Cancer survivors rowing toward recovery

More than 20 breast cancer survivors are taking over Fountain Point Resort on Lake Leelanau this weekend for a change of scenery while they practice rowing.

A group of women from the Chicago area are training on the water at Lake Leelanau.

They're part of an organization called ROW, or Recovery On Water.

ROW has been around since 2007. It's a rowing team for breast cancer survivors.

The women use rowing to regain strength both physically and mentally.

â??Each one of us were at a place in either our chemo, radiation, or surgery where we felt so helpless,â?? said breast cancer survivor Carol Hagen. â??Now we're in control.â??

Hagen is going on three years of being cancer-free. Thatâ??s something that inspires the coaches.

â??I think it's really empowering for me as a coach to watch them watch reclaim their bodies,â?? said Charley Sullivan, associate head coach of the menâ??s rowing team at the University of Michigan. â??They are so excited about what they're doing it makes you realize that there's more in the world than just preparing athletes to be as fast as they can be at a national championship. We're preparing these women to be as fast as they can be and as strong as they can be in their own rowing.â??

Many of the women start without any experience in the water, but they catch on quickly and are competitive.

â??I was horrible at it. I almost turned the boat over,â?? admitted Cynthia Greene who has been cancer-free for four years. â??You know, we're no longer young girls with a boo-boo; we want to row and get into races.â??

More than 20 survivors are taking over Fountain Point Resort on Lake Leelanau this weekend for a change of scenery while they practice.

â??It's a nice little training trip weekend getaway that gets us out on very nice water,â?? said Erin Cikanek, an assistant coach for ROW. â??We're normally on the Chicago River and we have to avoid a lot of barge traffic and things. Up here, it's nice. There's just a couple fisherman.â??

While they're learning from the professionals, the women are also leaning on each other for support.

â??We work out our frustrations: why did this happen to me? What am I going to do about it? We're just going to work through it and get the next stage,â?? said Greene.

â??We have an immediate kinship with one another because we know each other's stories and we know each other's journey. I love the exercise and I love the rowing and I love the fresh air, at the end of the day it's about the relationships,â?? said Hagen.

The coaches learn from the women, too.

â??You can be something other than being defined by one really difficult thing in your life,â?? said Cikanek.

â??Theyâ??re every bit as driven as those guys who are trying to make a boat in Rio. It's a different drive,â?? said Sullivan.

The ROWers are gearing up for their next regatta at the end of July in Chicago. They have several more races throughout the summer and fall.

ROW aims to get cancer survivors active. They stand behind research that shows how exercise can reduce cancer recurrence by as much as 50 percent.