Survivor Rowing Network at Head of the Charles 2023
Rowing Cares and the Survivor Rowing Network (SRN) entered two boats in races at HOCR 2023. The boats are comprised of cancer survivors, and they will be racing in the Women's Grand Master Eights [60+] event on Saturday at 9:45am, and the Women's Grand Master Fours [60+] at 10:40am on Saturday. The Survivor Rowing Network's mission is to grow Survivor Rowing and help place more cancer survivors into boats and on ergs. They do this by strengthening existing survivor rowing programs through collaboration & by enabling rowing organizations looking to form new programs.
The SRN athletes who are competing at HOCR will be at the JL tent on Saturday, October 21st at 3:00pm. Stop by to meet and chat with them, and learn more about Rowing Cares and the Survivor Rowing Network.
Read below to learn more about the incredible women who are coaching, rowing, or coxing in this year's SRN boats at HOCR. Good luck ladies!
I was initially diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2015 and after surgery began with the inaugural SRC Surviveoar program in 2016. In 2018 I had a recurrence which required more surgery as well as chemo and radiation. As scary as that was, going through it with the support and encouragement of my fellow surviveoars was a game changer and almost made it feel "easier" than my original go around. I erged and rowed through my treatment and when I couldn't, I rode the launch or sat out. Being surrounded by women who knew what I was going through and knew how and what to say was beyond comforting. Despite being a disparate group of women, the bonds forged through this program have been life changing.
After two breast cancer diagnoses, one of which led to a medically induced coma for 54 days, I needed a community of support that understood what I had been through and an outlet for my mental health. Insert the SurvivOARs - a group of ladies who always have my back, a new sport that has become my biggest passion, and a community that helps me understand why I was given a second chance at life.
“You’ve got cancer”. Having rowed for 10 years, one of my first questions after hearing those shocking words was, “… will I ever be able to row again?” On August 16, 2021, I underwent surgery for lung cancer. On August 16, 2023, I attended the kick-off meeting of the coaches and rowers invited to represent the Survivor Rowing Network at the Head of the Charles. I am forever grateful to not only be rowing again, but to be part of this amazing community.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer 7 years ago. After enduring a year of chemo, surgery and radiation I was introduced to rowing when our local breast cancer center and rowing club teamed up in an effort to add a new fitness opportunity for their patients. Rowing has given me so much - community, friends and fitness - I’m in the best shape of my life! Racing at the Head of the Charles Regatta is an incredible opportunity!
In July of 2015 I was supposed to have participated in a learn to row program with the City of Alexandria, Va. However in June of 2015, I was diagnosed with Stage 2B bilateral breast cancer and over the next year underwent: chemotherapy, radiation, a double mastectomy, and reconstruction surgery. In May of 2016 I discovered WeCanRow DC's learn to row program and I was hooked from there. As a former Division I athlete, my identity was so wrapped up in my body and what it was able to do; I was scared and a complete mental and emotional mess. I thought cancer had taken it all away from me, but far from it. I am now competing in the HOCR!
Cortlandt Manor, NY
My cancer has fortunately, been 20 years in the past, when I had a lumpectomy and lymph node removal, having had a small tumor identified on a mammogram. At every annual mammogram, I still hold my breath! I am proud and honored to be a part of this team going to the HOCR, to help promote prevention, early detection and support.
I came to rowing, not related to my cancer, but to improve fitness and enjoy the water
I had endometrial cancer May 2019 and recovered through treatments. Currently fighting colon cancer with aggressive and frequent screenings. On leave from work I found CCRA at one of their Learn to Row events. The rowing community is special, but Cortlandt Community Rowing Association is a godsend. Now I’m finding my way back to better health one stroke at a time. Being a rower at the Head of the Charles? Unfathomable, a bit daunting, and a true honor.
I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in the Fall of 2006. During treatments the following Spring I saw flyers about We Can Row DC, and said when I am healed (and get the courage) I am going to try this! I had never been involved with organized sports, only being a gym rat and living an active life. My Novice season was 2011 and I haven't looked back. Still rowing and competing as life(and opportunity) allows and am very grateful to be a part of this team.
Shortly after a routine mammogram and ultrasound, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and underwent a year of surgery, intense chemo, and radiation treatments. Wanting to put that dreadful experience behind me and having no experience with rowing, I was initially reluctant to join the SurviveOAR group – boy, am I glad I did! The camaraderie and motivation to continuously improve our health has been life changing. I have been cancer free for 9 years and will always be grateful for all that this team has given me, including the opportunity to participate in HOCR!
