by Alison Kates, Fall 2016
With a warm smile and friendly greeting, Head Coach Shelagh Donohoe welcomes me at the Middlebridge dock one chilly November morning as the URI Women’s Rowing Team is finishing up practice. Student athletes are coming in from the river. They row to the platform, lift their boat out of the water and walk it to an area for rinsing before storing it until tomorrow. All of this is fun to watch – each boat (skull) is carried by all of the rowers who fit inside and directions are coordinated by the coxswain. The students smile and seem to know exactly what they are doing.
The URI Rowing Team’s 50 members, Novice and Varsity, arrive at practice at the Middlebridge site daily by 5:45 am to practice until 8:00am. They row on Narrow River and in the Fall and Spring, and train indoors during the winter months. They consistently achieve one of the highest combined GPAs of all URI sports teams.
The Rowing team takes community service and local stewardship very seriously. They spent Sunday, November 13 improving trails at Canonchet Farm. Visit the Canonchet Farm website for great photographs of their efforts. http://canonchet.org/trails.php
The same day that the team was doing the heavy lifting at Canonchet Farm, the finishing touches were put on their new boathouse, which the team affectionately calls ‘the structure’. A sturdy steel frame covered in strong polyethylene will provide the team’s skulls with protection from the weather over the winter months. A strip of clear polyethylene along the highest point on the roof lets light into the vast space. Set back from the waterfront just past the parking area, the structure was deliberately placed out of the sightline of the scenic riverfront. The design is meant to blend in with the surrounding area, not to disturb it.
Likewise, the boat dock, installed in Spring 2016, was specifically designed and installed so as to not disturb the eelgrass and other life along the river’s edge.
The team uses one of the cottages on the Middlebridge property for storage, bathroom facilities and electric service. Even though it is filled to the gills with equipment and supplies, it’s clean, well organized and has a welcoming feel.
Lily Herberger, originally from California, walked on to the rowing team as a Freshman at URI and quickly fell in love with Rhode Island, the University and Narrow River. She rowed for four years while earning her Bachelor’s Degree, working her way up to the Varsity level. Now that she is working toward her Master’s Degree in Environmental Science, she’s helping coach the team.
Lily remembers when the team moved to the Middlebridge site from the Boathouse further up the river. She described how one day in September 2015, the team boarded the boats at the old site and rowed down to their new home at Middlebridge. Since then the team has embraced the Middlebridge site as their home.
Shelagh was delighted to talk about the Narrow River and the watershed. She has been coaching rowing at URI for 10 years. Shelagh has been involved with Rowing for decades. Her accomplishments as an athlete include winning a silver medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 in the women’s straight 4. As a coach, she has guided many teams to victory, most recently the US Paralympic Team to silver at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this summer.
Shelagh has high hopes for the future. She would love to work with the town and interested partners in the future to offer a rowing program to high school students and the general public. Shelagh loves the fact that NRPA, the Town and the team all have the same goal: protecting and helping people enjoy Narrow River.