WILLIAMSBURG — During the peak of last year’s pandemic shutdown, Neel Tambe and his fellow club rowers were working out on row machines; socially distanced from teammates, and daydreaming of the day when The Department of Campus Recreation at William & Mary would allow the team to practice together on the Chickahominy River.
After almost two years of not participating in row competitions, the rowers from the crew team are finally able to get back to training and competing on water.
“It was pretty bad, we were only allowed to indoor practices on the machines and we were socially distant at one of the courts in the campus recreation building,” said Tambe. “It was a good way to stay in shape and it helped us keep up social contact with people during COVID-19, but it was not exactly fun compared to being out on the water.”
The return of the rowing club means that its “Rent a Rower” program is back in operation. For over twenty years, the program has offered assistance for any type of manual labor that community members need help with.
The rate is $20 per hour, per rower, and all of the money raised goes towards helping club members pay down their dues.
“It’s a program that allows you to pay down your dues by doing various odd jobs for the Williamsburg community such as yard work, transporting things around the yard, cleaning up areas inside, helping people get organized, or even helping people with their technology set ups,” Tambe said.
Community members can fill out a form online and pay for however many rowers they think that they may need in order to get the task done. Whatever type of task you think the rowers can help out with, they will go out and help you.
“I did two last weekend. One was kind of just five minutes in and out. Just moving a treadmill up a flight of stairs. The other one took 3 hours,” said Tambe. “We were moving these stones around this guy’s yard. He was this elderly gentleman and he just couldn’t move them himself. So we had to move these big 40 pound sacks of stone around, there were about 100 of them. We carried them from his front yard to his back yard.”
The team says that they try to cover the Greater Williamsburg area. One minor limitation is that the university doesn’t allow new students to have a car on campus until they are in their junior year. As a result, upperclassmen in the club have to help out with organizing the program to make sure that their team members get to where they need to be.
Club rowing is technically not part of the Tribe Athletics department, but they still compete with schools all over Virginia and the rest of the country. Their big competition is called, “Head of the Hooch” in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“Back in my freshman fall, we had a couple of competitions in Richmond. VCU, and the University of Richmond showed up, and George Mason University is usually there at competitions that we show up to,” said Tambe. “For the one out in Chattanooga, it’s a much larger kind of regional group that comes. You get universities from all over the south. Like University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, teams from Texas and Alabama. These are all club teams that come, but again club rowing is a very competitive sport.”
Last year, the “Rent a Rower” program was unable to operate. The club wasn’t allowed to due to COVID-19 precautions taken by the school.
“It kind of sucked to be a college student last year, but at least now we get to enjoy it now,” said Tambe. “The program just didn’t exist at all. We can only exist with the permission of the campus recreation department. If they say no we can’t do anything at that point. They would not let the program operate last year.”
Tambe and his fellow rowers believe that this program can leave a positive impact on the community as well as to help out new members who want to participate in the club.
“Now we have a policy where we wear masks indoors. I think besides that, most of the jobs are outdoors. We also ask if the customer is vaccinated or not because we think for the rowers who are doing the job, it’s fair to them to notify them of the customer’s vaccination status,” Tambe said.
For more information about the program, community members can visit the Rent a Rower webpage.