In 2015 my world changed when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Up to that point my lifestyle was sedentary, but as part of my recovery program, I discovered the Learn-to-Row program offered through my hospital at the Saugatuck Rowing Club. My daughter was a rower in high school so I decided to surprise my family by attempting to learn to row. It forever changed my life as I became stronger, met life-long supportive teammates in the program, and truly focused on my well-being. Rowing provides an empowering experience, and covers all the bases…physical, mental, emotional and social. These components, along with the bonds we make are a large part of our healing regimen. I am so grateful to be part of the Survivor Rowing Network to inspire others on their journey to thriving after their diagnoses. I have been cancer free for eight years and am in better health than before the cancer. Head of the Charles, here we come!!!
Solange Toura Gaba
2009 was a momentous year. I remember watching the Obama inauguration as I was prepping for breast cancer surgery. I knew I had some hurdles to get through and things were going to be difficult, I feared what the chemotherapy drugs would do to my body. I am fortunate to live in a city where I had access to great healthcare and wonderful doctors. I had faith. I had hope and the support of loved ones. I learned about WeCanRow DC (WCR) at a cancer information and wellness presentation I attended sometime during chemotherapy treatment. I really enjoyed talking with the WCR member. She was so enthusiastic. I felt too weak to do the program that season but really wanted to do it when my body was stronger. After chemo, came radiation treatments and once in a while I would think of the rowing program. It gave me something to look forward to. I attended the Learn to Row weekend in 2010 and absolutely loved it. I did the Learn to Row program at Thompson Boat Center as my schedule did not enable me to do it with WCR. I have since rowed many seasons with WCR DC and thankful to have such an amazing group of women in my life. Some seasons I was unable to row due to travel or work, but I am always grateful to row on the water those seasons that I can. I was never an athlete but keeping fit and active was an important part of my life even before my cancer diagnosis. My breast cancer journey (which I would not wish on anyone) did bring me the gift of rowing. I learned a new sport and added amazing women to my circle – the women of WeCanRow DC. I have always heard about HOCR and wanted to participate. I am honored to be part of the team and competing with a couple of my club mates. I am really excited! Thank you for believing in me, thank you for believing in us. Let’s go! We got this!
Leslie Ann Hunt
Cortlandt Manor, NY
In October of 2021 Leslie was diagnosed with HR+ stage 3 breast cancer with local node involvement, and subsequently was found to carry the PALB2 genetic mutation. Given the risks associated with PALB2 carriers and family history of breast (and other) cancers, her lifetime risk for breast cancer was greater than 50%. The stage of cancer warranted six months of neoadjuvent ACT chemo, a double mastectomy, and lymphandteneetomy, followed by twenty five rounds of radiation. To mitigate the risks of ovarian cancer associated with PALB2 carriers, Leslie has also had her ovaries removed. She is currently on the targeted therapy Verzenio, and Letrozole.
Thanks to the encouragement of a fellow tall mom at her child’s school, Leslie learned to row in 2018 with the Pelham Community Rowing Association. Leslie quickly became an avid rower, getting in a shell as many mornings a week as possible. When her family looked to move communities, they only looked at communities with rowing. When diagnosed with cancer in Fall 2021, Leslie’s first thought was, “I am so lucky this is happening at the end of the Fall season. I can be back on water in Spring!”
Her rowing crew and the goal of getting back to the water carried through treatment. The day after she shared her diagnosis with her teammate, the first casserole arrived. Almost every morning she woke to find something from the club had been quietly placed on her front porch- muffins, flowers, candies, a grocery delivery, hand knitted chemo hats in team colors knitted by (Mary O’ Hara) a fellow rower who also had survived cancer. At Christmas she discovered her mailbox decorated with a garland that included a note from the club. Teammates brought her favorite coffee to celebrate her birthday.
