On March 12, Chautauqua Lake Rowing Association co-founder and high school competitive program head coach Steve Odrzywolski stepped outside, felt the 40-degree temperatures and the brisk wind and thought to himself, "It's time to get out on the water."
And with that, Odrzywolski and his team gathered their equipment and kicked off the latest season of what has proven to be an extremely successful endeavor.
Though quite popular amongst area residents in the late 1800s and early 1900s, participation in rowing waned in the 1930s as people chose to spend their time competing in other organized team sports. Around Chautauqua Lake, for instance, organized rowing all but disappeared.
About 50 area high school students are members of the Chautauqua Lake Rowling Association. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J?photos by Scott Reagle
Disappeared, at least, until an idea sprang up in Chautauqua County's first County Executive and former New York State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Gerace's mind some five years ago.
"The original idea came from Judge Joe Gerace," Odrzywolski said. "He talked with Kevin Sixbey, Eric Larson, Leon Stein and myself about bringing rowing back to Chautauqua Lake. So he got us all together and we started (the Chautauqua Lake Rowing Association)."
From its humble beginnings - those five men working tirelessly to get the organization going, two borrowed boats from Mercyhurst College and, thanks to a loan from Stein, one CLRA-owned four-man boat - the Chautauqua Lake Rowing Association has grown into the popular organization it is today with some 50 high school athletes and more than 100 total members.
"(The reason it's been so successful) is that we have had so many good people that have helped us," Odrzywolski said. "There are just too many to name."
Also crucial was Gerace's ability to choose four individuals who had experience with rowing and who wanted to bring the joys of the sport to a new generation.
Larson rowed four years at Princeton University, Stein has been rowing for more than 20 years, Sixbey was a rower at Baldwin-Wallace College and Odrzywolski got his start in the sport at the University at Buffalo.
"(Larson, Sixbey and I) all went to Jamestown High School," Odrzywolski said, "and at that time there was no rowing program. After graduation we all split up and went to different colleges, but each of us rowed collegiately. So when we got home and this opportunity arose it made us think, 'Why didn't we have this opportunity in high school?'
"And that's really the reason we started it."
Though, as Odrzywolski admitted, few of them thought it would become the still-growing organization it is today.
"Oh, God, no," he said with a laugh. "We hoped that it would be this successful, but I don't think realistically any of us thought it would be where it is today. We figured it would go for a couple of years and then fold."
Lucky for them, and for those who want to learn the sport, that doesn't look to be happening anytime soon.
Since early March, Odrzywolski and his team have been out training, every day from 5 to 8 p.m. And though they had to cancel practice on Monday due to the spring nor'easter that blew through, they were right back at it again on Tuesday.
"We've been out there," he said. "We had to cancel on Monday because it was unsafe, but we were right back out there (on Tuesday). It snowed on us at times, but we were working."
All that work has paid off.
After sweeping all of their races during their season-opening competition against the Collegiate High School of Erie, the squad is looking to repeat those solid performances at one of their biggest races of the year: the Ohio Governors Cup on April 28 in Columbus.
"I'm expecting to do well," Odrzywolski said. "This is probably the second biggest regatta of the year for us so the kids are very excited. It should be a lot of fun."
Fun that otherwise wouldn't have been possible were it not for the dedication of Gerace, Sixbey, Odrzywolski, Larson, Stein and countless others in those early years.