Thousands of runners take to the streets of New York for the ING New York City Marathon in a spectacle like no other, one that celebrates the triumph of the human mind and spirit as much as it sends a message to all watching that health and fitness is a key part of the American way.
That same morning, about 90 minutes southeast of the starting line on Staten Island, another group of athletes will be pushing themselves towards their own triumph of spirit, albeit in relative anonymity for now, and with a goal that is certainly marathon-like, but it still several months away. They are the steadfast, resolute, entrepreneurial and enthusiastic hopefuls for the United States Women’s Rowing Team, working in and around their federation training site and headquarters in Princeton.
Virtually every morning, the team members, supported by some funds from the USOC and the National Rowing Foundation, but largely on their own dime from around the country, hit the water at Lake Carnegie and Mercer County Lake for endless sessions of training as they prepare for their moment in the sun, next summer in London. Training requires 45+ hours per week of dedication, three times a day by rowing, erging, running, biking, yoga and weight lifting.
Most of the women on the team work part-time to try and make ends meet, but it is a struggle. Only one has a “fulltime” job other than training at this point, but that one is helping the entire team in the drive for marketing gold away from whatever may happen on the rivers of London next summer. She is Ali Cox, a former IMG marketing executive who now runs her own Princeton-based company, and the leader behind an entrepreneurial effort to help her teammates maintain a normal lifestyle outside their training, while still being able to focus on the skills needed to make the team and represent the United States.
Cox and her teammates have come up with a formula to create, market and sell a new calendar, “Power and Grace,” with the goal of raising both awareness and funds for the team, funds distributed equally to all of the female team members. While not a cheesecake calendar, the images, taken by esteemed photographers Jordan Matter and Jeremy Saladyga at no cost to the team, portray the members in poses and styles that the women say will give even the casual fan a little more insight, and certainly a more provocative look, at the women of USRowing.
“We often are put on a pedestal in our sport, but not many outside know much about us, how we look or who we are,” said Cox. “We want to use this calendar as a tool not just to raise funds, but to raise awareness of who we are, what motivates us, and to show people what we do. It is beautiful but powerful and that is what we want coming across.”
The team set a goal of $100,000 as a benchmark to fundraise through the calendar, and devised the look, the printing, the design, the sales and the marketing all on their own, an entrepreneurial project straight from the grassroots. They haul the calendars around to key events, sell to friends and use social media to get the word out not just to the rowing community, but throughout the Olympic and athletic community. The results thus far? Over 3,000 sold, with the fundraising goal not just a pipedream, and although the finish line is still a bit far off, it is in sight. But why a calendar in an age when the whole world is going less to paper and more to digital?
“We wanted to send a message to a community we thought was broader than just rowing, a community that would respond to positive images and stories of healthy lifestyle and athletic living, and we felt that a printed calendar, with lots of unique images, would be the best way to do it,” Cox added. “Everyone on the team bought into the process, that we could not only raise the money and spilt it evenly, but that we could make a difference in having a positive outcome through our stories to others who might be inspired by what we are trying to achieve as athletes. So far, I think we are doing well.”
(republished with permission by author Joe Favorito)