Floods in Columbia Unite the Community in Rowing – More Help is Needed

by Ed Moran, | Oct 20, 2015
The story of the Columbia Rowing Club goes back to when local dentist John Worrell was looking for a new hobby and spotted a newspaper article about Alden Ocean Shells for rent at a nearby lake.
beforebhThe story of the Columbia Rowing Club goes back to when local dentist John Worrell was looking for a new hobby and spotted a newspaper article about Alden Ocean Shells for rent at a nearby lake.

Worrell lived on a lake himself and drove to the rental company and, “I brought this Alden home and these two wooden oars and was probably doing everything wrong. When I brought the shell back, my wife said, ‘You'd better not buy that because I’m pretty sure you’re not going to like it.’

“’Well, that was maybe motivation to stick with it. I rowed it again, and it seemed to come together a little bit,” he said. “So I bought one and rowed that for maybe a year and a half, and then bought the next thing up.”

Eventually, Worrell brought his new boat down to the Broad River, which runs though Richland County in South Carolina. It was just about the time that Columbia city and county officials decided that rowing would be a good use for the part of the river Worrell and a few others were rowing on, and the county made it available to them, he said.

"It started back around 1999,” Worrell said. “It was a bare-bones operation from the beginning. Columbia formed something called the River Alliance, and this was just a group of city planners trying to use these rivers we had running through Columbia, and they wanted to do a little bit with it. They had kayaking, but they wanted to do more. One thing led to another. They put a dock in for us, and off we went."

Since then, the club has grown to include between 70 and 100 members consisting of masters and junior rowers. They've became like family and rowed together and coached the kids. “Gosh, the kids are super nice and so enthusiastic," said Worrell, who became the club president. "The whole thing just leaves you with a good feeling. I never expected to get that kind of satisfaction from something like this.”

after4*Then came the devastating storms earlier this month. A hurricane churning off the southern Atlantic seaboard drew massive amounts of moisture into an approaching low front and a deluge of rain fell for over three days, causing devastating flooding across the entire state.

The boathouse survived, but the dock was washed away. All rowing at Columbia Rowing Club came to a screeching halt. And that’s when the folks in Columbia learned about something called “the rowing community.”

Some of the members who had rowed before moving to Columbia knew that the rowing world stood together, especially in the face of adversity, and they started an Internet funding drive.

Worrell was shocked by the response. “Suddenly, we were getting donations from people from all over. One person from San Francisco sent $50. This was a surprise to me. We had $2,000 in three days.”

Worrell said support has been coming from not only individuals, but from equipment manufacturers and from USRowing.

“I got a call from Wintech boat manufacturing company,” Worrell said. “The local representative called and asked what he could do to help. Then USRowing offered to help. When this came out, suddenly people were willing to help. I’ve been a member of USRowing since 1988. I took up sculling later in life, but never had any real contact with USRowing other than to send in my membership check every year just to support our rowing team, our national team. And now they want to support us.”

Since the storm, the club members have been able to clean up the piles of debris that surrounded that boathouse and the mud that got inside. They were able to get the boats and launches out and sustained only minimal damage to one quad.

after3“The boathouse is fine now, but without a dock, we can’t row. We have the boats, the launches and the trailer, but there is no rowing in Columbia without a dock. The banks of the river drop straight down, so there is no way we can wet launch.”

As of Tuesday, donations have reached $3,690. But they estimate they need $35,000 to replace the dock. “We’re a small club, so we don’t have those kinds of resources available,” Worrell said.

Still, Worrell said, the feeling he has for being part of the rowing community has left him without a doubt that this is a special sport with special people who are committed to each other and the shared common experiences that bind them.

“This really is a community,” Worrell said. “We never had anything like this happen. But that’s the feeling I get, that there is a community out there.”

The Columbia Rowing Club needs more help to bring rowing back to life on the Broad River. Click here to make a donation.
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