Row As You Grow

Written by Anna Truss

Filmed by Jake Redfern and Madison Van Horn. Edited by Jake Redfern.

“Shoulders, ready, up,” calls the coxswain as the team of rowers lifts the boat onto their shoulders.

Kay Hughes and her team were moving their boat to a different dock to prepare for the Head of the Hooch regatta in early November. Even after 10 years of rowing, the thrill has not died for Hughes.

“We had so much fun and people started posting pictures and the camaraderie and the group coming together, it really is truly a team sport,” Hughes mused.

Her team is made up of seven other women. Their professions range from project managers to financial advisors to attorneys to teachers, while the youngest is still in high school. Yet these women do not feel that the intense sport is a burden.

Lily McDowell, Lori Ochel, Sandy Eslinger, Tonya Paul, Kay Hughes, Kaylyn Groves, Mary Dixon, Missy Elliot, and Abby Haase work together to move their 8-boat downstream to the Ross’s Landing for Head of the Hooch. Thursday, November 3, 2022 (Photo by Allie English)

“Oh yeah, this is definitely worth it. So you make time for that. It’s not just making yourself have time for it because you know you love it, but it’s almost that I have to do this because…I have to have something that’s just there for joy. And I’m also one of those people that just thinks that you should stay active your whole life,” Hughes said about her work-life balance.

Hughes began her rowing journey in college at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Initially taking the class to fulfill a physical education requirement, she fell in love with rowing when they finally took the boats out on the water.

After rowing all through college, Hughes moved to an area that did not have rowing opportunities available. She found her way back to Chattanooga and an invitation to an alumni row found its way to her. Though she was nervous after not rowing for years, she took the chance on trying again. 

“It was like riding a bicycle and I thought, ‘This is great. I need to get back involved with it again,’” Hughes said of her return.

Mary Dixon, a project manager for TVA, found her return to the sport eight years ago after reconnecting with her college rowing friend – Kay Hughes.

“I started rowing again at the age of 50,” said Dixon. “It’s really a sport for all ages.”

Rowing is a lifetime sport, with competitors as young as 12 and as old as 80 participating.

“I was helping a man out of his boat this weekend because he’d had two knee surgeries and he’s in his eighties, and he just loves it. I think staying fit is a way to stay young and help balance everything,” Hughes reminisced.

“I plan to be rowing ‘til I can’t move anymore,” Dixon laughed.

Teamwork is a defining factor of rowing with other people. Though the rowers make it look easy, the sport demands them to be in tune with their teammates.

Lori Ochel, Missy Elliott, Mary Dixon, Kaylyn Groves, Kay Hughes, Tonya Paul, Sandy Eslinger, Abby Haase, and Lily McDowell turn their 8-boat to move downstream in preparation for the Head of the Hooch competition. Thursday, November 3, 2022 (Photo by Allie English)

“One thing I’ve learned is when you’re working with a team, sometimes it’s more important to do things the same as everyone else than necessarily the absolute best way to do it. There may be a better way to do it, but if you’re all doing it the same, that actually has better results than trying to do it differently from everyone else,” Hughes shared.

Dixon summed it up, “The boat won’t succeed if everybody doesn’t succeed.”

Not only a great workout, rowing provides many opportunities to meet new people and develop socially.

“When you get older, especially when you move to another city and you’re working, it’s a little bit more challenging to find a good social group that you get along with,” Hughes said.

Rowing is a full body workout and is a great way to stay fit. Yet Dixon cautions new rowers to manage their expectations about getting on the water.

“Initially you’re very shaky. You’re not going to hop into one of these boats and go out on the water, it just doesn’t happen that quickly,” Dixon advised.

Hughes encourages, “I would absolutely tell them to try it out. Go out, take a Learn to Row class. For those that get out there and love it, it can be a lifetime of enjoyment. It’s something that I can’t even imagine not doing now.”

The mental workout that rowing provides remains appealing to many participants. “You have to be a team player in these boats. It changes your mentality because it’s not about you,” Dixon said.

Hughes concluded, “I’ve realized there’s so much more to learn. I think if I rowed til I was 80, I would still be learning new things.”

To learn more about Chattanooga Rowing, visit

Audio by Madelyn McCrary.

Sport and Sanctuary

Written by Madison Van Horn

From training and strokes to teamwork and camaraderie, Chattanooga Junior Rowing (CJR) teaches kids more than just rowing.

