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Power in Our Numbers: Arshay Cooper Talks Diversity and the Future of Rowing

by Sarah Marshall, smarshall@usrowing.org | Dec 03, 2015
Arshay Cooper’s story, Suga Water, has enjoyed an odd conglomerate for an audience so far in it’s shelf life. From student athletes in inner city New York who recognize him on the train to inmates in a prison in Illinois, all who have picked up his story become instantly hooked.

Arshay Cooper’s story, Suga Water, has enjoyed an odd conglomerate for an audience so far in its shelf life. From student athletes in inner city New York who recognize him on the train to inmates in a prison in Illinois, all who have picked up his story become instantly hooked.

A motivational speaker, practiced rower and now an author, Cooper’s past has helped himDSC_5524 cultivate a unique set of experiences that has made him sought after by a wide variety of audiences.

“In our culture, in the inner city, we talk a lot about water,” said Cooper. “Before rowing, water is not something that we have been around a lot and we have this fear of, but after rowing, it is where we find our peace. There is no noise, no violence and no fire trucks, but there was peace and that was our quiet place. I always say that after rowing everything in life becomes simple.”

After a turbulent childhood as a student at one of the most violent schools in West Side Chicago, Cooper discovered rowing at one of the lowest points of his life after hearing devastating news from his mother. The young man would go on to join the first all-black high school rowing team at Manley Career Academy.

“Chicago is one of the leading places in the country where people are getting murdered, and I wanted to write something for the kids that would show them that there is hope and our hope back in the day was crew. There is a question, ‘How do you stay clean in a dirty environment?’ And the key to that for us was crew. Our sport took up out of that environment and required us to have a coach and a mentor to many of us who didn’t have fathers.”

Suga Water
tells the tale of the affluent rowing world being rocked by the first all-black high school team in the country. Out of their chaotic and neglected neighborhood, the young crew members became heroes as they overcame the odds, forged lifelong friendships and learned what it means to truly succeed.

After years of working in the catering business, Cooper returned to the water and coached the Chicago Youth Rowing Club, worked as the program director in Victory Outreach's Midwest region, organized rallies for the ‘Stop the Violence’ movement, founded programs to assist in keeping kids off the street and completed over 5,000 community service hours.

“For programs through America Rows, I think inclusion will get better in the years to come. When there are groups of young black kids walking into the school and saying ‘this is my sport and this is what it is doing for me’ it will be a good hook," Cooper said.

"For me, it was when I found out that my first race would be here in Philadelphia, and it meant that I was going to travel. That was something that when you are in the inner city, you don’t ever think about traveling. We had the opportunity to go to the University of Pennsylvania and run the Rocky steps and chill with college students and get that exposure. At the time, that was just amazing, and I want other kids to experience that."

Cooper, the kick-off speaker of the America Rows Inclusion Forum at the USRowing Annual Convention at the Hilton Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia. Cooper also will be donating 15% of his book sales to America Rows for the month of December. To order his book online, click here.

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