The treatment plan included neoadjuvent chemo, meaning that she would have six months of chemo before her first surgery. On days when she had chemo treatment she would drive to the lake and river to visit the boats. During chemo she would talk to the cancer team about rowing, and invite the infusion nurses to think about joining the team. The sole goal of on-going physical therapy was a return to rowing. Physical therapy focused on a full range of motion for the arms, the ability to carry a boat overhead, core strength, balance & dexterity to overcome chemo induced peripheral neuropathy that left her hands and feet numb. When she was released from the hospital post-surgery she asked to go visit the boats. Days after surgery she hid her surgical bandages and drains to go watch her crew mates row at Race for the Cure in Poughkeepsie. Four weeks after surgery Leslie was back on the water, and was able to row through the weeks of radiation treatments. Racing at the Head of the Charles will take place on the two year anniversary of her diagnosis.
Though diagnosed in October of 2021, Leslie’s relationship to breast cancer started when she was seven and her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother battled cancer for fifteen years until she died in 1993. Growing up in Charleston, WV in the shadow of a Union Carbide plant, and other chemical manufacturers, cancer was so common in her family (and neighborhood) that she could visit more than one relative in the hospital at once- her mother and grandmother, and aunt. Her family always assumed the occurrences were related to living near chemical manufacturing. So, they encouraged Leslie to settle elsewhere. While there is a chemical manufacturing story to be told as the area in which she grew up has been designated a site of a cancer cluster, the story of being a carrier of PALB2 is the story she couldn’t move away from. She speaks openly about her genetic condition as a means of advocacy and education.
Leslie has a background in both the arts and non-profit management. Leslie’s career started as a working actor in musical theatre (she can sing in six different languages!). She is known to sing to her crew mates as motivation on longer rows. She managed the Career Development Program at the Center for Arts Education, and served for ten-years on the Board of Directors of New York Women in Communications. Leslie holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Michigan and a MBA in International Business & Finance from Baruch College.
Leslie is currently the director of graduate programs for The Weissman School of Arts and Sciences at Baruch College where she oversees recruiting, admissions, academic advisement and career management for graduate programs in Corporate Communication, Arts Administration, Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Financial Engineering. After graduating from Baruch’s Zicklin School in 2008, Leslie started her career in higher education administration at Columbia Business School where she served in roles within the executive MBA and career management administrations. Leslie also served as the Director of the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center at Columbia Business School where she stewarded student and alumni programming, fundraising and strategic planning. Prior to joining Baruch, she served as the Associate Dean for Graduate and Professional Studies at Sarah Lawrence College where she oversaw a revenue-generating portfolio of graduate, professional and pre-college programs.
Coach Melissa Creighton
As coach for the Survivor Rowing team competing at Head of the Charles 2023, Melissa will bring 12 cancer survivors and two coxswains together for the first time. Melissa coaches the survivor rowers at Cortlandt Community Rowing Association on the Hudson near Verplank, NY. She also coaches for the West Point Army Crew. Melissa’s full-time job is in the healthcare sector where she is a full scope Midwife and Childbirth Educator at North Central Bronx Hospital, a position she has had for the past nine years. Melissa has a natural affinity to bring groups together and has unique talents to bring the best out of each and every person. She recently hosted learn to row sessions for healthcare workers and first responders- highlighting the health benefits of the sport including elements of teamwork and working together in challenging situations.
Coach Holly Metcalf
Holly in Honorary Team Captain for the HOCR Survivor Rowing team in Boston, and has opened the MIT Boathouse for the SRN team. Both boats will launch from MIT, both with MIT coxswains.
Holly Metcalf is starting her 17th season as head coach for the MIT openweight women in 2023-24 in Boston. She has transformed the program from a struggling Division I squad into a team that is competitive within the Eastern Sprints, as well as in the Patriot League, where the Engineers’ varsity 8 squad has regularly gained the Grand Final.
In 2002 Metcalf established WeCanRow, a wellness and rehabilitation organizationfor female cancer survivors, a group which is part of the Survivor Rowing Network. . She continues to find opportunities to use rowing to enrich the lives of hundreds of women and girls through a variety of non-profit programs. In 1994, she founded the Row As One Institute, which provides masters women with top-level coaching. She extended this concept to inner-city girls in 1996 with her G-ROW program in Watertown, Massachusetts..
Metcalf was a six-time member of the U.S. National Team and won five World Championship and Olympic medals, including a Gold Medal at the 1984 Olympics in the women’s eight. She has coached extensively at the club, college, and national team levels. Metcalf also directed the Silver Medal winning crew at the 1990 World Championships. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she was selected as a member of that school’s inaugural Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.women with top-level coaching. She extended this concept to inner-city girls in 1996 with her G-ROW program in Watertown, Massachusetts..