Drue Zaharis, CJR’s Community Outreach Coordinator, says that rowing is not only a sport, but a lifestyle.

“The point of rowing is to enjoy the sport, enjoy the outdoors, find something within yourself that keeps you going,” Zaharis said. “A lot of these kids, it is their sanctuary. When the two weeks are off after the Head of the Hooch, they’re like, ‘When are we gonna go rowing again?’”

In early November, the Head of the Hooch Regatta marked the end of the season for many rowers with a fun chance to put their skills to the test against competitors from all over the nation. Each junior rower at CJR raced in the regatta, whether they have years of experience or just started this season.

Anna Miller only joined CJR 3 months ago and is already excited about continuing her rowing journey.

“It’s been a really amazing place that we all can just come together and row,” Miller said. “I’ve learned so much from here and I’m really growing as a coxswain. I’ve met so many friends and had so many experiences and I think that it is an amazing place to go to if you want to learn how to row. It’s so much into one little community.” 

At CJR, almost every single person had something nice to say about the rowing community here in Chattanooga. Beth McDowell introduced her daughter, Lily McDowell, to rowing a few years ago, and they never looked back.

“Rowing is the number one scholarship sport for women in the United States. Lily wants to be a neurosurgeon for underprivileged countries, and I know that’s expensive,” Beth said. “So I said, ‘Well, let’s go see what it is.’ And I drug her here crying. She didn’t wanna come but within a week she was hooked. She’s been here six days a week, year round, ever since.” 

Not only has Lily grown as a coxswain, rower and athlete, but she has also learned so many life skills along the way. 

“She has grown in confidence. She has grown in [her sense of] community. She has learned how to excel beyond anything she had hoped for, but she’s also learned how to fail with grace and determination to come back and learn from where she has failed,” Beth said.

Like Zaharis said, to Lily, rowing is more than just a sport, it is her whole community.

“It absolutely is a community sport,” Beth said. “She’s learned how to work on a team with a community, with people that are difficult and also people that she enjoys. She’s learned how to be in sync and together with people she disagrees with and that are vastly different to her and how to get into a boat and work just as hard with her best friends and how the people that she disagrees with become her best friends.”

To learn more about Chattanooga Junior Rowing, visit

Meet the Storytellers

Madison (Maddie) Van Horn is a Senior Communication major and is currently working as the Head Editor of Rising Rock Media and Editor in Chief at the University Echo. With a passion for writing and years of leadership experience, Maddie hopes to make a difference in her community through storytelling. She hopes to continue her education after undergrad and purse a career in multimedia journalism.  Maddie can be reached at for any collaboration inquiries.

Jacob (Jake) Redfern is a videographer and Director for Mocs News, the University of Tennessee Chattanooga’s broadcasting organization. With an experienced background in Adobe editing software as well as a capable team builder, Jacob strives to create community driven storytelling using every avenue available. When not holding a camera, he enjoys the arts as a creative pursuit including that of drawing and playing music. To connect or collaborate, contact Jacob at     

Anna Truss is a senior Communication major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with experience in writing, photography, and graphic design. She hopes to work in organizational communications or public relations. When Truss is not working, she can be found with a book. She can be reached at

Julia (Allie) English is an aspiring documentary photographer with a passion for storytelling. She currently studies both Communications and Environmental Science with the goal of bringing awareness to social and environmental injustices. Allie served as an Assistant Photo Editor with the University Echo and as an intern with Cypress Magazine. She believes in the power of visual storytelling to promote empathy and community. For collaboration, please reach out to

Madelyn McCrary is a Senior Communication major with a minor in Creative Writing at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Madelyn is a writer who enjoys multimedia storytelling that will entertain her audience as well and spark a discourse within her community. She has a passion for podcasting, photojournalism, and social media. For questions and collaborations, you can contact her at

Jordan Harris is a senior Communications major with a background in social media, photography, and writing. In the future, she hopes to work in public relations or sports broadcasting. Outside of the classroom, she can be found at sporting events, the dance studio, or anywhere that serves iced coffee. She can be reached at

One thought on “Row As You Grow”

  1. I love this! Great rowing photos, great videos, great audio story, great write-up and editing. I really treasure this as it tells the story of why rowing is such a great team sport and why I love it so much! Thank you for taking the time to understand what rowers look for in a great photo/video.


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