LAKE STEVENS — The rowers hit the lake early Saturday, boats slicing through the water while ducks bobbed and an eagle watched from a tree.
It was a bit above 20 degrees and the sunrise sent streaks of gold across the misty water. Several crews of four and two single rowers propelled their boats across the lake. Their breath fogged in front of their faces.
Members of the Lake Stevens Rowing Club practice year-round. Though regatta season starts in the spring, they don’t slow in the winter.
“If you have that determination to get on the lake and you get with a great group of people, it doesn’t even matter if it’s 21 degrees,” said Julia Francis, spokeswoman for the club.
The club is celebrating 20 years. It started in 1997 with about seven members who hauled supplies to the lake in trailers and launched from shore because there wasn’t a dock for them.
Now, there are about 28 adult and 24 youth members, and that goes up in the spring, said Barb Cummins, 66, who started the club with her husband, Bob. The group has a boathouse and crews launch from a dock near North Cove.
The Cummins started rowing in Everett when their children got into the sport. Their son and daughter became champion rowers. The sport has been good to her family, she said, and it’s their way to give back.
Coaches usually volunteer, though the club occasionally hires someone. The person has to understand Lake Stevens, Cummins said.
“We are a really tight-knit little community,” she said. “We’re about family and we are a family.”
Rob Mulalley has coached youth rowing for three years and previously coached other sports, including basketball, baseball and soccer. His son, Zach Mulalley, has been rowing for about five years. The 18-year-old said the sport is more challenging than others he and his dad have done.
The hard part, he said, is “pushing yourself to your limits and then going past them every single time.” He once blacked out crossing the finish line. He could hear people yelling but couldn’t see.
Athletes practice for months to shave fractions of a second off a single maneuver. Zach trained for three months to cut tenths of a second off of the time it took him to square his oar blades and get them in the water.
Tosh Brown-Moore, 15, also has done other sports. None have been as satisfying as rowing, he said. To get the satisfaction, though, he has to overcome frustration.
“When I see people leave, that’s usually why,” he said. “They’re too hard on themselves and they get frustrated.”
Jim Aylesworth, 48, saw information about the club seven years ago at Aquafest and quickly got hooked. There’s a constant push and pull, a tension and release as the boat shoots through the water, and “when it’s balanced, it’s beautiful,” he said.
Bringing rowing to Lake Stevens offered a new way for people of all ages to socialize and exercise, Bob Cummins, 67, said. It also teaches young people to set goals, follow through and work as a team.
“Competition falls a bit lower on the list, unless you’re competing with yourself,” he said. “I think eventually you’re going to win the race if you always challenge yourself.”
Rowing can help teens land scholarships, he said. It’s a fast-growing collegiate sport and several former club members now row for universities.
Jacob Murray, 17, likes that rowing requires flawless teamwork. One athlete can’t carry the crew alone.
The sport emphasizes effort over victory, said Ben Wilson, 15. If athletes push themselves, it’s a personal win.
“What keeps me rowing is the feeling in the boat as it glides over the water,” he said. “There’s no way to describe it.”
Rowing also can be unforgiving, Aylesworth said. A hiccup in rhythm can lose a race.
The key is patience, club members agreed. Unlike sports that incorporate familiar activities such as running, catching and throwing, rowing requires people to learn a new set of skills, Rob Mulalley said.
Al Friedman, 62, recently started rowing. It’s much different than the machine he has at home.
“I have rowed a lot in my life on rafts, fishing boats,” he said. “I would have said I’m a pretty experienced rower, but sculling is an entirely different thing.”
The club is accepting spring sign-ups. Lake Stevens is set to host a competition in April. More information is online at lakestevensrowing.org.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.