Empowering Women Through Rowing
By Maeve Berry • March 8, 2019
Jenn Junk has tirelessly dedicated herself to Recovery On Water’s (ROW) mission, team members and rowing for over a decade. Junk and breast cancer survivor Sue Ann Glaser co-founded ROW in 2007 and has grown the organization’s reach to become the largest rowing program in the country serving breast cancer patients and survivors. The program currently supports over 90 breast cancer survivors in the greater Chicago area, giving them year-round, free access to rowing, seven days a week.
“Being immersed with the women of ROW on a daily basis has truly changed my life,” said Junk. “They have taken a traumatic life event and decided to become stronger alongside women who’ve had the same experience. They have found the silver lining of their breast cancer diagnosis. I’m honored to have watched that journey and lead the program to where it is today. They have truly been my inspiration.”
In 2017, ROW launched Power10 Camp, a four-day rowing camp for survivors. This program brought in women from across the country, giving them knowledge about utilizing exercise as a tool to keep cancer at bay. Alongside these efforts, as well as hospital and community outreach, ROW reaches more than 600 people affected by breast cancer a year with the sport of rowing.
“Rowing provides a community at ROW, as well as exercise and support,” Junk said. “Many times, the women on our team share that after their diagnosis and treatment, they face a variety of challenges when returning to ‘life.’ After a traumatic life event, you search for a way to understand how this will become a part of your identity going forward. Many times, women share that they don’t know how to find a positive way to think about what has happened to them, or ingrain it into who they are now. Recovery On Water gives women something positive, empowering and challenging to be a part of and to be proud of after the cancer diagnosis.”
In addition to the support system ROW members gain, they benefit from mental and physical health improvements. Oftentimes, cancer treatments lead to medical issues including lymphedema, obesity and depression. As listed on ROW’s website, “many studies demonstrate the beneficial effects of exercise on breast cancer survivors, showing significant reduction in depressive symptoms and fatigue, and improvements in lymphedema, bone mineral density, body mass index, quality of life, and most significantly, recurrence rates.”
Junk knows the effects rowing has had on her own life and is particularly strong at rallying the community around rowing and ROW.
“Rowing taught me who I was, who I wasn’t and who I wanted to be,” she said.
In 2012, Junk rowed a boat around Lake Michigan, raising over $150,000 to purchase boats for the team. Despite setbacks, she chose to continue her journey by bike, cycling 600 miles before rowing the final leg of the trip and returning home after 59 days at sea. In the past five years, she has worked with countless committees and city officials to help secure a permanent home for rowing on the south side of Chicago. The Eleanor Boathouse is now home to 350 athletes who traditionally would not have access to the sport.
Junk’s passion for the sport and for people in general is infectious. Through teamwork and commitment, hundreds of women have transformed under her leadership, going from chemotherapy treatments, hair loss and a near fatal diagnosis, to seeing themselves as strong athletes with a greater purpose.
“Women overcome obstacles every day and that should be celebrated,” said Junk. “We need more than one day if you ask me. International Women’s Day reminds us to recognize the challenges for women and girls around the world, as well as celebrate victories and recognize those who are helping make change.”