Wolverines Take Pride in Community Service

Jan. 13, 2013

Annually, the University of Michigan women's rowing team takes two training trips to Tampa, Fla., during breaks in the academic school year. The primary reason for the trips is to get the girls back on the water after intense indoor training during the cold winter months in Ann Arbor. The trips, however, are not all business for the team. Head coach Mark Rothstein has made it customary to spend time giving back to the Tampa community that welcomes his team with such open arms every year.

"The journey of a Michigan rower starts with excelling academically and with winning races, but it does not end there," said Rothstein. "By helping those in need, our rowers continually discover the importance of living a life of service. They learn that by giving to the lives of others, they help make their own lives more meaningful and special."

On the team's most-recent trek south, the team took time out of its training schedule to volunteer at Feeding America Tampa Bay, a local food bank in the area where Michigan trains. During the volunteer day, the rowers helped sort 7,270 pounds of perishable and non-perishable food. That equals out to an astounding 6,017 meals that will be distributed to those in need in the Tampa area. In addition, the team helped pack 652 bags of groceries for the organization's Kids' Café program.

"Being an athlete at the University of Michigan, we are so privileged to have the resources at our disposal to help us be successful both during and after college." said senior Melisa Ongun. "Community service gives us the opportunity to 'pay it forward' in a way. By supporting the community, it provides an outlet for my teammates and me to show our appreciation for everything we have."

Community service is nothing new to the rowing team at Michigan. Last season, the girls logged more than 1,600 community service hours in the Ann Arbor community. From Feeding America, to spending time at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, the rowing program prides itself on giving back to its community.

"Last year, our seniors set a goal to contribute the most hours to community service of any team on campus," Rothstein said. "Our seniors led the way, but our whole team bought in to the concept, and it really just took off."

The team's 1,600 hours paved the way to the program earning the prestigious Rachel Townsend Community Service Award, an annual award given by the University of Michigan Athletic Department to the men's and women's teams that contribute the most hours, per student-athlete, to community service.

"It was a great honor for our team to win that award; just as important as anything we could win on the water to be honest," added Rothstein.

That is saying something for a team that won an overall Big Ten championship, a 2v8 national championship and an overall runner-up finish at the 2012 NCAA Championships.

Michigan athletic teams are publicly noted through its competition results; but almost more importantly is the attitude that each student-athlete has towards giving back to the community and not taking being at U-M for granted.