Sep 17, 2015 10:00 AM

Author: Lisa Anderson

When I turned 30, I finally got up the courage to do something I always wanted to do: live in the Wild West. Pointing my 17-foot U-Haul westward for the move of a lifetime, I couldn’t have foreseen that I would end up as a coach for Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), teaching cancer survivors to row on the Great Salt Lake.

I grew up in a very small town off the coast of Maine, but I didn’t get into rowing until I left for college at 18 to attend Rutgers University. On my first trip up the dormitory stairs, an enthusiastic man tapped me on the shoulder to ask if I would be interested in being part of a crew team. That was 23 years ago. Who knew that moment would have such a lifelong, powerful ripple effect?

Nicole Cavallaro coaches the Rowing Program through the Wellness and Integrative Health Center at HCI.

I have been coaching HCI’s Rowing Program for ten years now, and I can honestly say cancer survivors are the most amazing people I know. I am so blessed to be part of their lives. In honor of celebrating these past ten years, here are the top ten things I love about rowing with these people.

  1. Rowing transforms patients from cancer survivors to thrivers. Think about it: How many people do you know who are willing to be vulnerable, make mistakes, sit in a very tippy boat with a hard seat, inhale brine flies by the dozen, get a salt scrub on various body parts, and become numb to the large spiders that infest the Great Salt Lake every year? These people don’t just survive. They thrive—no doubt about it.
  2. Diversity. Cancer does not discriminate. Our rowing program celebrates diversity in the most special way. We all have a deep respect for each other and honor each other’s journeys. I get to hear their stories and their courage blows me away.
  3. Did I say courage?
  4. Harmony. The sport of rowing requires precision and harmony to be successful. And it just so happens that harmonic friendships blossom out of our experiences in the boats.
  5. Vulnerability. I don’t know many adults who are excited to show weakness. I have a lot of theories on why cancer survivors aren’t afraid to be vulnerable. Learning how to row reveals major vulnerability. Hoorah for that!
  6. Learning something new. Our brain thrives on increasing aptitude, so making a conscious effort to learn an extremely technical and physically demanding sport is beyond brilliant.
  7. Exercise. This one is obvious but not to be undervalued. The body/mind intensity of rowing makes our bodies sing and dance with vitality, increased aerobic capacity, increased flexibility, and strength.
  8. Beauty. One of the greatest myths we get to debunk as rowers on the Great Salt Lake is that the lake is a nasty place. There are times when I have been brought to tears over the lake’s beauty and serenity. Yes, sometimes we must overlook the brine flies, spiders, and ocean aroma (think low tide), but most of the time we spend on the lake is breathtakingly beautiful.
  9. Meditation. It is the new Prozac. If you have ever watched the sport of rowing, the rowers almost look as though they are in a trance. Rowing requires intense focus and concentration. When we set out on the water, the next thing we know is that it’s been an entire hour and we haven’t been plagued by the usual nonstop inner dialogue.
  10. Connection. I saved this one for last because it embodies true wellness. When I first started coaching at HCI, I had an epiphany about why I enjoyed it so much. Our lives are about connection on many levels. When someone is faced with a cancer diagnosis, I can only imagine the intricacies of the healing process. Many new connections must be made. The connections we celebrate in the rowing program are my favorites—connection to people, nature, and our bodies. I consider it my earthly “trinity.” When we achieve this, I feel in tune with the greater good and our spirits soar together.

Happy, happy birthday to the rowing program with the greatest group of cancer thrivers I have ever met.

For more information about the Rowing Program and other wellness programs at HCI, contact the Linda B. and Robert B. Wiggins Wellness and Integrative Health Center

Lisa Anderson

Huntsman Cancer Institute

integrative medicine wellness center

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