Park City Rowing Academy a product of determination, passion
May 29, 2015
Driving past the flowing waters of Jordanelle Reservoir for many years, Niklaus Hess had a vision.
"I had a dream of having a rowing team one day," he said. "Rowing has given me so much in my personal life that I wanted to pass on what I learned."
After being approached by an adult who asked if he could teach his daughter to row, Hess saw the opportunity to make his dream a reality. He founded the Park City Rowing Academy in 2010 and has been working to build it up ever since, with the ultimate goal of competing at the national level.
The academy is open to any age group although Hess said his eventual goal would be to transition, in part, to a high school sport but still preserve the academy as a club sport for all age groups. He also wants to keep participation open in summer, when school is not in session.
The PCRA is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) and Hess said he doesn’t make a profit, but he devotes his time and energy because he loves the sport.
Why does he love rowing so much?
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"You could write a whole book on that," Hess said. "Rowing is a special sport. It is a whole way of life. Everything I learned during 10 years of international rowing I apply in my life every day. I liked that I’m shaped by my sport and I want to pay that forward."
The first few years were a struggle, Hess admits, as there were very few who were willing to devote the necessary time. He started with six or seven swimmers the first year who were only halfway interested in learning how to row.
Then in 2013 several young people, including a high school junior, helped kick start the program by inviting their friends and promoting it through word-of-mouth.
"It was like a fire that started," he said.
After the 2013 season he had about 24 young adults rowing with him and right now he has eight core members that are steady participants from year to year. Others come and go sporadically.
The PCRA has a junior program and master’s program, which attracts an eclectic and often nostalgic group.
"Park City has a mixed culture with people coming from all over the state," Hess said. "Out of 10 adults that ask to come and row, eight of them rowed in the past and are missing it."
Hess has experience competing in rowing internationally, including in Switzerland, and he wants to pass on his knowledge of rowing to those who share his passion.
He said the team has progressed greatly and just missed qualifying for the national competition last year. Nevertheless, it was a step in the right direction.
"The storybook will be if we are able to produce athletes that can go to the national level," he said. "That will be a challenge but we just missed the boat last year. Next year I assume I will be able to make that step."
Right now, he does not have the time or money for extensive advertising, only a Facebook page, so word-of-mouth is the main way his academy is promoted. He hopes to expand the group’s virtual presence, including creating a custom website, later this year.
Hess has personally participated in skiing and bike racing but rowing has been his only competitive sport. He also mentioned that rowing is basically a non-injury sport and that some doctors even prescribe it as therapy.
"Rowing uses every muscle of the body but it will also heal and keep you balanced," he said. "A biker’s upper body can get weak but with rowing you never have that. Your whole body is healthy, trained and ready."
In addition to the physical benefits of the sport, he described the mental and sensory stimulation that comes with the sport.
"Rowers are advocates for life and for the environment," he said. "You get to see the environment every day and you’re out in nature every day. You see how a lake dries up or how seaweed grows. You see ducklings hatch and grow up. All of this gets ingrained in your brain and you can’t row without noticing things like that or being shaped by them."
Hess added that rowing is unique because the rower never sees the finish line.
"You have train and trust that finish line is coming," he said.