Row for Autism kicks off Port Rowing’s spring season: Charity event raises money for adaptive rowing program for children with autism


Junior Molly Alstodt works with Michael Kassaris at the Row for Autism. Alstodt volunteers through the Port Rowing adaptive program.

Ben Landau, Contributing Writer

Port Rowing recently hosted its third annual Row for Autism.  On April 12, rowers came together with the goal of raising awareness about the Port Rowing sdaptive program and autism itself.

The adaptive program gives children with autism the chance to participate in a competitive sport.  Each child in the program rows with a buddy, who is a rower for the official team.

They meet on the water and practice before their races.  On the day of the Row for Autism, rowers have a chance to compete against other pairs and win, while the autistic children race on the water with the volunteers.

Many rowing clubs around the tri-state area come to take part in the regatta.  Initially, the event had seven participating clubs and 62 entries.  This season, there were 18 clubs and 182 entries, totaling 800 participants.  Not only children participated in the race; there was a master’s race for adults as well.  25% of profits went to Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization.  The other 75% of the profit funds the adaptive rowing program at Port Rowing.

Mr. Steve Panzik, executive director and head coach of Port Rowing, believes in the adaptive rowing program as a way to help people who are not able to participate in regular sporting activities.

“We were lucky enough to not only have a beautiful day, but also to have great support from the local and rowing community this year.  The racing was some of the best it has been and the volunteers helped make the day happen.  It was a great day and a great kick start to our spring season,” said Panzik.

This year, Port Rowing had its most success out of the three years of the event, winning 12 gold medals, 4 silver medals, and 3 bronze medals. Port Rowing itself has set its standards very high for this spring season.  Last year, the team raised the bar, and 11 of 14 boats went to the second round of the New York State Championships.  Most significantly, six boats ended up medaling and three qualified for nationals.

The adaptive program at Port Rowing would not be possible without the volunteers who help the children row, most of whom are students at Schreiber.  Sophomore Mike DiSpigno, a member of Port Rowing, is involved as a volunteer in the adaptive program.

“All of the kids that I’ve helped are very nice and it feels really good to help out kids who wouldn’t be able to do it without me.  I’m very proud to be involved in the adaptive program and I plan to continue to volunteer until I graduate,” said DiSpigno.

Most adaptive rowers catch on very fast.  With the help of the volunteers, the children are able to learn how to row quickly and improve.

“They learn how to row within their first few times trying it, and they continue to get better and better because of all the practice and the help that they get from their buddies,” said DiSpigno.