Mark Rothstein Blog: Michigan Finds Balance in Community Service

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University of Michigan head rowing coach Mark Rothstein will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to Michigan rowing.

Balance is an important concept in the sport of rowing. Whenever a new rower gets into a boat for the first time, she is always surprised by how unstable a rowing shell is. Novice crews typically row with two of eight rowers sitting out to "set the boat," while the other six learn the stroke in a stable environment. Once these "training wheels" are taken away, the rowers must be able to balance the boat themselves while rowing. To go fast, a crew must become very good at balancing the boat.

Balance in another sense is also important for our rowers. There are 168 hours in a week, and 20 of those hours are spent at rowing practice. The remaining 148 hours are taken up mostly by sleeping, going to class, and studying; however, there is still a lot of time left over for our athletes to do other things -- and there is definitely not a lack of things to do in Ann Arbor. One area where our team chooses to spend a lot of their free time is in pursuing community service opportunities. And this is one place where balance comes in.

Last year, our 52-member varsity squad completed more than 1,600 hours of community service. For their efforts, our team received the Athletic Department's Rachel Townsend Community Service Award. They also received something else. Through helping people in need, our rowers continually discover the importance of living a life of service. They learn that by giving to the lives of others, we help make our own lives more meaningful and special. Here is a sample of some of the activities that our team engages in: visiting patients at Mott's Children Hospital; reading to students at local elementary schools; writing pen pal letters to elementary students; raising money for local charities through several means, including the annual Mock Rock event (which last year brought in more than $100,000); visiting patients at the local Veteran's Hospital; and volunteering at Feeding America while training in Tampa, Fla.

Last month, I was at a wonderful holiday party at athletic director Dave Brandon's house.  Hunter Lochmann, our head of marketing in the athletic department, sought me out to tell me that he had met a group of Michigan rowers that morning: they were volunteering at a local "Girls on the Run" event his daughter participated in. More than 25 of our rowers gave up a good chunk of their time on a Sunday morning -- in the middle of final exams after coming off a tough week of training, no less. Many people would choose to sleep in under these circumstances. Our rowers chose to give back. Who knows, maybe there was a future Wolverine Rower participating in that Girls on the Run 5K event. And maybe someday she will give back the way our rowers gave a little bit to her.

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