Since debuting in Paris in 1900, rowing has been a part of every Summer Olympics. Though once popular in Peoria, the sport has flown under the radar more recently. Today, a new nonprofit group is bringing rowing back to our River City—while supporting the fight against a deadly disease.
“The ticket for admission is a little high: you have to have had cancer,” explains Lindsay Vlaminck, outreach coordinator of Crew 309. “We also allow previvors—women who have high-risk genetic mutations that increase their chance of developing cancer.”
Crew 309 was founded in 2017 as ROW Peoria—a local team under the umbrella of Chicago-based Recovery On Water. It was Kassie Williams, a young breast cancer survivor from Peoria, who thought: Why don’t we do it here in Peoria? Upon connecting with Vlaminck and others, a movement was born.
A survivor herself, Vlaminck is also a breast health navigator with OSF HealthCare, supporting women on their journey from diagnosis to recovery. Regular exercise, she stresses, is among the best interventions they have. “One hundred fifty minutes of exercise a week can reduce breast cancer recurrence by up to 50 percent. We want to offer our women that level of exercise so their risk of recurrence is as low as possible.”
After hosting their first event in 2017, the group started regular practices the following spring, and by July 2019 had raised the funds to purchase their own rowing machines, or ergometers. In 2020 they created Crew 309 as a separate 501(c)(3) organization and endured COVID via Zoom practices and online workouts. This spring, they finally realized their dream of being out on the water.
With about 30 active members, there is currently a waiting list to join Crew 309. As they work through those growing pains, they are seeking community support to put them on a path to sustainability. In the meantime, they are enjoying support and camaraderie, as well as the exercise they need. “We have become this very close-knit group,” says Nicole Steenrod-Delinski, who serves as head coach. “It’s amazing to see the bonds that have been made.”
The group hopes to grow the sport locally while taking advantage of Peoria’s greatest asset: the Illinois River. “We want to show everyone that water sports on the river are amazing, and the morning views are incredible,” Vlaminck says. “And we’d love for the community to be a part of it.” Learn more at crew309.org. PM