by Alessandra Simeone
Row New York held its annual Fall Benefit last Thursday, October 2nd. The night was filled with overwhelming support from members of the Row New York community, both familiar and new.
Emceed by the talented Liz Gilbert, writer of Eat, Pray, Love, this year’s benefit honored members of Row New York’s para-rowing community, including our Honorees Victor Calise, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People Disabilities, and Maria Bournias, RNY Competitive Para-rower and a member of RNY’s Para-rowing Advisory Board. We thank Victor and Maria for their dedication and commitment to Row New York and to our para-rowing programs.
While receiving his award, Victor acknowledged members of the audience in turn, saying that without them, our programs couldn’t be what they are today.
Maria spoke to the challenges of being told “you can’t” as a person with disabilities. Row New York, she said, is different. For Maria and her teammates, Row New York coaches are incredible for all they do to help the para-rowing groups reach their goals.
Each year, we present outstanding student-athletes with an excellence award at the benefit. This year, our Excellence Awards winners were Kelly Arango and Juan Graciano, seniors in our Queens and Manhattan varsity programs respectively, who demonstrate drive, passion, and a deep love of their Row New York community. Their speeches from the evening are below.
Kelly Arango, Row New York’s 2014 Excellence Award Winner:
Hello everyone and good evening…
So I just realized how amazing it is that time flies; the years go right by you and there’s no pause, no time out button, or a break to catch your breath. But the great thing about rowing is that time never runs out.
Especially when you’re on the erg.
But in all seriousness, there’s always something that we all love to do that allows us into a world where only moments take place. My moments are always with my family here at RNY. Sunsets after practice, late van rides back home from Philly, or races won by a margin. Even the races where we lose by a split second. And I learn from every one of those moments.
I’ve been stuck on thinking about what I’ve been taught the past four years and I couldn’t sum it up. Until it simply came to me.
I know what it is to be an honest person because of Row New York. Honest with those around me, yes, but most importantly being true to myself and being my own judge. I know how far to push myself, when I’ve reached my peak and when to get back up.
Honesty gave me the confidence in what I know and don’t know, because I am willing to learn. I can admit when I am wrong or when to apologize (even when it’s not my fault).
I also know I’m still growing, but I couldn’t have grown without Row New York. There aren’t enough thank yous to express my gratitude, but that’s all I have right now. Thank you.
Juan Graciano, Row New York’s 2014 Excellence Award Winner:
Good evening my esteemed guests. My name is Juan Graciano and I am a senior at George Washington HS for Law and Public Service. For two years I was a person without ambitions or a defined future. I regained focus because of a sport that appealed to me, and then captivated me. That sport is rowing.
When I tried out for Row New York, I didn’t know how happy I would be a week later. When I got the call, saying that I made the team. The first few times I went out on the water were unforgettable because each stroke I took felt like a release of stress and a release of my soul.
This year I’m going to graduate and head off to college. I have learned so many things about myself that I know will only help me succeed in the future. The most important thing I’ve learned along the way is to be a person with a purpose, with goals, and with ambitions for my future.
Thank you to all those who attended and supported the fall benefit – and a special thanks to our Excellence Award winners and Honorees. You make the Row New York community special, and we couldn’t do what we do without you!