Utah Crew creates fundraiser to benefit Utah Food Bank after season got canceled by COVID-19

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wilson Bielaczyc, one of the rowers on the Utah Crew boys' team, Tuesday, May 12, 2020. The Utah Crew team is holding a fundraiser for the Utah Food Bank.

Spring is normally the time of year Utah Crew emerges from grueling indoor winter workouts and gets on the water, ready to row at breakneck speeds and win regattas. But COVID-19 took that, too.

Now members of the state’s largest competitive rowing team are stuck at home, their season canceled. But one of the captains on the team figured out a way not to let their talents go waste.

Jacinda Lee, captain of the girls’ team and a senior at West High, proposed Utah Crew hold a fundraiser to benefit Utah Food Bank, where she volunteered just before the coronavirus pandemic hit. For every $10 donated, a rower on the team will either complete 1,000 meters on a rowing machine — called an ergometer — or walk/run 1,000 steps if they don’t have one.

Lee said the fundraiser will serve multiple purposes, like helping the team feel connected after its season ground to a halt due to COVID-19.

“Honestly I think this has been really good motivation for our team to stay active and the benefits of the fundraiser obviously go right back into our community,” Lee said.

The fundraiser started May 3 and goes through Sunday. Rowers have until the end of the month to complete the meters or steps that were assigned to them either by Lee or a donor that requested a specific individual.

Donations have gone through Lee’s personal Venmo account (@Jacinda-Lee-3). The team had received $535 at the time of publication, and some rowers had already started competing their meters and steps.

Initially, the fundraiser called for a rower to complete 10,000 meters or steps for every $10. But that was scaled down in the second week to make the distances more manageable for rowers, which would then encourage more of them to participate in the initiative, Lee said. She estimated between 10 and 15 rowers are participating.

The team is collectively disappointed the season was canceled in mid-March.

“When you start a season, you’re really excited and you’re really determined to make sure that you do well in these races and you get to go to more races,” said Wilson Bielaczyc, a junior at East High. “So to have that just kind of not there, it can be kind of discouraging.”

Sydney Koutrouba, a junior at West High, said what she misses most about the season is hanging out and competing alongside her teammates.

“I think one of the best parts about being on the team is that it’s a really good activity to get to meet people who are all very nice, very social,” Koutrouba said. “I think that I really enjoyed spending time with the team and I really enjoyed competing and rowing and getting to go out on the water.”

Sasha Jovanovic-Hacon, captain of the boys’ team and a senior at West High, on Tuesday competed virtually in a regional regatta and is hoping a competition in August won’t be canceled. He was initially disappointed about the season’s cancellation, but thought it was the right move after learning more about the coronavirus.

Nonetheless, the fundraiser seems to have given the rowers a sense of purpose.

“I think by us doing a fundraiser, we’re contributing to the community,” Jovanovic-Hacon said. “It’ll also bring awareness to our team, obviously. And I think that by uniting around a cause, our team will grow stronger internally. It’ll inspire more camaraderie among the team members.”

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