p.m. today in Union 211.
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