The story of 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. This Mother’s Day we are proud to tell stories like the Couwenhoven’s who found rowing together. Their passion for the sport helped them create the first junior rowing program in Baltimore, and master’s program built around  Regatta Moms! 

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. 

This Mother’s Day, we asked these two Anne’s three questions, about life, love, and of course, rowing.

Your combined passion for rowing, and the community that comes with it, is evident and very inspiring. How do you think rowing has shaped your relationship? What has it taught you about one another?

Anne: I think Annie and I have grown closer. We understand each of our passions. When Annie was in high school, we would have to drive sometimes three to four hours to get to her regattas. We would have the best conversations about life, goals, styles, friends, and learning to read the maps. This was before GPS! We still laugh about it today! Today, I see my daughter as a sweet, smart, mature, professional woman. It warms my heart! But, I do have to admit, I do miss our trips!!!

Annie: My Mom is understating it a bit. She would drive me six days a week, twice a day, for five years!! 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. 

Ever since she picked up rowing herself, it has deepened our strong relationship. Sometimes she will call me and ask for my input on erg results or something technical. And sometimes, I will call her for advice or calm my nerves before testing. We both know the training we are going through, and there is SO much mutual respect and support for each other. And at least once a year, we will race the Mother/Daughter double, usually at Master’s Nationals. We both love it!! 

All her sacrifices, support and love helped to turn me into the person I am today. I would be lucky to be half the woman she is, and I aspire to be like her or, at the very least, apply the lessons she has taught me.

How is rowing, and the life skills rowing has taught you, been helpful now during this time of quarantine? Ann, specifically for other survivors, how do you think rowing has helped you operate during times of uncertainty? If there are fellow survivors who might read this, what would you want their takeaway to be?  

Ann: Learning that you have cancer rocks your life. 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: Both Rowing and my Mom have taught me perseverance and patience. Not every day is going to be great when you row. My Mom was the same way with her cancer. It was incredibly tough being on the opposite coast, and unable to be there every step of the way with her. But she is a fighter! She is resilient. Life gave her cancer, and she showed it who was boss. She kept rowing through all her treatments! I would call her before her appointment, and she would tell me she was on the way from the boathouse and is planning to meet my Dad at the Hospital. 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! 

With all the uncertainty now, I just think about all the uncertainty with my Mom and how she fought through it. 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. 

 Since it is Mother’s Day we are celebrating – what is the best piece of advice you have ever received from your mother?  

Ann: Get an education, be independent, find a “good” husband, and be a “good” mother.   I can say…I love being a Mom!

Annie: I can’t pick one single piece of advice that was the best. These are some of my favorites:

  1. Be strong, be independent, and believe in yourself.
  2. Don’t set limits for yourself. If you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. 
  3. Always be kind. 
  4. Get a solid education. It is something no one can take away from you. 
  5. Keep learning. Every day and every situation has lessons to be learned.
  6. Be passionate about everything you do. Life is too short to be unhappy. 
  7. Try to find the positive in every situation. 

I have an amazing role model as a mother. A lot of the time it wasn’t the advice that was said, it was watching my Mom in her day to day life. She lives it! She lives all the advice that she gives. It is truly inspiring!

Written with love by RFTC Brand Ambassador Sarah Marshall