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Chicago Alternative Sport

Chicago’s youth have always had the opportunity to participate in athletic activity.  Whether it is with their own school, Chicago Park District programs, or programs offered by the community, young people have had the ability to get active.   However, there are some sports that have been a part of Chicago’s history since its founding, but have never been made available in large scale to the youth of the City.

Rowing, cycling, sailing and paddling have been popular alternative sports in Chicago since the 1800s.   Rowing, sailing and padding regattas took place on the Lincoln Park Lagoon off Fullerton decades before the Lincoln Park Boat Club was established in 1910 along the lagoon’s banks.   One reference of a rowing race between a Chicago club and a Toronto club even dates back to 1858. (A History of Rowing in America, Robert Johnson)  Indoor cycling has also been a very popular sport in Chicago’s history.  Chicago’s first cycling club was founded in 1879 with the first World Track Competition held in Chicago in 1893. (Chicago History,  In addition, there were many highly attended, legendary velodrome cycling contests held at the old Chicago Stadium.  The legacy of these once extremely popular sports has lasted until today, with a number of small alternative athletic programs available to the public.  However, we as a City could be doing more to help make these sports available to Chicago’s youth. 

The City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District have recently been developing alternative sport options for Chicagoans.  Mayor Emanuel announced the development of four new rowing and paddling boathouses on the Chicago River.  In addition, public and pirvate groups have invested time and funding to the development of competitive cycling at the Chicago Velo Campus.  And finally, the sailing community has been a vibrant part of our City with competitive sailing programs available for youth and adults. 

Rowing, sailing, cycling and paddling are also all adaptive sports, providing equal access to Chicagoans with disabilities, as well as utilizing the same facilities as athletes with full mobility.  The Rowing Group would like to assist in developing alternative sport options so Chicago’s youth would be able to benefit from these unique and fast growing sports.

Sports like rowing, cycling, sailing and paddling are typically linked to more affluent regions or institutions, which is partly because of funding and interest.  Chicago has the funding now with the four new boathouses and the Chicago Velo Campus development, along with a strong and supportive sailing community.  All we need is the interest.  Chicago needs a master plan to introduce these sports to Chicago’s youth.

Master Plan:
Chicago needs a well thought out plan to introduce alterative sport to Chicago’s youth as well as plans to sustain these sports in Chicago.  This includes establishing competitive programs at Chicago Public Schools, creating programs with the Chicago Park District, and working with already existing community programs to help develop new options for Chicago’s youth.

Chicagoans need to have confidence that newly developed City and Chicago Park District assets, like the projects listed above, are being properly utilized.  Planned infrastructure improvements need to be made as well, including the development of new community rowing and paddling facilities, the proper utilization of already existing rowing and paddling facilities owned by the City and Chicago Park District, a modern international level race venue, and shared community equipment allocation.   In addition, these new programs require guidance and mentoring in order to properly develop.  New programs will benefit from the experience of community partners, a valuable perspective that will help ensure positive growth for the future. 

This Master Plan needs the assistance and guidance of the local business community.  Both local small businesses and larger, more recognizable industry leaders would be likely partners in any growth in community athletics in Chicago, especially youth.  More participants in alternative athletics also help to create a larger community of potential customers for their businesses. 

According to a 2006 study by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, over $2 billion is spent each year as a result of outdoor recreation in Illinois. (Millennium Reserve press packet, December 2011)  Because of this, one would assume an increase of outdoor recreation in Illinois, specifically the development of alternative sport options, would positively contribute to the growth of the local economy.  Coupled with the health benefits of an active lifestyle and the social skills one develops in team sports, Chicago Alternative Sport has the potential to make a significant impact in the City of Chicago.

Avenues to help reach goal –

The Rowing Group
We are ready to be the necessary leader that brings together planners, participants, donors, and enthusiasts, in order to spread alternative sports like rowing, cycling, sailing and paddling.  We should all work to develop these alternative sports so opportunities to participate will be made available to Chicagoans, especially youth.

Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Initiative

Work to increase opportunities for kids to be physically active in Chicago, especially in alternative sport, and to create new opportunities for families to move together.

Chicago Park District River Boathouses

Four new boathouses slated to be built on the Chicago River.

