The month of October serves as an opportunity to educate the public on the importance of early detection and routine screenings for breast cancer and share stories of inspiration and hope from those whose lives have been affected by this disease. Row for the Cure and USRowing are proud to bring inspiring stories to the forefront that show us the significant role rowing can play in battling this disease – for the body and soul.
The story of the mother-daughter duo, Ann & Annie Couwenhoven, shows us that rowing not only builds us up but also brings us together in ways we could never imagine. A story that serves as a shining example of how powerful the resiliency of rowing can be and the power of the physical and mental endurance it provides.
“She would drive me six days a week, twice a day, for five years,” said Annie Couwenhoven, Capital Crew varsity women’s assistant coach. “She put my goals and ambitions before her own everyday necessities! We would talk about everything under the sun! It was the best Mother-Daughter time. She was always there to pick me up, brush me off — and sometimes give me the kick in the butt I needed. There were so many life lessons and character-building moments. All my rowing success is because of her.”
It wasn’t long before the regatta mom became the regatta winner, traveling across the country as a rower competing with and without her daughter. Ann discovered her breast cancer diagnosis just weeks after taking home three medals at the 2017 World Rowing Masters Championships. She underwent four months of chemo, a mastectomy and six weeks of proton radiation. It wasn’t long before she was back in the boat, racing (and winning) at regattas across the country. Once again, Ann turned to rowing and her daughter for strength.
“Learning that you have cancer rocks your life,” said Ann. “When you learn that ‘we can possibly beat this,’ it makes you grateful and very appreciative. It changes your outlook on life. My heart goes out to all the patients fighting cancer during this pandemic. I pray for them! For me, I continue to train. I erg and bike and know this pandemic will pass also. Once one goes through cancer treatments, every other challenge is compared with that. We can do this … we can get through this … we are stronger!”
Annie remembered particularly well how rowing played into her mother’s recovery after surgery.
“On the day she went into surgery, I called my house, expecting to hear that my mom was eating a good breakfast and getting ready to go. Nope! My dad answered to tell me she was on the water for one last row before she wouldn’t be able to for a while. She’s always stayed positive and calm!
“After my mother had intensive reconstructive surgery, which took her completely out of rowing, she had to be extremely careful with everyday movements. She still kept a positive outlook on life and looked forward to racing again. Right after she was cleared for physical activity from her doctors, she signed up for every regatta she could. We had talked about her traveling out to California to race masters nationals and coming to see/race with me. So when she called to tell me she was all good to row, I planned to make the masters nationals the most amazing event possible for her. I was coaching the Marin masters at the time, and she was racing for Vesper. I contacted all her teammates, contacted boat and oar companies, contacted Beth to work with you guys, created special gear for the race, and put together composite boats with Vesper and Marin, so that she would have the best races of her life. This included (of course) the mother/daughter race! We are undefeated in this event, and the 2018 Masters Nationals was no different! We won by open water! SO AMAZING!
“Then, after racing Masters National Championships, she proceeded to race in the masters world (regatta). She won four medals at worlds!! How amazing is my mom!!?! Talk about not letting cancer bring her down. Any time I am going through something hard in life, I just think about how my mom attacked cancer head-on and how she was able to set a goal of beating cancer and be able to get back to racing, and she worked every day to reach that goal. She is my hero!”
“She was so patient and positive through cancer. And she is the same way with rowing. No matter what the situation, she is always positive.”
Throughout October, Row for the Cure and its partners are encouraging the rowing community to engage in the fight against Breast Cancer, by participating in the #PinktheBoathouse Challenge.
To learn more, click here.
To donate, click here.
About Row for the Cure
Founded in 1993 by Kathy Frederick, Row for the Cure is the rowing and water-sports community’s crusade against breast cancer, working with organizations which provide rowing for survivors and raising over $3 million to benefit local affiliates of Susan G. Komen through a series of regattas, indoor events and virtual challenges across the U.S. Funds raised in each community support local education, free screenings, follow up treatments and many kinds of family support as well as direct funding for cutting edge research. Row for the Cure will work with local Komen affiliates and breast health organizations across the U.S. to distribute funds generated by the #PinktheBoathouse Challenge.
Written with love by RFTC Brand Ambassador Sarah Marshall