The Girls in the Boat – Rowing for a Purpose

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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing three UW women who have teamed up to row the distance for blood cancer research and patient care. They are taking part in the Team In Training (TNT)/Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “Learn to Row” program, and will be competing in a regatta at the end of June. Along with becoming educated in the basics of rowing, they are raising money to help find a cure for cancer.

In speaking with them, I was blown away by the stats on TNT and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s contributions to our UW community. Dating back to their first grant of $100,000 in 1969, the Washington/Alaska Chapter has funded 36 research projects at UW, and has granted a total of nearly $5.4 million. Currently, this chapter is helping to support Dr. David Wu’s research of the genome sequencing of Hodgkin Lymphoma,and Dr. Jonathan Driver’s research of how kinases prevent errors in mitosis through a single-molecule study.

Now back to our novice rowers: Melissa Maxwell is the creative lead of the Human Resources Marketing, Communications & Engagement department. Olivia Arguinchona is a master’s student in UW’s Health Administration program, planning a career in children’s palliative care upon graduation (she also did her undergrad at the UW, so she bleeds purple and gold). And Marisa Graudins, who is part of the HR/P Modernization project and received a master’s from the UW.

What I loved about all three of these women is that they are very passionate about being a part of this TNT team, even though they have absolutely no rowing background!

Why Team In Training?
Melissa Maxwell: Thankfully, I have no personal (family) connection to blood cancer. But after doing five years of running events with this organization, I’ve developed a deep camaraderie with my teammates and a passion for the cause of finding a cure. It sounds cliché, but my involvement in Team In Training has changed my life. I am now part of a huge family of kind and generous “regular” people. There are no star athletes; we’re just out there doing the best we can, enjoying the company, and giving back in a small but powerful way.

Olivia Arguinchona: I have both volunteered and worked with palliative care patients affected by blood cancers. I watch families live the unthinkable, and see firsthand how much hope research can give.

Marisa Graudins: It was less about TNT and more about doing something for a good cause, and because I like being out on the water.

What is your past experience with rowing and why did you choose it?
MG: I have no rowing experience, but I do kayak. I chose it because I’m a sucker!

MM: Zero experience. After doing all those running events, I was ready to shake it up a bit. Plus, the idea of a true team sport really appealed to me. You can train for a marathon alongside hundreds of people, but, on race day, it comes down to just you. In rowing, every person in the boat is vital to the team’s success.

OA: I really have no experience with rowing except being completely confused by the ergs (rowing machines) at the gym. To be honest, I am not sure I would’ve decided to try rowing on my own. I signed up to be a part of the TNT team because of how much I enjoy the people. I have such a high level of respect for my teammates who are pushing themselves not only for the betterment of themselves, but first and foremost to find a cure for cancer and to change someone else’s life. That’s amazing, right?!

What has been the most impactful part for you in being involved with Team in Training?
MM: More than anything, I am staggered by the number of individuals affected by blood cancer, and the enormous generosity of people. Including this current season with the row team, I have personally raised nearly $20,000 in donations. And that’s just me. Everyone on the team is involved in fundraising, and we all raise a lot of money through the generosity of others.

OA: Last year with the help of TNT participants, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society raised 73.8 million life-saving dollars! A lot of the patients I see are on treatments and trials funded through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It may not seem like you are doing much by going to a rowing practice, but when I look into the eyes of children bravely fighting blood cancer I realize how important and impactful Team In Training is. On a different note, I have met some of my best friends through TNT! You meet dedicated, selfless, and supportive people who are the best of the best.

MG: Remembering that I’ve got it good.

What would you say to someone who was considering rowing?
MM: Well, it’s harder than it looks, and requires as much mental fitness as physical finesse. In marathon training, you simply strap on your shoes and go! In rowing, you have to constantly be aware of what’s going on around you: listening for instructions from the coach and coxswain, paying attention to what your teammates are doing, concentrating on your own form. While I fully expect the physical demands to increase later on in our training, right now, as we’re learning the basics, it’s more of a mental challenge. But being out there on the water… how exhilarating! I am enjoying it immensely. I say GO FOR IT!

OA: If I can do it, you most certainly can. DO IT!

MG: It is hard. I have a new respect for this sport.

All three athletes had one special thing in common: they all love being part of a team.

Girls on the Ergs

From left to right: Olivia Arguinchona, Marisa Graudins, and Melissa Maxwell.


This month, The Whole U has an amazing team opportunity for UW faculty, staff, students, and their guests. It is not too late to register for the UW Scavenger Hunt where we will relive the UW history chronicled in the best-selling book The Boys in the Boat. Find the final destination to take photos with your team and sign the commemorative banner!

Hunts are on all three campuses on Thursday, April 23 and teams have from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to complete the following races: Seattle Campus will have a short version (30 minutes) and long version (60 minutes) to choose from and Bothell and Tacoma campuses will take approximately 45 minutes to complete. Teams can be colleagues, families, or both!

This is going to be such a fun way to explore campus and bond with a team. See you there!