Chicago Velo Campus

A 166 meter wooden velodrome and community cycle shop, that promotes the sport of cycling through youth educational programs, non-competitive riding, advanced training classes, and competitive events at the amateur, collegiate, and professional levels. The comprehensive 1,400 square foot cycle-shop at Chicago Velo Campus houses our “Fix-to-Own” recycling program, Velo Campus gear, and trainer’s where cyclists can continue their training during the winter months – all which help to broaden our reach in the community.

A permanent indoor velodrome is slated to be built in 2014 and will be a facility nearly as large as the United Center.  It will host world class cycling events as well as being a multi-use facility with a health club, swimming center and other amenities.

Millennium Reserve – Calumet Core Initiative:

 The Millennium Reserve Initiative (MR) is Illinois’ contribution to President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to reconnect Americans, especially children, to America's rich outdoor treasures; build upon public, private, and tribal priorities for conservation and recreation lands; and use science-based management practices to restore and protect our lands and waters for future generations. 

The Chicago area Calumet core region will have over 2500 acres of open space and 53 miles of trails connecting to Millennium Park in downtown Chicago, which would serve as a framework for this development.

Chicago Community Interests -

Local Chicago athletic programs, both private and public, along with outdoor industry retailers, would support any new growth on the Chicago River.  These groups would act as mentors, supporters, or sponsors, all with the objective of developing local alternative sport options for Chicagoans, especially the youth.
Below is sample list of groups that would be likely partners in the Chicago Alternative Sport program.

Rowfit Chicago
– A successful community small business that provides effective and desirable athletic regimens for alternative-minded athletes.  Rowfit incorporates indoor rowing simulator machines in their top exercise regimens in order to help keep their customers fit and healthy.  Rowfit was one of the first rowing programs in Chicago to have substantial inroads into the non-rowing community.  Their high number of participants is an impressive demonstration of how well rowing can be embraced by members of the community who have no real previous exposure to the sport.  Would act as a community mentor, helping local programs access rowing machines in order to help members of their community stay fit and healthy.

Chicago Velo Campus
– Community lead effort to build a competitive level velodrome in Chicago.  Long term plans include a large scale facility with facilities for elite athletes training for the highest accolades in sport.  The Velo Campus would also be a mentor program for youth and scholastic cycling programs to be developed, in addition to their Junior Development Scholarship program.

Kayak Chicago
 – Rentals and tours out of Montrose Beach and North Ave. river location, community river advocate, and adaptive paddling program.  Community business mentor and youth/scholastic program mentor.

Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing – Chicago Park District Sailing Program
- Mentor program for successful adaptive sport programs as well as a mentor model for sailing programs in Chicago, offering assistance and parallel development with Chicago Public School and community sport programs.

Chicago Training Center

– Mentor program and model for new at-risk youth community rowing program as well as model for introduction of rowing to communities that have never had been exposed to rowing previously.

Lincoln Park Juniors

– Mentor program and model for nationally competitive community youth rowing program.

Loyola Academy

– Mentor program and model for nationally competitive scholastic youth rowing program

US Rowing
– Governing body for the sport of rowing, recognized by the International Olympic Committee. 

Benefits of competitive alternative sports

  • Sports like rowing, sailing, cycling and paddling provide a healthy recreational activity for literally every segment of society and for virtually all ages. 
  • These sports are safe, healthy, and provide access to the outdoors for both recreationally and competitively. 
  • These sports offer new and unique summer camp options for the youth of Chicago.
  • People learn by example.  Student athletes can help to introduce their family members to alternative sports like rowing, paddling. sailing, cycling.
  • These sports provide an opportunity for youth to participate in the same activity as their parents, including the ability to participate in the same competitions and at the same time.
  • Rowing, sailing, cycling and paddling are all adaptive sports, providing equal access to Chicagoans with disabilities, as well as utilizing the same facilities as athletes with full mobility.
  • These sports provide an opportunity for community outreach, with proven successes demonstrated in Chicago by Recovery on Water, who provides access to rowing for breast cancer survivors, and the Chicago Rowing Union, who created an all-inclusive rowing program for Chicago’s LGBT Community.
  • Title IX provides unique opportunities for female student athletes in college, with possible full athletic scholarships available in all of these sports.
  • Alternative Sports like rowing, sailing, cycling and paddling exposes youth to new perspective on competition by allowing them to travel to destination events.
  • Alternative Sports provide an opportunity to compete on a national level, exposing athlete's talents to recruitment for college athletics.

For more information, contact Mark Carroll with the Rowing Group. – 773.354.6311

Rowing Group - 2014