Story by Mike May | Photos by Frank Koester
Wellington has spectacular sports facilities for many athletic pursuits, among them the sport of rowing. For nearly 40 years, the Florida Rowing Center has been located at Lake Wellington.
From mid-December until late April, Lake Wellington has been utilized as a rowing destination for hundreds of avid rowing participants from across the United States and around the world who travel here for rowing instruction and training sessions.
While not exactly a secret, the rowers have been operating somewhat under the radar. The majority of local rowers have traditionally been adults, usually ages 45 to 65.
But now, rowing’s presence in Wellington will be more visible and wide-reaching, thanks to Tracy and Howard Kirkpatrick, the new owners of the Florida Rowing Center.
Starting this past summer, six youth rowing camps were conducted so that more local youngsters could get exposed to the sport of rowing. Each camp had roughly 10 participants, ages 12 to 16. The camps were so popular that many campers registered for more than one week, Tracy said.
During these summer camps, which were held from 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday, the campers were taught rowing fundamentals. It started with using a rowing machine on land. Eventually, they transitioned to being in a boat on the water.
Throughout the process, there was constant supervision from longtime rowing coach Doug Cody, who has been affiliated with the Florida Rowing Center since 2016.
“We now have a good core of young rowers in Wellington,” Cody said.
To help elevate rowing awareness locally, the Kirkpatricks hired a professional coach to oversee the overall local rowing program.
Paul Mokha will be the club’s director and serve as the head coach of the youth program.
“We will remain a haven for ‘snowbirds’ in the winter, but we need to add a sense of the local community to the Florida Rowing Center,” Mokha said. “We plan to build a middle school program, a high school program and continue with youth camps in the summer.”
Mokha appears to be the right man for the job. “We have been contacting schools the past few weeks and sending them information on our program and our free Learn to Row days,” Mokha said. “We’ve been using our Facebook and Instagram to spread the word and having our summer camp participants spread the word among their friends and classmates. We have joined the chamber of commerce, and we have met with Village of Wellington officials.”
According to Tracy, Mokha spent the past few years coaching youth rowing in Florida, qualifying 11 crews for the national championships and earning 25 state championship medals, while helping more than a dozen teenagers earn college rowing scholarships.
Mokha said that Lake Wellington is an ideal setting for rowing. “Lake Wellington is a great venue because it has flat, fresh water with no waves,” he said.
Tracy agreed. “Lake Wellington has a 2,000-meter stretch of water that is not impacted by rocks or a current,” she said. “Lake Wellington is one of the best venues for rowing in the U.S.”
Mokha’s plans for the youth program are ambitious. His goal is to assemble a group of committed and enthusiastic youth rowers this fall that can be taught the fundamentals of the sport and be ready to compete in a youth rowing event in Fellsmere on Dec. 2.
There will be plenty of competition for the new middle school and high school squads from Wellington, since there are many youth rowing clubs from Orlando to Miami. For those with collegiate aspirations, there are plenty of college rowing opportunities for both male and female rowers.
What kind of athlete is a good candidate for rowing? Anybody who “loves to train.”
“If you work hard and train, you’ll get results in rowing,” Mokha said. “Athletes from swimming, soccer, football, wrestling, and track and field have excelled in rowing.”
There’s no major initial investment to get into the sport.
“You need to wear nothing more than what you wear in a PE class in school,” Mokha said. “It’s a good idea to have a hat and a water bottle when it’s hot and sunny.”
Assisting Mokha with this youth rowing initiative will be Cody. His specialty is teaching technique and emphasizing safety.
“Coach Doug Cody is a U.S. Rowing Level 2 coach,” Tracy said. “He is a former EMT. His background and interests in the biomechanics of sculling and the prevention of repetitive motion injuries make him an excellent fit. He coaches masters and juniors and has developed scores of enthusiastic and skilled young scullers, many of whom have had success at the national level.”
Cody said that the Learn to Row program is an ideal way to introduce any person to rowing. “My initial goal is for the participants to have a good time,” he said. “This is a sport that people can do for the rest of their lives.”
With the Kirkpatricks, Mokha and Cody working together, rowing’s immediate future in Wellington is in good hands.
Visit www.floridarowingcenter.com to learn more about the Florida Rowing Center.