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Part of the CRU

By Tony Peregrin in News on Oct 25, 2010 4:00PM

4286.jpg Chicago Rowing Union (CRU)—the Midwest’s only GLBT rowing organization and one of three such clubs in the world—introduces some 30 new people to the sport each year, according to founding member and board president Scott Curcio. “Many of those are from the LGBT community, and many have never participated in team sports before,” explains Curcio, 32, a real estate consultant.

As CRU glides into its five-year anniversary next month, Chicagoist caught up with Curcio to discuss the organization’s accomplishments, common misconceptions about the sport (hint: coxwains do more than yell at the rowers), and why the team adopted a new moniker last year.

Chicagoist:Talk about some of CRU’s most notable achievements over the last 5 years—How has the organization grown and evolved?

Scott Curcio: It’s been quite a journey over our short five year existence. Competing internationally, recruiting our first women, having professional coaches join our group, purchasing our first boats, attaining 501(c)3 non-profit status—those are a few of our most notable highlights. What began as a group of 12 men with no experience, learning to row, and then winning medals at the Gay Games, has evolved into a full-fledged rowing organization that now has several race wins to our credit. Our on-water results mimic the success we’ve had off the water.

C: CRU’s original name was Qrew—why did the name change to Chicago Rowing Union in 2009?

SC: CRU changed its name to best reflect our mission—inclusion is an important part of what we do, and we felt it was important that our name reflect that as well. We welcome anyone who wants to be a part of our organization—gender or sexual orientation is irrelevant. In fact, we have had several straight team members and coaches over the years! Changing our name made it very clear that—gay or straight—you can find your place with CRU.

C: I’ve read that with rowing, everyone in the boat is equally important, and that this is the kind of team sport where everyone can feel like their effort is noticed—which is a great metaphor for gays and straights literally working in tandem to achieve a common goal.

SC: Rowing is absolutely a sport of team work. There’s a saying in the sport, that you’re only as strong as your weakest rower.

C: One of the biggest misconceptions about rowing is that the coxswain is only there to yell at the rowers.

SC: The coxswain is actually a very important part of any crew team. The coxswains execute the coaches’ plan on the water during practices and races, and they handle the most important job—protecting the crew by steering and avoiding debris and other boats. During a race, a great coxswain makes the difference between winning and finishing second.

C: Talk about how rowing is actually an intense full-body workout, and not just an upper-body sport.

SC: To the casual observer, it may appear that rowing is primarily an upper body sport. The technique in crew, however, is to harness the power of the lower body, and carry that through the upper body to move the boat through the water. A solid core, combined with strong legs, arms, and back, are all necessary parts of being a strong and successful rower. Cross-training includes circuit training, weight lifting and lots of time on the indoor rowing machines.

C:If someone has never rowed a boat a day in their life are they still eligible to join CRU?

SC: Absolutely! We have people that just attend our Learn to Row classes—which typically start in late April and consist of eight classes over consecutive weekends—and that’s their exposure to the sport, and they leave with a general knowledge of it. Others enjoy it so much they continue on with our novice team—which requires practices two evenings each week, for two hours. Beginners should know that it takes years of practice to gain proficiency in the sport, and that little improvements make a big difference— it’s definitely a sport for life, because you are always learning, growing, and improving.

C:The Chicago River is not particularly known for being clean and pollution-free. Does the condition of the river ever discourage potential new recruits?

SC: CRU practices on the North Branch of the Chicago River, at the Dammrich Rowing Center in Skokie, IL. We’ve not had new members raise concerns about the river’s cleanliness. I wouldn’t drink it, but it’s fine to row on.

C: As CRU marks its five year anniversary, what do you hope to see from the organization at the 10 year mark?

SC: Five years from now, I hope we’re still performing well on the water, winning races, giving back [to the community], and continuing our mission: to inspire personal accomplishment, camaraderie, and community within a competitive landscape, and in a team atmosphere. There is a great future ahead for rowing in Chicago.

CRU will hold its five-year anniversary benefit on Friday, November 12 at Classic Kids Photography, 917 W. Armitage. Visit for more information and to purchase tickets.