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Save Lightweight Rowing

Youth Lightweight Rowing USA - Manifesto

Without broad and open outreach to its membership for discussion and input, USRowing has quietly eliminated lightweight rowing from future Youth National Championships, with a likely ripple on impact on regional and local regattas. This momentous decision disastrously affects tens of thousands of lightweight rowers across the country who pour their heart and soul into the sport, largely because they believe they have an opportunity to compete on a level playing filed. Rowing is a strength leveraged sport, and there is no denying that the stronger and taller you are, the more natural advantage you have over your competition. The vast majority of TRUE lightweights face overwhelming disadvantage vs their open weight counter parts.

We acknowledge that there are teams, coaches, athletes and parents who have willingly turned a blind eye to the serious hazards of crash dieting or living on restrictive diets. The lightweight category has been taken advantage of  - and unintentionally ruined by - mid weight athletes who believe that going light provides an easier path to competitive success. We whole heartedly agree with eliminating this situation, but do not “throw the baby out with the bath water.” What about all the naturally lightweight rowers, yearning for their chance to compete in a fair environment?

Does our rowing journey not matter? At a time when USRowing (quite rightly) looks to find all sorts of ways to be inclusive, to create opportunities for people to row and compete from every background imaginable, why shut out this vibrant and committed community? So many young, small athletes are drawn to rowing in the first place because they know they have fair competitive opportunities. This grows the sport at large which benefits every rower of every size. 

No-one is being forced to row lightweight. No athlete has to compete in, nor any organization has to offer, lightweight rowing. If you are against it, don’t do it or offer it - but don’t get in the way of others who do. Period.

We beseech USRowing to place a "stay of execution" on youth lightweight rowing for three years while they exhaustively consider re-shaping rather than eliminating the youth lightweight division. 

We respectfully offer the following solution.
Educate, Certify, Regulate.

1. Educate:
In a similar manner to the SafeSport policy, USRowing could create an educational video on the potentially hazardous affects of lightweight rowing caused by a nutrition limited diet, especially during growth. The information would also be plainly spelled out in print on their website. Every member organization offering lightweight rowing should also have the same information posted on their own team's website.

2. Certify:
Similar to the Safesport policy, USRowing can require all clubs, coaches, athletes and parents to complete an awareness course, linked to their USRowing #.

3. Regulate:
Require all lightweight athletes to weigh in at an official rowing / indoor event 5 times before Youth Nationals, in the same calendar year. A simple reporting portal, again using athletes' USRowing ID can track these weigh ins. Clubs need to part of the solution, they need to mobilize and ensure that this data is recorded and sent to USRowing in a timely fashion. This may very well influence which indoor and on water regattas they attend.

For example, an athlete may weigh in at two indoor regattas, and three on water regattas, before Youth Nationals.
USRowing could also create a simple form, to be completed by a doctor, certifying that an athlete is physically healthy to compete in the respective lightweight category. Teams would be responsible for collecting and forwarding this information.

Unreasonable Arguments:

Most other sports don’t offer “size" divisions. 
If there was a demand for a “size” division then there is nothing to prevent them from doing it. There is clear demand and energy for youth lightweight rowing. Facile arguments like “there is not an under 6’ foot basketball league” are indolent and intellectually dishonest. There are different “positions” in most sports that create opportunities for a variety of body sizes… And if someone wants to create an under 6’ basketball league - have at it, who is to say no?

There are lightweight athletes / boats who are competitive with open weights.
There are some rare athletes, and crews that can be competitive… sort of. As stated, rowing is a strength leveraged sport. Are lightweights to be told, if you work extraordinarily hard you MIGHT come 5th in an A Final… but probably not. Is this the most to which they should aspire? Lightweights work just as hard as their open weight counterparts, all they are asking for is for the scales to NOT be tipped against them, literally.

Other countries don’t offer Lightweight Rowing:
Since when does the USA seek to follow rather than lead?
There are very few countries in the world that have the numbers of youth rowing that there are in the US. It is quite probable that having a lightweight division would dilute the pool of athletes available to create 1V calibre boats.

Most lightweights are just young future open weights and an age division will provide them opportunities to compete:
First of all we wholly support age divisions and wish this was more common throughout high school rowing… but, a big 16 year old carries the same advantages over a small 16 year old, and age categories will not resolve the situation.
This notion is far more prevalent in boys than girls, the vast majority of girls have stopped growing by 15 or 16. If they are naturally lightweight at 16, they are likely natural lightweights for their competitive careers.