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Friends of Port Rowing: One Stroke, One Boat, One Goal

by Travis Day, travis@usrowing.org | Jun 08, 2015
Friends of Port Rowing in Port Washington, N.Y. added another accolade to their list for the year. “Port Rowing: One Stroke, One Boat, One Goal,” a video that debuted earlier this year, won a Telly Award for excellence in television production. Sandra and John Meyer of MeyerMix Productions based out of Port Washington shot and edited the video.
Friends of Port Rowing in Port Washington, N.Y. added another accolade to their list for the year. “Port Rowing: One Stroke, One Boat, One Goal,” a video that debuted earlier this year, won a Telly Award for excellence in television production. Sandra and John Meyer of MeyerMix Productions based out of Port Washington shot and edited the video.

The 15-minute feature shows the positive impact that the Friends of Port program has on its rowers. It also spotlights Michael Kesseris, a rower with autism who was the first member of the adaptive program at the club and how rewarding his presence has been for those around him.

“One of our board members called me about a year and a half ago saying, 'I have a son with autism, what can we do?' ” said Steve Panzik, Port's executive director and former U.S. Junior National Team member. “At that time I said, 'I'm not sure, but let's make it work.' ”

Founded in the spring of 2010, Friends of Port started the adaptive program that mixes rowers with special needs with athletes from other boats in the program. The coaches and experienced rowers teach the newcomers the basics on and off the water and also help in improving their fitness. The novices then have the opportunity to work their way on to the competitive teams.

Michael Kessaris started rowing for Port in 2011 and has gone from rowing in a mixed double sculls boat to the freshman eight and is now in the junior varsity boat.

“He showed a determination and work ethic that would make any rower proud,” said Panzik. “It was one of my proudest moments as a coach of any boat.”

Kesseris has been a leader for the adaptive members, taking a second-place finish in the Adaptive Double Sculls Chase event at the 2012 Head of the Schuylkill Regatta and racing in an under-19 men's eight at the same race one year later. He began rowing with the freshman crew in 2014.

“Michael embodies what it means to be a member of Port Rowing and has shown everyone firsthand what the values of hard work, consistency and passion can bring,” head coach Darren Gary said.

The club also hosts the annual Row for Autism Regatta, which gives those with autism and other disabilities the opportunity to participate and compete with Port's adaptive rowing program.

Row for Autism was started in 2012 to raise money for the program and for the autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks. In 2014, the third annual regatta played host to 18 clubs – including their adaptive rowers – from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“It has been an amazing experience watching this program develop from a shoe-string operation to sending boats to race the best in the country,” Gary added, who has been with the program since fall of 2011.

The club earned four medals at the 2015 New York State Scholastic Rowing AssociationPort Rowing Championships. The women's pair, men's junior four with coxswain, and men's four with coxswain earned first-place finishes in their finals. The women's lightweight four with coxswain took second, securing the club's solo bid to Youth National Championships in Sarasota, Fla.

“The lightweight four consists of three seniors and two juniors. The three seniors were members of our first qualifying boat at Youth Nationals last season,” said Gary. “We have doubled our water time this spring. Our goal is to place in the top-10 and make a run for the grand final.”

Friends of Port is sending this entry to Youth National Championships for the second straight year, having qualified for the same event in 2014 where they finished third in the C-final.

“The girls have worked very hard to get this far and are committed to showing the country the best that we have to offer.” 
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