NEWBURGH – On April 14, 2013, 13 children graduated from the Newburgh Rowing Student Ambassador Program, by passing the rigorous U.S. Rowing Swim Test required to swim in open water.
Newburgh Rowing Programs Director Coach Ed Kennedy administered the swim test, along with members of the NFA Varsity Crew Team and the competitive rowers of the Newburgh Rowing Club, at the New York Military Academy ("NYMA") Pool in Cornwall, NY and a "graduation" ceremony was held at the Newburgh Rowing Boathouse immediately thereafter.
"In 33 years of teaching, this is one of my happiest moments as a teacher," said Coach Kennedy. "We have taught another class of youngsters, all of whom started out as non-swimmers, to pass the U.S. Rowing swim test, after seven weeks in the NYMA Pool. None of the children were swimmers when we started and most couldn’t even put their face in the water at the beginning, now they are swimming like fish, thanks to the older kids getting in every week and helping out."
The Student Ambassador program is free to those accepted into it, and is made possible by a grant from the Hudson River Improvement Foundation, said Team Mom Juliana LoBiondo. The coaches and experienced swimmers, all volunteer their time. "To qualify for the Newburgh Rowing Student Ambassador Program, the applicant must be ages 10 – 17, reside in the City of Newburgh, and qualify for the free lunch program," said LoBiondo. "If accepted, the Student Ambassadors are taught to swim sufficiently well to pass the rigorous US Rowing Swim Test, and also are taught to row in crew shells on the Hudson River. Last year’s graduates are now being accepted into elite boarding schools and it helped to put rowing on their applications." The rigorous US Rowing swim test requires a 250-meter swim in deep water, and 7 other components, including being able to float unassisted for 10 minutes, catch a life jacket in the air while treading water in the deep end, and put it on, and being able to pull another swimmer to safety while swimming, said Coach Kennedy.
"My favorite story, hands down, is that of Jorge Vasquez," said Coach Kennedy. "Vasquez, a seventh-grader at San Miguel Academy in Newburgh, said rowing is his first sport. In order to row, he would need to pass the U.S. Rowing Swim Test. Jorge never learned to swim. He applied for and was accepted into the Newburgh Rowing Student Ambassador program. Jorge walked to the Boathouse from his home in the City of Newburgh to attend the 7-week Learn to swim portion of the Student Ambassador Program, and to attend rowing practice Mondays and Fridays. At 14, he was the oldest of the Student Ambassadors," said Kennedy. "Not only did he walk down to the Newburgh Rowing Boathouse to get a ride to each NYMA Pool swim practice, he really journeyed the furthest in other ways. For weeks, he would not put his face in the water at the beginning. I really didn’t know how I was going to teach this young man. Now, I look at him and he is not only going to be a great rower, I think that one day he will be on a varsity swim team. I could not be more proud."
"I’m just happy to be here," said Vasquez. "I’m thankful for the opportunity and I can’t wait to row on the Hudson River."
For more information on Newburgh Rowing, contact Coach Ed Kennedy at (845) 541-2313 or Team Mom Juliana LoBiondo at firstname.lastname@example.org.