Lake Norman & Mooresville

Youth rowing club gains steam

Picture a boat gracefully skimming the water, a coxswain seated in the bow, coaching the crew of muscled rowers who dip their oars in tandem.

Is this a movie? The Thames? The Charles River?

It's a sight you can glimpse right here on Lake Norman, thanks to the efforts of Dembridge Drive Chris Berl and some dedicated folks who have started a rowing club.

Berl was a natural choice to head up the fledgling North Carolina Community Sailing and Rowing club's youth program.

As a student at Pomfret School in Connecticut, he was required to participate in three sports.

He had the first two taken care of - hockey and cross country - when fate stepped in in the form of his mother.

Despite having never rowed before, his mother announced to the coach that Berl would one day be captain.

Though he was embarrassed at the time, those words began a journey that would take him around the world.

His high school career, which included winning the New England Championships and going to the Henley Royal Regatta in England ("The Wimbledon of rowing," he said) led him to continue his sport at the University of Pennsylvania.

He racked up an impressive record, winning the Head of the Charles and securing a bronze medal at the World Championships in Copenhagen. Each experience was more exciting than the last.

"I remember in Copenhagen, at the starting line, just feeling so giddy that I was even there. We were surrounded by nutritionists and trainers, and I was rowing with people that I had long admired. It was amazing, intimidating and exciting all at the same time."

After graduation, he continued to compete nationally. When a position as boys varsity coach opened at his alma mater Pomfret, he returned and discovered that he loved coaching. "It was just very natural to me, and I loved seeing how rowing could impact young people's lives," said Berl.

It was while he was there that he received a call from the person that would one day become his wife, Lou.

The girls rowing coach at Nobles and Greenough School in Boston ("Honestly, I think she was the best high school rowing coach in the country," insists Berl), she was looking for someone to help and his name had come up. The two made such a good team they married and have three daughters.

Six years ago, the family moved to Davidson, where Berl founded Restroom Direct, a company the distributes hand dryers, and Lou has just begun her first year at Woodlawn School.

When someone mentioned the new rowing program at North Carolina Community Sailing and Rowing to Lou, the Berls knew they had to get involved.

The adult program has attracted veteran rowers as well as novices, and Berl is excited by the opportunities ahead for the youth. They'll continue to work with the Charlotte Youth Rowing program located on Lake Wylie and will compete in two head races after their season starts Sept. 8.

"We really want to be competitive this fall and bring the program to the next level," said Berl.