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Get up and go

River beckons rowers of all ages at the crack of dawn

Members of Community Rowing Inc., including coxswain Amy Jackson and rowers Katie Perry and Jessica McKenna (second picture from left) enjoy an early-morning workout.

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Members of Community Rowing Inc., including coxswain Amy Jackson and rowers Katie Perry and Jessica McKenna, enjoy an early-morning workout.

Weekday rush hour arrives just a little bit earlier at Community Rowing Inc. in Brighton.

While the nearby Massachusetts Turnpike generally swells with activity around 7 every morning, the Community Rowing boathouse — named after Harry Parker, the legendary men’s rowing coach at Harvard — starts bustling two hours before.

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At 5, cars pour into the parking lot. Individuals of all ages emerge, seeking to take advantage of Community Rowing’s countless offerings for adults and youths, both novices and experienced rowers in recreational and competitive settings. Half asleep, they carry gym bags containing toiletries and the day’s work attire.

Outside the second-floor locker rooms, rowers gradually huddle amid ergometers — indoor rowers usually reserved for rainy days, and typically dreaded by crew enthusiasts — to engage in a series of calisthenics and stretches.

As scullers begin pulling single shells from boathouse shelves, team coaches gather their squads to lay out the day’s itinerary.

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“I start my day early,” said Katie Perry, a 22-year-old Weston resident who is a member of the women’s masters competitive team, a group numbering approximately 30.

“I like to get up and have a purpose . . . so that’s what I set forth to do: get out of bed, come row, go home, and start my day.”

With practices on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week, from late March through late October, the rowers, coached by Matt Lehrer of Cambridge, take to the water for 90-plus-minute practices.

Perry, who recently moved back to the area after spending the past three years at Rollins College in Orlando, where she rowed, took up the sport in 2008 with the Wayland-Weston Rowing Association Inc.

“I was a swimmer [at Weston High] and I was sick of staring at pool tiles,” she said.

“My sister [Emmie, 21] quit the swim team and said, ‘This rowing team is great.’ So I followed her. And then my [other] younger sister [Sarah, 19] ended up [joining] too.”

For Perry, who has been at Community Rowing since March, rowing on a masters team (members must be more than 21 years old) is slightly different from her previous high school and college experiences.

“It’s interesting,” Lehrer said. “One of the different dynamics is you just don’t make fast boats. You have to find fast combinations. All of masters racing is age-category-based and it is averages. So you can have someone who’s 61 and someone who’s 22 in a boat and they all meet up in the middle.”

With two major races looming — the masters national championships in Sarasota, Fla., in mid-August, along with the Head of the Charles Regatta in October – Lehrer spends time working with every individual rower to improve his or her stroke while also mixing and matching pairings.

Consequently, it’s not unusual for Perry to be boated in either a four- or eight-person shell alongside her eldest teammate, 61-year-old Newtonville resident Jean Smith, who started rowing five years ago after nearly three decades as a competitive road racer.

“Once I hit my late 50s,” said Smith, “I thought it might be a better idea to spare my bones and do something that was hard but less slamming on the skeletal system.

“I love the coordination in the boat, I love the planar geometry, I love the way it works. I’ve done individual sports and work — I’m self-employed [as a clinical psychologist] — all my life, and I love the team aspect. I love coordinating with other people. I love the, sort of, giving it over to the boat.”

With two children — 27-year-old Sam, and Mia, 20 — Smith said crew is her time. She spends six mornings and roughly 18 hours each week engaged in team practices, land conditioning, and sculling. It is a regimen she said she believes conveys a significant message to her junior oarswomen.

“I love being able to work hard with younger women,” Smith said. “I think it’s important for them to see that it doesn’t stop at 27, 37, 47, 57 . . . that you can continue to do this through your life.”

Others teammates, like Lila McCain, president of Community Rowing’s board of directors, have rowed for years.

The 51-year-old Newton resident was introduced to crew through Boston University’s summer program in the mid 1980s, and she continued for a few years before being told about “a new club opening upstream” in 1987.

Though she has moved away a few times since then with her family, McCain has always returned to the Boston area and Community Rowing.

“I think it’s a sense of belonging, the sense of community, and the exercise” said McCain of what makes Community Rowing unique and crew so special.

“I’ll borrow a line from Holly Metcalf — an Olympic rower who coaches at MIT [but] coached here — who said: ‘Rowing is almost that sense of belonging when you get in the boat. It’s teamwork, it’s trust, it’s balance. . . . You pull hard individually, but you have to pull hard as a team to make it work.’ ”

McCain, a human resources director for a private nonprofit, has seen her two daughters — Sonya, 19, and Karen, 17 — also take advantage of Community Rowing Inc. Both rowed for 18 months before moving on to other sports.

But like Perry and Smith, crew is an outlet for McCain, a chance to decompress before a long day ahead, get in a great workout, and connect with like-minded women striving for the same life balance.

“I would not characterize myself as a morning person,” McCain said, “so this has got to be pretty special to get me up in the morning. When you have other people that are counting on you to show up and fill a seat to get out on the water, it’s that sense of commitment.”

Paul Lazdowski can be reached at pmlazdowski@gmail.com.
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