The Benefits of Offering a Rowing Program

University of Iowa

Rowing is often seen as a coastal recreation program due to the nature of the sport being in water, but whether your campus is in this region or not, you shouldn’t count it out of your program offerings.

Below, Danelle Stipes, the assistant director of recreational services rowing programs at the University of Iowa (UI), answers questions about their rowing program and how it benefits their campus rec department and participants.

Campus Rec: What is the benefit of offering a rowing program for campus rec departments?

Danelle Stipes: Rowing offers a diverse alternative to the regular sport and fitness programming within a rec department. The rowing stroke, joined with being on the water in boats, creates an environment for learning and growth as individuals and as part of a team. All ages can row, as well as any fitness level, body type or experience level. The full body workout draws individuals who may not typically find themselves on a treadmill or participating in a sport on the field. Those who want a community of support around them while learning and pushing themselves are ideal for this sport.

We offer those who have rowed before and are looking to move to Iowa their sport of preference. Whether an experienced rower or just learning to row within our program as an undergrad or graduate student, faculty and staff, and their partners and family, or a community member, we are able to offer this unique experience on our river. With that, all of our athletes learn to embrace each other, celebrate improvements, and as a result, build relationships for networking and success.


CR: What is the benefit for participants?

DS: Within our program, participants can get two things:

  1. Exposure to the sport of rowing through one of our Learn to Row experiences. We offer opportunities through the year, in all different forms, to allow participants the chance to try the sport and see what they think of it.
  2. From a Learn to Row, athletes move into regular programming. This includes year-round rowing and coaching along with a scheduled fitness program. Athletes row on the water during the summer, fall and late spring. We train on land during the winter months. Athletes find motivation and confidence from improvements in their rowing stroke and physical fitness, combined with support from team members. Athletes who decide to race are able to participate, no matter what their level in regattas the team attends.


CR: How is the rowing program designed to fit all skill levels?

DS: Rowing is a very adaptable sport and there are many different modes that we can go about allowing someone to reach their goals. On the rowing machine, individuals have their own goals based off of assessments. We can track improvements in fitness from this.

On the water, we have the ability to break down into different boats depending on the need of the group. Small boats, large boats and in-between are used to work on skills all the way to fast speed racing. We tailor our programming and practices to the needs of the group.


Our juniors program is for ages 12 to 18 and works to develop leadership, accountability and self-confidence, all while improving physical fitness.


This is a new program this year, solely for UI students. In the past, our students have rowed with the adult program – which they can still do if they choose – however, this gives them the chance to row together as students. Solely for UI students wanting to be a part of a club rowing team with no experience necessary.


Our master’s program has over 40 participants. Adults with prior rowing experience, or who have completed a Learn to Row class are welcome to be part of this program.


We currently have seven athletes with our adaptive rowing program. Rowing is an easily adaptable sport for persons with physical and intellectual disabilities. Practices are scheduled on an individual basis and held year-round – outdoors/indoors depending on weather. Adaptive rowing is open to participants ages 14 and up.


Throughout the year, we offer Learn to Row sessions. We teach the basics of rowing on an indoor rowing machine and then get out on the water to try out new skills in a boat.


CR: What advice do you have for other campus rec departments in successfully offering a rowing program? 

DS: Running a successful program takes hiring experienced rowing staff, as well as support and investment from the department and university. Do your research, ask questions of other programs and set proper expectations for the growth of the program.

Brittany is an editor at Peake Media. Reach her at

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