Q&A with USRowing’s Susan Smith

Susan Smith’s job with USRowing doesn’t require her to wake up at the crack of dawn and race in an eight boat, but her job is far from easy. Smith is USRowing’s membership director. Not only that, but just a few months ago, she was given the title of acting CEO.

As the search continues for a permanent leader at USRowing, Smith enjoys traveling to regattas to witness the growing sport before her very eyes.

We sat down with Smith at the 2017 USRowing Youth National Championships at Nathan Benderson Park, the site of the 2017 World Rowing Championships. Here is our interview:


What are your first impressions of this weekend’s Youth National Championships at Nathan Benderson Park?
Smith: It has been absolutely incredible. The venue unlike anything else we have in the United States. The Finish Tower is amazing and we are very excited to see what it’s going to look like in a few months.

What does it mean to have the World Rowing Championships return to the United States after 23 years?
It’s very satisfying. I’ve been to other world championship venues and Nathan Benderson Park is up there with the best of them. It really gives the rest of the world a look at what is happening with rowing in the United States. It’s very exciting and we are looking forward to the end of September.

What do you think it means to all the USRowing athletes who will be participating?
Pride. We’ve come a long way. At USRowing, we continue to say that rowing is growing. We’ve grown in membership 65% over the last two years. The challenge for us is to continue to improve venues, but also identify other venues that will offer similar experiences. Right now, there are only a handful of venues that we could hold a youth championship, let alone a world championship.

You mentioned your memberships numbers. Why is rowing growing in the United States?
The future of the sport is youth. 40% of our membership is youth rowing and 70% is Under 23. It’s an explosion in the youth, whether it’s in high schools or club programs. Part of the reason is the focus on providing the youth to participate in other sports that don’t have the danger of concussions. Concussions have become a real concern, and in rowing, we don’t have that. We also provide resources to clubs to help them get started. Right now, we have 1,500 clubs.

There have been multiple changes at USRowing over the past few months. Do you see that as a good thing?
I do see it as a good thing. It gives us an opportunity to take a look at what we’ve been doing and what we can improve. That’s what we are doing now. We are looking at the contracts, commitments and processes we have in place that could use some improvement. Leading up to the 2017 World Rowing Championships, we see this as an opportunity to make changes. Just last week we announced Mike Teti is coming back. He’s going to be working with Brian Volpenhein to get our men’s team ready for the 2017 World Rowing Championships. We are also hoping to announce a new CEO in July. When that new CEO comes on board, he or she will start building their team. There are a lot of good things going on. I mentioned the 65% increase in memberships, and our youth regattas are growing every year.

The teams haven’t been announced just yet for the United States, but is there an athlete(s) or a boat that people should keep an eye on during the 2017 World Rowing Championships?
It’s the Women’s Eight. All eyes will be on them to see if they can do it again. They are starting to get ready for their races this summer and we will see how they are.

Why, in your mind, should people come out to the 2017 World Rowing Championships?
-They should come out to cheer on their athletes and the world’s athletes. They will get to see a sport that their children or grandchildren might be interested in participating in. Even for them, rowing is a lifelong sport. You can start rowing later on. I started rowing when I was 50 and I love it. It’s an opportunity for you to pick up the sport. The focus is to come out and show your support for our national team athletes.