STANFORD, Calif. – As if they weren’t busy enough with two practices a day, class and homework several members of the Stanford lightweight rowing team are now involved with a community service project titled Project SWEEP.
SWEEP stands for Stanford Women's Educational Erging Program and was started by freshman Sarah Hirshorn. It was an idea that came about the week of Thanksgiving, but really dates back to Hirshorn’s high school days when she started a volunteer program to teach kids how to erg. That experience was something Hirshorn cherished and wanted to get back to now that she is at Stanford.
“I have always loved rowing and community service,” said Hirshorn. “It isn’t often when you can bring the two together. What I was able to do back home was very rewarding for me. It got me thinking about what I could do here.”
Hirshorn put together a one-page proposal for the idea of bringing in kids to teach them how to erg and promote fitness. She presented the idea to her two coaches, head coach Al Acosta and assistant coach Maggie Cheek. From there the coaches ran the idea by compliance and once it was approved the preparation for the project was underway.
Over the next month, Hirshorn connected with Jeff Wachtel, the Senior Assistant to the President and Secretary of the Stanford Board of Trustees. Wachtel, who also enjoys rowing, put Hirshorn in touch with EPATT, an after school tennis and tutoring program. EPATT already had a connection with former Stanford tennis coach Dick Gould running a tennis program for the students.
“After talking with Dick Gould and EPATT’s executive director Dave Higaki, we realized that my program was feasible and complimentary to what they were already doing,” said Hirshorn. “They were willing from the beginning. We provided a cardio element that hopefully they could carry through the rest of their lives.”
Once she got the thumbs up from everybody involved Hirshorn then wanted to reach out to her teammates and reel them in to help out. As close knit as the team is, it came as no surprise that she had several volunteers.
“We were talking at practice about how hard it is as student-athletes to find time to give back to the community,” said sophomore Katherine Christel. “In high school we were all very involved with everything and then got to college and couldn’t quite find our element for volunteering. Sarah thought of this great way for us to have a team service project.”
This will be the fourth week of the program. The kids, who are in middle school, come to the Ford Center on campus for an hour on Wednesday nights. The members of the lightweight rowing team then have a fitness game planned either inside or outside as well as some time on the ergs.
“Sometimes it is challenging because kids usually would rather play games than do fitness activities,” said Christel. “We try to find ways we can incorporate fitness into games.”
One game they play is sharks and minnows where one group of individuals “the sharks” chases the other group of individuals “the minnows”. It is a game that gets everybody running. Another example is the fitness version of Simon Says. After some teaching of technique on the ergs, the group usually finishes with an erg relay.
“The kids have been great,” said Hirshorn. “The goal is to make them have fun while they are exercising so it is not seen as a chore. They have been very respectful towards us and learn quickly. They are also very supportive of each other. Watching the erg relays and seeing them cheering on their teammates with enthusiasm and energy is rewarding for us to see.”
The program has taken off in a short period of time and also provided the Stanford lightweights some extra motivation in their own training.
“I find it helps my training by seeing the energy and enthusiasm they are putting into it, said Hirshorn. “It really propels me to train my hardest with my teammates so we can be the best boat we can be.”
Hirshorn briefly discussed Project SWEEP on a recent gostanford.com Google Hangout.