An interview with Richmond Community Rowing members, Hazel Cimino and Mason Brown
Interview by Jeremy Lux, article written by Eric Z. Gasa
For the uninitiated, rowing may seem like a bourgeois, Ivy League-level pastime meant only for Olympians, but it is a gritty sport that teaches endurance, communication, and unity. Take Hazel Cimino and Mason Brown of Richmond Community Rowing for example; the two learned a lot about rhythm and harmony on the waters of Virginia while rowing crew of all places. Cimino and Brown were first introduced to rowing back in college, but today they work diligently with the RCR to share their love of the sport with those who have never had the opportunity.
For the Life in Motion podcast, Jeremy Lux chats with the two to discuss their passions for the sport, why everybody should give rowing a chance, and how the water seems to just bring everybody together.
It takes a certain kind of determined individual to see a group of folks working away in a narrow rowboat and think, “Wow, I want to do that.” Well, Cimino is that person.
“I think I was just watching Olympic races and was simply impressed by how fast these boats were moving with only four to eight people,” Cimino remembers. “It just blew my mind.”
When Cimino discovered that her college, VCU had a rowing program, she knew right away that she had to join. Cimino is also right about the mind-blowing speed of rowing crews.
“The Olympic eight, which are the best of the best, they’re pushing about 18 miles an hour,” says Brown. Eight people, working in unison to push 15.5 knots? Now that’s impressive. For comparison, cruise ships travel around 20 knots per hour.
Like Cimino, Brown also got into rowing in college too. In fact, his then-roommate (and future founder of RCR) introduced him to the sport. At first when his friend asked him to “do crew” he thought he meant a dance crew but went anyways. “There’s something mesmerizing with the synchronization, balance, and teamwork of rowing,” Brown shares. “You’re stuck in this boat with all these people so there’s a lot of ways to get productive feedback. You get to learn very fast when you’re in a group that not only relies on you but wants you to get better,” he says.
Though he loves the sport, Brown does recognize the assumptions people may have about it. One thing that he and RCR have worked hard on is making the sport more approachable. He says that traditionally rowing is seen as an upper-crust pastime when the rowing communities in places like Boston and DC are actually quite accommodating to newcomers.
Cimino sees the value in not only broadening people’s horizons about rowing but also encouraging the next generation of rowers. “The kids' program is our peak focus right now,” she says, “It is the program that is dearest to our hearts.” It’s also a source of many great memories in RCR too.
During COVID, rowers competed with masks on, which makes it difficult to read people’s faces. Cimino remembers one boy in the program who was always quiet. Cimino thought he must’ve been bummed out or tired, so she always checked on him to see if he was having a good time. The boy was shy at first, but now he’s not only enthusiastic about the sport but cracking jokes with his crew constantly.
Another thing about rowing that can’t be discounted is the level of togetherness it creates among folks. There is camaraderie in depending on others to accomplish a goal, not to mention the shared experience that comes with the sweat and tears of propelling a boat down a river with your mates.
Though seeing the Olympic rowers cruise to victory may seem intimidating, nobody has ever gotten good at the sport overnight. Even Brown will admit that he was “laughably bad” when he first started. He remembers feeling so awkward at first, but just like so many things in life, failure is just one part of the sum.
“Once it clicks, there’s like this little Eureka moment in your head that’s really thrilling,” Brown shares. “The same 10-kilometer stretch for 10 years and it’s still awesome. It’s still cool.”
To learn more about Richmond Community Rowing and how you can get involved check out their website as well as connect with them on their socials via Instagram and Facebook. For Jeremy Lux’s full interview with Hazel Cimino and Mason Brown check out the complete story on the Life in Motion Podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.