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Now Oar Never

Alexandria rowing team builds character, chemistry.

Practice starts early, literally at the crack of dawn. By the end of it, over a dozen athletes will have put in a grueling workout on the Potomac River before many of their friends have gulped their first cup of morning coffee.

“Most of the women are working," said Karen Snyder. "They go from rowing right to their jobs.”

Snyder is a member of the 4-day women’s competitive sweep team, a collection of rowers affiliated with the Alexandria Community Rowing, a recreational and competitive organization of about 150 athletes. Their ages range from the early 20's all the way up to rowers in their 60's.

The 4-day, all-female team has athletes in their mid-30's to the mid-50's. They practice Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday beginning at 5 a.m. and concluding around quarter to seven. The team features rowers with experience, many of whom have competed in regattas before. But primarily the program is designed to improve fitness and to realize competitive potential for these athletes.

“Only a few have a tie to the sport," said Snyder, the team's coxswain. "A lot of them got involved because they were active in sports, and for some of them it’s the first sport they’ve really done because they’re older women and there weren’t as many sports for them [growing up].”

MANY CAME TO the sport because they had children compete for T.C. Williams's much-heralded crew program. The Titans rowing community is closely tied with the ACR, with elementary programs giving novices the fundamentals and with boats launching from the Dee Campbell Rowing Center on the Potomac.

Snyder said the team purchased its own shell last year, costing around $28,000. The athletes raised the majority of the funds and Alexandria Community Rowing's treasury gave the rest. The boat was christened the Nancy Dunning 8, after the Del Ray real estate agent and wife of former sheriff James Dunning who was found murdered in December 2003.

"I knew Nancy personally, and so did several of the other rowers," said Snyder. "Her family was connected to rowing. Jim Dunning rowed. Nancy’s sister rowed with us, and her children rowed with T.C. Williams.”

SNYDER'S 4-YEAR-OLD team had competed in national regattas and brought home silver and bronze medals. This fall, the team will take on the World Rowing Masters Regatta in Princeton, NJ. “It's big time, very serious. We’ve never entered that one before,” said Snyder.

It's trips like that which Snyder says builds bonds between the rowers. “We socialize together. It’s a very close group. Of course, when you travel for four days to a regatta, you really get to know them better," she said.

Camaraderie is one perk of rowing. Another is the aerobic workout these athletes get every season — Snyder said one rower lost close to 100 pounds while competing.

“It puts people in great shape, but it’s also a very uplifting sport to be in," she said.