Columbia Rowing Club survived the 1000-year storm, but their dock did not; they are asking for help from the rowing community to replace it at https://www.gofundme.com/columbiarowingclub
When Hurricane Joaquin merged with a hovering low front, large swaths of the Eastern seaboard were deluged with rain - but none so dramatically as South Carolina, where flooding took out dams, roads, businesses and home, ultimately resulting in 17 deaths.
Even today, the region is struggling to recover; see this report: SC families still suffering weeks after historic floods.
Residents are rallying around one another, with new stories coming out nearly daily about neighbors helping neighbors: Amid Columbia’s floods, a new reckoning of sorts
The town of Columbia SC was particularly hard hit, residing as it does right in the stretch of red and purple above, with the Columbia Rowing Club located along the Broad River. Columbia is estimated to have received around 24" inches of rain.
"We had seen a bit of flooding in the past, so everything we built we did not with a 100-year storm in mind, but a 200-year storm," said club member George Park. "We got a 1000-year storm."
(Read about the meteorology of the event here: The meteorology behind South Carolina’s catastrophic, 1,000-year rainfall event; the photos from Columbia are really brutal)
The club did surprisingly well, with most of their equipment avoiding damage save for two or three boats, Park said. Their trailers (which they purposely parked on "high ground") were submerged, and the road to the club gate blocked by a six-foot tall and 30-foot long surge of debris.
The dock, however, was swept away, with only one leg of one of the three platforms leading to the dock remaining.
The club, which is run by volunteers at all levels from administration to coaching to boat repairs and supported wholly by member fees, also has a "no questions asked" policy that waives membership or program fees for anyone who says they cannot afford it.
"Every year, someone rows as an adult or in our youth program without having to pay," Park said. "Everyone is welcome."
Since its creation in 1999, Columbia Rowing Club has taught hundreds of local residents to row through its free Learn to Row program, offers an organized Crew experience for youth from grade 8 through 12, and a masters program for all levels from recreational rowing to competition.
"It has never been about the money for Columbia Rowing Club," Park said. "Unfortunately, now it is about the money. The banks of the river are too steep to allow rowing without a dock, and it will cost an estimated $35,000 to replace the dock."
The dock was owned by Richland County, the hardest hit area of the state, and funds are being directed to road, bridge, dam, and a heap of other damaged infrastructure - not to mention taking care of displaced families and trying to return to 'normal" in general. As a result, there is currently no public money available for a new dock. (The $35,000 estimate is a minimum number; it could go as high as $50,000.)
Toward that end, Columbia Rowing Club has embarked on a fundraising drive for a new dock. "We are reaching out to members, friends, local organizations and the rowing community asking for help so we can put people back on the water in Columbia," Park said.
Some stories from the club, provided by Park; certainly most club rowers can relate to all of these, marking Columbia RC as "one of us:"
- He was in the throes of a difficult divorce in 1999 when he learned that Columbia Rowing Club was holding an organizational meeting. Having struggled to learn to row on his own, he joined the club. He went on to become a champion Masters rower and, upon retiring, started and coached the current Youth Rowing program. Columbia Rowing Club proved to be the lifeline he needed to refocus his life.
- She had just moved to Columbia with her parents and was going to a brand new high school. She knew nobody and felt lost, especially since she had left a vibrant crew at her old home. Then she found Columbia Rowing Club Youth, and it was her new home. She blossomed, making many new friends. CRC helped her settle in a new environment and excel. This happened more than once.
- He was a skinny kid that didn't fit into any other sports. His sister had rowed so he thought he'd give it a try. Over the four years in CRC Youth Rowing he grew and perfected his skill to the point that he received a rowing scholarship for college. The son of a single mom, he would have not been able to go away to college without rowing. He excelled in rowing in college and is now in graduate school.
- He grew up in a poor family in New Hampshire watching all the "rich guys" row, but never had a chance to row himself. In Columbia, he finally got his chance to row as an adult fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Currently the Masters rowers are practicing on ergs in members garages, and are trying to find gyms where they can work out together. The Youth Rowing crew is taking advantage of an offer by a local gym to hold their regular practices on the gym's ergs at a reduced rate for the rest of the season. Augusta Rowing Club has opened their arms to Columbia Rowing Club and is allowing access to their facility on the Savannah River, an hour away, so that the Youth and Masters rowers can practice on the water on weekends to prepare for the Head of the South. Both groups are determined to stay together to practice and compete at the regatta.
Looking ahead, Park is cautiously optimistic.
"How long can we stay together without a facility where we can row? How long will it take to raise the money to rebuild the dock? Those are questions we cannot answer now, but we are determined to find a way through this difficult time and come out a stronger organization," he said. "Columbia Rowing Club and rowing have helped make individuals stronger when they needed help; now individuals will come together to keep Columbia Rowing Club strong and keep rowing in Columbia."
To help the club get back on the water, you can donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/columbiarowingclub
The CRC docks in better days