SKOWHEGAN — Jamie Pitney was not a competitive rower in college. A lawyer, he took up rowing years later to keep active and enjoy the scenery near his house on China Lake in Kennebec County.

But after competing decades ago in the Head of the ’Scog regatta at Bates College, Pitney was inspired.

“There were several of us who found our way (to the regatta) in 1993 and said, ‘You know, we’d like to have more things like this,’ ” he said, “so we thought ‘How can we get together and have competitions?’ ”

On Sunday, the 70-year-old Pitney competed in the 10th annual Kennebec Row 5K on the Kennebec River in Skowhegan.

The regatta was the first of three this year hosted by the Maine Rowing Association, which Pitney founded in 1994 to bring together rowers from across the state in friendly competition.

On the shoreline, his wife, Ginger, kept time from her folding chair for the 16 single scullers in the race, while friends and family gathered around the Kennebec Banks public boat launch to cheer.

Edward Demetriou, 45, of Falmouth was the top finisher in 19 minutes, 37.4 seconds, and Leslie Krichko, 60, of Brunswick finished first among the women in 20:21.8.

The club’s other two races will be held Sept. 8 on Megunticook Lake in Camden and Sept. 15 at Bates’ rowing facility in Greene.

Since founding the Maine Rowing Association, Pitney has been encouraged by the sport’s growth in the state.

“Over that 25 years or so, rowing has grown in Maine. (In) 1993 there were no clubs at all, except for the an informal meeting group at Merrymeeting, which was relatively small,” said Pitney.

The Maine Rowing Association has approximately 125 dues-paying members, who spend between $5 and $50 to compete in the group’s three regattas, said Pitney.

Across the state, nearly a half-dozen community rowing organizations serve rowers of all abilities and ages, from novice youth rowers to adult “masters.”

In 2011, a group of masters rowers founded the Merrymeeting Community Rowing Association in Brunswick.

“We wanted initially to host educational (events) and provide access to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access, because of how expensive the sport is in terms of equipment, water access and the difficulty of getting on the water,” said Scott Bailey, who has served as the president of the organization’s board since 2012.

The group now has more than 35 members, with 16 rowers on its youth teams and about 20 in its masters programs.

Sarah Deck, 55, of Brunswick completed Merrymeeting’s learn-to-row program in June after her son joined the club’s high school program. The program had six participants in its summer session and six more have enrolled in its fall class.

“I wanted to do something for myself and challenge myself, and I’ve always admired rowing and the sport of it,” said Deck. “I wanted to meet the community because it’s a great community of people, and it’s a very inviting program that’s encouraging people of all ages to get out on the water and learn to row.”

CC Stockly, the program director of Waynflete Community Rowing Program and former president of the Yarmouth Rowing Club, has had a hand in expanding programs for masters and youth rowers in greater Portland.

“When I started coaching at Waynflete in 2007, we had 15 kids on the team. We had 72 this spring,” said Stockly. “It was the trickle that turned into the flood.”

The club receives partial financial support from the Waynflete School, although half of its rowers hail from other local schools.

“A lot of high schools have problems footing the bill for these programs because it’s expensive,” said Stockly. “The reason they’re community programs and not high school programs is 90 percent about money.”

In Camden, Megunticook Rowing Club, founded in 2008, fields approximately 50 youth rowers and coxswains in a team, and added a masters program last fall.

Every spring the four major youth programs — Merrymeeting, Waynflete, Megunticook and the Yarmouth Rowing Club – come together for the Maine Youth Rowing Association’s Dirigo Sprint Championships, which informally decides the Maine state champion crews.

The 10th running of the event was held in May on Megunticook Lake. Waynflete took home the team title across seven events.

Members say a friendly spirit of cooperation exists between the various clubs, even at regattas.

This spirit of cooperation came to the fore in a big way in July 2018, when local clubs rallied to support the Portland Community Rowing Association after high winds destroyed $55,000 worth of equipment.

“I just can’t explain in words how powerful that was, that other organizations came to our aid and donated money,” said Paula Birmingham, the president of the Portland Community Rowing Association. “It’s a strong community when it comes down to supporting one another.”

Clubs operate on limited budgets, supplemented by membership fees, pay-as-you-go participation charges and small-scale fundraising.

“We are a self-directed, self-resourced club,” said Andrea Maker, the co-president of the Yarmouth Rowing Club, which trains out of Greene Marine in Yarmouth. “We do not have a boathouse, we don’t have a regular coach that goes out with us when we row and we don’t have an employee or anyone who manages the club. We have a good fleet of boats and equipment but we are otherwise a no-frills club.”

Rowers often speak of the allure of the sport. The Portland Community Rowing Association, for example, hits the water off East End Beach shortly after sunrise.

“It’s the magic that you experience on the water at that hour with that group of people. The water can be calm like glass, and a seal pops up, and we get this all in before even some people’s alarms go off.”


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