Members of Philadelphia City Council are rowing their own boat Saturday as part of the corporate challenge portion of the Dad Vail Regatta, the largest collegiate regatta in the United States, on the Schuylkill River.
Their Council crew includes five elected officials and a few staffers to fill out its entry in the 500-meter race.
At first, Councilman Bobby Henon said he was reticent
“I gotta tell you, I would rather be on top of the water than under the water,” he said. “But we as a Council are in sync in the boat and in sync in Council promoting our jewel, our public spaces, our public camps being open for the summer.”
A good coach was the key in turning landlubbers into a cohesive team of rowers, said Councilwoman Helen Gym.
“Our coach really turned us into a team, learning how to be in rhythm with each other and follow in each other’s footsteps and rowing patterns,” she said. “So it’s been really great. It’s beautiful on the river.”
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Councilwoman Cindy Bass said she was surprised with her personal performance.
“I’m really having a good time,” she said. “I grew up a stone’s throw from here, but I never thought this was something I would do.
“This is about all of our kids, all of our neighborhoods, making sure they have access through BLJ rowing and Temple University. We want to make sure that this is open to the community, that this is open to everyone, and we’re going to work hard to get all of our kids from all of our neighborhoods out here on the water.”
Coach Brannon Johnson of BLJ Community Rowing is also serving as the coxswain, although she is doing it under protest because she is a rower — not the diminutive person usually in the front of a boat.
“I rowed for the University of Texas,” she said. “For coxswain, I’m not the proper size, they asked me to do it, so I am going to hang my pride out and go for it.”
The municipal team is not expecting to win Saturday, said Councilman Curtis Jones.
“Our coach is the best ever, she measures winning as nothing bad happens,” he said. “She improved our confidence, she was patient with us … it’s not about strength, it’s about synchronization.”
Johnson said it wasn’t easy bringing the Council group together to learn how to handle 500 meters — and rowing out to make it to the starting line safely on Saturday.
“It was an adventure, I learned a lot, and I learned what not to to do,” she said. “It was an adventure of Herculean proportions for sure, but they had a lot of fun and some of them actually took to it. So that’s a win, it’s really really great to have them out here.”
Johnson also runs a community based program that brings city youth to the river to learn how to row.
The Dad Vail event draws thousands of student athletes from more than 100 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada.