by Donna Ames, Pen Bay Healthcare
Thursday, February 17, 2011 5:01 AM
It takes only a few minutes in the presence of Muriel Curtis to realize that she is a force of nature (and some might say a gale force at that). Muriel is on a mission that began in 2001 when she had what she describes as an "ah-hah!" moment to provide boating opportunities to the youth (of all ages) of the Rockland area at no cost, through the community rowing and sailing program known as Station Maine.
A teacher first, a passionate sailor next and an unwavering believer in the power of our children to change themselves and the world, Muriel is perfectly suited to the task that she has given herself.
For almost 10 years, Station Maine has been growing its programs to include more children and adults who desire to get out on the water. Muriel has taken groups of kids to France, Italy, Cornwall and Quebec to compete in races, as well as traveling to competitions throughout New England. In addition to the racing crew, Station Maine has recently partnered with Rockland Middle School to get kids out rowing as part of their school day. These kids are learning by doing. Some of their lessons include leadership, seamanship, navigation, and more.
Early reports are that this collaboration is having a positive effect on the kids involved.
Rowing is great exercise! We live in an age when more and more young people are spending up to five or more non-school hours a day in front of some type of screen, often watching reality programs, yet barely moving themselves. This trend toward sedentary behavior is so contrary to what youth is all about. It is a major contributor to the childhood obesity epidemic that is now plaguing our nation. Muriel well understands the dangers of this trend, and particularly how it affects the most vulnerable of our young people. Her programs are open to any kid who has the desire.
Crews go out rowing year-round. When the weather is truly forbidding, which isn't often, there are several indoor rowing machines in Station Maine's headquarters that the kids can work out on. Muriel also has her crews running, doing push-ups and crunches and every now and then an obstacle course. Muriel is right there with them, working out and challenging herself.
"Some girls come here and they don't know what it is like to be strong; it has never been something that is considered important for girls. Once they start developing muscles, they really like the way it feels," says Muriel.
Members of the racing crew (ages 13 to 18) must take a pledge to refrain from the use of tobacco, alcohol, drugs and soda for the duration of the racing season. They also pledge to work cooperatively with each other and to be good-will ambassadors for Rockland and the state of Maine wherever they travel. Environmental stewardship is another important component of the Station Maine experience.
I had the pleasure of going rowing with one of Muriel's middle school crews on a foggy November afternoon. It was obvious from the outset that the kids had respect for and listened to this salty woman. She has that unique ability that the best of teachers possess: authority with levity. Although Muriel is dead serious about safety and good seamanship, she gets her message across with lots of good humor, sea shanties (sung with a lovely soprano voice), and a bit of lighthearted teasing.
The following is an excerpt from a speech given by one of Station Maine's longtime rowers, Mariah Jones, which speaks to the respect that Muriel engenders in her kids: "She sets no low standards, only high ones, and with her behind us, pushing us and prodding us but never past our capabilities, we can reach them and we do."
There is a program at Station Maine for everyone. If you want to join an existing program or start something new, just contact Muriel and she will do her best to make it happen. Check out the Web site for more information: www.stationmaine.org, call 691-2037, or better yet, stop by and visit Muriel at Sharp's Point South, 75 Mechanic Street in Rockland.