Rowing for a cause

Three Rivers Rowing Association members Laura Graf and Nicole Holman, both students at Avonworth High School, organized Sunday’s “rowathon” to raise money for cancer research in honor of teammate Nick Jenson. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Several members of the Three Rivers Rowing Association grouped up last weekend to row a distance that, if they would have been on water, would have taken them from Pittsburgh to Columbus, OH.

The young athletes weren't training for an upcoming competition. And they weren't showing off their skills for passersby at Ross Park Mall, where they had set up 10 ergometers, machines that simulate distances and intensity of rowing.

Their Sunday afternoon efforts had a far more serious purpose: raising money in honor of their former teammate, Nick Jensen, who was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2010, just as he began his sophomore year at Drexel University.

Laura Graf and Nicole Holman, juniors at Avonworth High School, organized the event not only to support a good cause, but also to fulfill their senior graduation project, which took on personal meaning, because both students have known Nick throughout their years associated with Three Rivers. Nick, 19, was a fellow team member, and more recently, he has worked as a volunteer coach during his recovery period, which required him to put college studies on hold.

"When students work with the passion and enthusiasm that Laura and Nicole have shown, their efforts take on an even greater value," said teacher Michelle George, who coordinates the projects and advises students in their planning.

The rowers set up on the lower level of the mall, just below the food court, where they organized into teams of four to five each, completing the allotted amount of meters in a relay fashion. The more money that was raised, the greater distance the rowers rowed.

Nick, who lives in Sewickley, was on hand for the fund-raiser. Looking over the volunteers, he said, "It's cool! They came to me and asked what they could do. I suggested something to help the American Cancer Society and they were happy with it."

By day's end, organizers had raised over $2,200, and anyone wishing to add to the total may make checks payable to the American Cancer Society and send them to The Priory, 614 Pressley St., Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

"I thought the event went incredibly well," Laura said. "We surpassed our goals of rowing to Columbus and raising $1,500. I was so glad that we could give to the American Cancer Society in honor of Nick's courageous fight."

Nicole shared a similar sentiment. "I thought the event was very successful and we were able to do a great thing for someone who deserves it."

Laura is the daughter of John and Suzanne Graf of Ben Avon, and Nicole is the daughter of Mary Holman of Emsworth and John Holman of Sewickley.

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