Meghan Saunders fell in love with rowing the moment she tried it.
“It was easy,” Saunders said. “I heard about rowing [from a friend], I went to the Great Salt Lake to row one day, and there was no looking back.”
Saunders, a Canada native who came to Utah for school, quickly moved up the ranks of the Great Salt Lake Rowing Club from participant to coach within a year of beginning.
“It’s a great workout,” Saunders said. “There’s something magical about being on the water and being the person who’s moving you through the water. Sometimes, you just dolly along, and you see beautiful sunsets, and other times, you’re just cruising through and it’s so fun to go fast. It’s just this magical thing. I don’t know how to describe it better than that.”
The Great Salt Lake Rowing Club, or GSLR, is a non-profit organization with a mission to “promote the sport of rowing, both at the recreational and competitive levels,” according to its website. It is headed by Diane Horrocks, a British National Championships gold medalist and rowing coach, with Saunders acting as a private lessons coach for the club.
The rowing club meets for practices twice a week at the Great Salt Lake Marina, located just west of the Great Saltair. There is also a youth rowing program that recruits kids to experience the lake at a young age.
While Saunders said there is no official college-aged rowing team at the lake, she said the club encourages people of all ages to come and participate in lessons.
“We just have a range of people,” Saunders said. “There’s people like me that have just learned and chanced upon it, and then we have people that are former collegiate athletes, people who won in competitions and things like that. It’s really cool.”
Along the marina, rowing machines are set up to help beginners practice the motions before getting in the water. Once they’ve mastered the stroke, they have a chance to test their skills on the lake.
“It’s fun to see people learn the sport that I’ve loved to learn as well,” Saunders said. “They catch onto it and get that same excitement about it.”
However, Saunders said she admits rowing isn’t the most accessible sport to everyone.
“Rowing is on the slightly less accessible spectrum,” Saunders said. “It’s not like soccer where anyone can just grab a ball or make a ball out of plastic bags. Rowing equipment is expensive.”
Saunders also said that the lack of direct transportation to the lake has an effect on turnout.
“We’re working on trying to find places that we can row a little bit closer [to the city],” Saunders said.
However, youth rowing teams and private lessons are primary forms of outreach, according to Saunders.
“Our lessons are really accessible, and we’re happy to teach anyone,” Saunders said. “We try not to be exclusive.”
Forum reporter Abby Mangum sat down with Meghan at the marina to learn more about how she got involved with the rowing club and ways she and others are working to make rowing more accessible.
Q: How did you get into rowing?
A: Very randomly, actually. So the rowing club here hosts a day where anyone can come and learn how to row and a friend told me about it. And so we came down and I immediately fell in love with it. And then I was like, “Okay, I’m in. I’ve got to take lessons.”
Q: How long have you been doing it for?
A: About four or five years.
Q: How did the Great Salt Lake Rowing Club come about?
A:Ooh, you’re asking me the hard questions. I wanna say about 20 or 25 years ago, a couple of people founded it, and it’s just kind of slowly grown and built to where the league last year, we had about 50 members, which is awesome.
Q: And what’s the membership at now, you would say?
A: Maybe 30 right now. It tends to grow throughout the summer as people take lessons and join our club and do some regattas in the fall.
Q: Okay. Take me through what a regatta is like. I’ve never been to one.
A: Oh, they’re fun. So Oklahoma is the one that we go to. We try to go every year, except we didn’t get there last year. It’s this huge regatta where you get to the river, and they have beautiful facilities there because that’s where the national team rows. And there’s just crews everywhere. You have racks of boats everywhere, all of these shells upside down and oars everywhere.
But what’s really cool is that there’s two types of regattas. There’s sprint races, which are usually about 1000 or 2000 meters, and then head races, which are typically around four or five kilometers. In Oklahoma, it’s super fun because they do regattas at night, so everything is lit up and you’re racing in lanes right next to each other.
Q: That’s really cool. Is there an age limit for rowing?
A: No. That’s, like, I think one of the best things about it, too. We have people from their twenties to their seventies that row, and some of the people that are a little bit older are just tough as nails. And the beautiful thing about rowing is there isn’t an impact on your body the same way running or other things do. So you can just kind of keep going as long as you’re agile and able. You can row as hard or as light as you need, so it’s accessible to you.
Q: Very cool. So are there opportunities then for college students like at Westminster? Is there a college club?
A: Unfortunately, there’s not a college club. There’s two youth teams in the area, and then what we consider master’s rowing is typically about 25 and up. But we just love having anyone come and learn, and we try not to be exclusive.
Q: What are some of the health benefits of rowing?
A: Oh, great question. I think one of the main health benefits of rowing is it’s just full body. You’re getting cardio and you’re getting strength. And so, like any other exercise, anytime you’re moving your body, it’s going to be healthy for you and good for you, but there’s no impact on your joints and things like that. You’re not cramming your knees.
I’m not a runner. It’s just never been my thing. But I feel like I’ve gotten more in shape than I ever have been through rowing. And you just feel so good after. Plus, I feel like you have the additional benefit of a little bit of mental health therapy as well. There’s something about being on the water that is just soothing.
Q: There are certain sports like baseball and basketball that only require a ball and a stick. And then there are other sports like sailing or polo that are on the other end of the spectrum. Could you tell me how rowing falls on that spectrum and how the club tries to bridge that gap for people who don’t have their own boats?
A: Rowing is probably on the slightly less accessible spectrum. It’s not like soccer where anyone can just grab a ball or make a ball out of plastic bags. Rowing equipment is expensive. One of the things that I’ve really loved about this club is how accessible it is. Our fees are a lot lower than other places. If you don’t have your own boat—I don’t have my own boat—but I pay club memberships and then I’m able to use the boats here. So that’s really, really helpful.
Q: Are there ways you’re trying to make rowing more accessible specifically in Salt Lake?
A: We’re working on a variety of things. One of our biggest challenges is because we’re here at the Great Salt Lake. It’s about a good 20 minutes from downtown Salt Lake. So we’re a little bit far, and there’s no direct transport. So we’re working on trying to find places that we can row a little bit closer.
Q: What do you love about rowing?
A: It’s a full-body workout that sometimes kicks your butt, but in a really good way. There’s something magical about being on the water and being the person who’s moving you through the water. Sometimes, you just dolly along, and you see beautiful sunsets, and other times, you’re just cruising through and it’s so fun to go fast and just see how much power you can get with your own body. It’s just this magical thing. I don’t know how to describe it better than that.
Q: Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me, Meghan! When can I sign up for lessons?
A: Likewise! Come anytime!