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Friends of Port Rowing Race For Autism

by Ed Moran, ed@usrowing.org | Apr 07, 2014
Steve Panzik was in the first year of helping to build an adaptive rowing program at his Long Island rowing club in Port Washington, N.Y., when he got a call from a man who told him his son had autism and asked if there was anything he could do for him.
Steve Panzik was in the first year of helping to build an adaptive rowing program at his Long Island rowing club in Port Washington, N.Y., when he got a call from a man who told him his son had autism and asked if there was anything he could do for him.

“I said, ‘Let’s figure it out. Let’s see what we can do,’” recalled the Friends of Port Rowing executive director and head coach.

The father brought his son to the Friends of Port Rowing boathouse and Panzik, who is a physical therapist, starting putting a program together for the boy. That was just over three years ago. Last spring, the young teen won a Stotesbury Cup championship in the adaptive double sculls and is now rowing with the able-bodied team.

From working with that first autistic athlete, Panzik and others at Port Rowing learned that there is a large autistic population on Long Island and set out to include autistic athletes in their adaptive program. And then they organized a regatta designed to raise money for the adaptive program and for the autism advocacy organization, Autism Speaks LI.

In its second year, the Row for Autism regatta drew 13 high school crews and raised $30,000 through regatta fees and donations. A quarter of the proceeds went to Autism Speaks LI, and the rest was used to buy specialized boats that could be used in the adaptive program, including a Vespoli quad fitted with pontoons.

“We graduated kids from the Alden doubles to an actual racing shell,” Panzik said. “When it all comes together, it’s great to watch.”

On Saturday, April 12, the Friends of Port Rowing will host the Third Annual Row for Autism Regatta and are hoping to match, or top, what they raised last season. Sponsored by USRowing, the regatta, held at North Hempstead Beach Park, will be the most subscribed event yet.

“This year is shaping up to be large,” Panzik said. “Last time I looked, we had 162 entries and 17 clubs. It’s gradually growing and building, and it’s nice that USRowing and the town gets involved.”

Starting at 9 a.m., the event will feature high school racing, an on-land “learn to row” station and fun activities for spectators. Last year, some 2,500 people turned out to enjoy the beach and activities and watch racing. Panzik is hoping for good weather and another large crowd.

“If it’s a beautiful day at the beach, we’ll have 2,500 to 3,000 people out there,” he said.

Donations to Autism Speaks LI can be made on site, or on Port Rowing’s website by clicking here.

 Visit http://www.portrowing.com/events/rfa-annual-regatta.html for more information about the regatta.
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