Program offers recreational therapy for vets

Inside the Seize the Oar Rowing Club

By Dean Siemon/JBLM PAO on April 3, 2018

Rowing can be quite a strenuous sport that tests one’s physical limitations, but with the local Seize the Oar program, it can also be a recreational therapy outlet for those who were injured serving in the U.S. military.

Rowing club Seize the Oar under the Freedom Rows program provides opportunities to wounded service members and veterans to train with experienced coaches. There is also a competitive team that is formed to compete in U.S. Rowing sanctioned events.

Tara Morgan, founder and head coach for Seize the Oar, said there are several benefits that injured service members and veterans have gained from joining their team. One is an improved quality of life.

“The opportunities we provide involve fitness, conditioning, teamwork and being outside,” Morgan said. “All of those factors are proven to heal faster, rehabilitate and enhance quality of life.”

Morgan said she likes to interview prospective club members about their goals in joining the club, whether they be competitive or recreational.

“If they have an injury, or something chronic, we have many ways to adapt the sport to serve just about any population,” Morgan said. “Even somebody who’s fairly disabled and far down the line, we have lots of gadgets and cool equipment to adapt the sport and make it really fun.”

Kelly Bailey, a medically-retired Army first lieutenant who left Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 1999, has been able to compete in rowing despite his injuries.

Bailey lost his left leg above the knee during his service, but it hasn’t stopped him from competing in a few races last year — including the American Lake Fall Classic in Lakewood last October.

Although there is the option of being strapped to the boat’s seat to prevent sliding, Bailey is able to row regularly against able-bodied rowers.

“When you get into the flow of rowing, it felt to me like running in the Army,” he said. “It’s one of the few sports that I’ve been able to do where I forget about my leg.”

Morgan comes from an Army family herself. Her father Norman “Mickey” Mulvenon served as a first lieutenant in the 1950s. Coupled with her mother’s family’s background in firefighting services, Morgan understood service to the community.

She said she also understood the importance of providing opportunities treating all people fairly.

“(It’s important to) make sure your work is inclusive,” Morgan said.

To be an inclusive rowing club, Morgan holds the door open for anyone who wants to visit the club’s regular practices in Renton or ride along during an outdoor practice in the summer.

Morgan said Seize the Oar often schedules rowing workshops and clinics in a partnership with the Seattle chapter of the Department of Veteran Affairs, which she considers an entry point to have patients referred to their club. She is looking to expand on the club’s regional scope with more workshops and clinics near JBLM, Naval Base Kitsap and other local military installations.

“(It’s important) to provide opportunities for veterans in such a veteran-heavy area,” Morgan said. “We take our programs out (of the Seattle area), because we know a lot of veterans don’t come into the city.”

Bailey said anyone interested in the sport should at least visit Seize the Oar’s upcoming launch party. In addition to being part of a great community, Bailey said it’s a chance for veterans to get the body moving again.

“Instead of sitting at home not sure what to do next, rowing is a great way to get active again,” he said.