Rowing has had its place on Baltimore’s waterfront since the 1800s, but it has historically been a pastime for elites. For the last 12 years, the staff of Baltimore Community Rowing, located next to Middle Branch Park, has worked to grow the sport.

“When you’re on the water, you’re thinking about nothing but that next stroke,” said Jaiden Gomez, a former student and current coach at Baltimore Community Rowing. For the kids Baltimore Community Rowing serves, getting onto the water with others their age can be just the escape they need.

This year, Baltimore Community Rowing partnered with Restoring Inner City Hope, known as the RICH program, to expand access for local kids in the hopes of diversifying the sport. The participants went from learning the motions on a rowing machine to paddling in sync on an eight-person boat over the span of a four-week program.

“Sometimes you see people on the water and you’re like, ‘Wow, that looks super easy,’” said Baltimore Community Rowing head coach Sof Alfonso, “It takes a lot of hard work to get to that point.”

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Kehwon Hazelwood, 14, agreed. “I was nervous on my first day because I don’t know how to swim yet, so if I were to fall in I would’ve drowned,” he said.

Hazelwood said that by the end of the summer he would row alone and that he planned to join Baltimore Community Rowing’s new RICH program rowing team starting in the fall.

Rowing is often a cost-prohibitive sport, with the average Baltimore Community Rowing member paying over $4,000 per year. However, part of Executive Director Karyn Shackelford’s mission to diversify the sport is making sure no kids are priced out. She spends her days applying to grants and organizing fundraisers to facilitate scholarships.

This funding has greatly impacted the number of participants in Baltimore Community Rowing. Gomez, a scholarship recipient, said, “I’ve never known a kid at BCR to not get the scholarship.”

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Baltimore Community Rowing aims to reach as many Baltimore kids as possible through the school system, community partnerships and open events.

“The more kids we can access, the more we’re going to be expanding the community and the more that we’re going to be giving this youth of Baltimore City access to their waterfront,” Alfonso said.

BCR coach Molly Hess demonstrates to the kids proper rowing form on the rowing machines on July 11, 2023.
Baltimore Community Rowing coach Molly Hess demonstrates proper form on the rowing machines. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)
Head coach Sof Alfonso instructs the rowers in their boats through a megaphone on July 25, 2023.
Head coach Sof Alfonso instructs the rowers in their boats through a megaphone. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)
Taesean Matthews signs in on the first day of the RICH program's four weeks with Baltimore Community Rowing. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)

“When you’re on the water, you’re thinking about nothing but that next stroke.”

Jaiden Gomez, a former student and current coach at Baltimore Community Rowing

Kids from Restoring Inner Cities Hope paddle through the water on an 8 person boat with BCR instructors on Aug. 2, 2023.
Kids from Restoring Inner City Hope paddle through the water on an eight-person boat with Baltimore Community Rowing instructors aboard. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)
Taesean Matthews sits in the boat near the dock at Baltimore Community Rowing. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)
Kids from Restoring Inner Cities Hope paddle through the water on an 8 person boat with BCR instructors on Aug. 2, 2023.
Kids from Restoring Inner City Hope paddle through the water on an eight-person boat with Baltimore Community Rowing instructors aboard. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)

“Sometimes you see people on the water and you’re like, ‘Wow, that looks super easy.’ It takes a lot of hard work to get to that point.”

Sof Alfonso, BCR head coach

Taesean Matthews shouts with exertion as he paddles. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)
____ carries the boat out to the water on July 11, 2023.
Cordell Pinckney Jr. leads the way carrying the boat. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)