Rowing on the riverJul 15th, 2010 | By admin | Category: Active Kids, Features, Sidelines
Rowing on the river
Artistry in motion
By Linda Benton
The artist stands in front of the mural, her paintbrush poised in one hand. Focusing on the near-complete painting, she decides it needs something more and, with a steady stroke of the brush, applies a splash of blue-green paint to the Tennessee River scene.
In another venue, the same artist sits in her boat; this time it is an oar that is poised in her hands. Focusing on the rower in front of her, she pulls her oar and, with a steady stroke, the boat glides quietly through the blue-green water.
The artistry is in the perfection of the stroke. Whether it’s the stroke of a brush or the stroke of an oar, both create a thing of beauty.
For over three years, Mary Vlasis was a member of the Chattanooga Junior Rowing Club, a club team comprised of more than 40 high school kids from all over the Chattanooga area. Mary, an artsy type and an unassuming athlete, joined the team in 2004 and quickly developed a passion for the sport. “Most people are not aware of the amount of dedication rowing requires,” she says. “We practice nearly every day, 11 months out of the year, in heat, cold and even rain. You’ve gotta love it.”
Jack Fish, CJR’s program director and ex-officio coach, says his junior rowers “have the river in their blood”—and it’s not just a love of the sport that drives them.
“Kids who like to row tend to be kids who are naturally driven to succeed,” he says. “They know the path to success is paved with hard work—and there is no shortage of that at CJR.”
Though Fish has passed the “oars” over to new coach Heather Gardner, he stays extremely involved with the club. He encourages CJR rowers to get involved in a variety of activities, including assisting rowers with disabilities, designing and managing the club website, assisting with fundraising, cleaning and working on boats, and much more.
A few years ago, one of Fish’s special requests was for the creation of a mural on the walls of CJR’s home base, the William Raoul Rowing Center off Amnicola Highway, near the Boathouse Restaurant. He knew team member Mary Vlasis was more than just a gifted coxswain; she was a gifted artist as well. So he asked Mary to create a mural that would honor Raoul, considered “the grandfather of rowing” in Chattanooga, and Terry Carney, Fish’s rowing partner for many years. “Their vision, leadership, and determination provided the foundation for the great program we now have on the Tennessee River,” Fish says.
Mary happily agreed to the project and says it was all in a day’s work at CJR. “The summer of 2008 was a busy one for me as I prepared for my first year of college,” she says. “But I knew the mural would be my farewell gift to the program. I had to do it.”
After months of work on the project, interrupted by her freshman year at The University of Alabama, Mary put the final brush stroke on the mural. It depicts a montage of river scenes: an 8-boat, the Walnut Street Bridge, and as Fish had requested, William Raoul and Terry Carney in sculling boats.
It also includes eight lines of carefully painted script.
“Any artist will tell you that ‘A picture paints a thousand words,’ but the team felt the mural was not complete without expressing, in words, what rowing means to us,” Mary explains. “We sat down one day after practice and recalled a quote we had once read about rowing; we then infused it with our own words.” Painted in the lower left-hand corner, the quote reflects the emotion and dedication of the teens who have chosen rowing as their sport:
As time moves on I remember the first
light on the water, the soft glow of a morning sun,
my will to win, the strength in my arms, the drive
in my legs, and the power of the crew. As I grow
older and move forward in life, I will always
remember the way rowing has shaped me, how I reached
beyond myself in everything I did, always pushing
onward, and how I still do.”
“Although Jack wanted the mural to be a tribute to rowing leadership in Chattanooga, the team felt the mural should also honor the man who had personally touched our lives,” Mary says. At the bottom of the mural, it reads simply: “This mural is dedicated to Jack Fish; he is more than a coach and he makes rowing more than a sport. Thanks for all you do for us and for the community.”
During more than 25 years of coaching at CJR, Jack Fish has touched the lives of hundreds of kids, many of whom have competed at regional and national championships, and a select few who have gone on to row in college on athletic scholarships. If there is artistry in coaching, then clearly Jack Fish has created his own masterpiece—a priceless piece of work that is reflected in the faces of the kids whom he has influenced over the years.