Photo Credit: Public Radio Tulsa
On Jan 24, 2016 the Tulsa rowing community suffered an arson attack. The losses to both the Tulsa Rowing Club and Tulsa Youth Rowing Association were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most importantly, the rowing club’s boathouse — the facility in which both rowing associations were based — was a total loss. Having been associated with both rowing clubs at the time of the fire, I am writing this post to document my experience with this occurrence in hopes that others can learn from our experience. Specifically, it is my hope that other rowing clubs can have things in place prior to the unthinkable. If the unthinkable does happen, I provide some insight on how we managed our situation and offer some advice for others who may face similar situations, whether due to fire, weather or some unforeseen act or occurrence.
While no one wishes that a boathouse or any equipment should ever get destroyed, the fact of the matter is that life happens, and we need to make the best of any situation. The tragic loss of our boathouse provided a unique opportunity to learn from our mistakes and plan for the future. It enabled us to ask ourselves, while we plan for the rebuilding of the boathouse, “What is our vision for serving the community of Tulsa through rowing?” It was like a “reset button.” It spurred some productive conversation and forced us to implement a plan not only for rebuilding but also for improving and growing our community and planning for a future where we can have a positive impact and (hopefully) avoid — or at least minimize — our losses in the event of life’s little curve balls.
The first and most obvious thing to mention is to have adequate security in place to protect your equipment and boathouse. In our situation, the arsonist(s) managed to access our boathouse by breaking through the front door. It was locked, but the door frame was not sturdy, and it wasn’t difficult for the criminals to breach it. An extra amount of security (a sturdier door and lock, security cameras, alarm system with sensors, etc.) and preparation might have prevented this crime from occurring. I would suggest that if you have a combination lock, make sure that the code is protected, and be mercenary when it comes to sharing the code. If funds are available, it is worth the extra expense to install a monitored security system with motion sensors and lights that come on when a moving vehicle or human approaches. Weather is a more difficult and unpredictable situation to deal with, but obviously, the sturdier the building, the better.
The next piece of advice is to ensure that there is someone or a team of people whose responsibility it is to inventory all of the equipment in the boathouse. Presumably, there is someone in each club who is responsible for scheduling certain items on an insurance policy as the club accumulates equipment. However, it is important that this schedule or list is updated on a regular basis. In our case, we had just purchased 8 new rowing machines, and these had not been scheduled on our insurance. Fortunately, our insurance policy contained a clause that allowed coverage on all equipment that had been purchased within the last six months, so the newest machines were covered. However, there were some Concept 2 rowing machines, an AED and other valuable items that were destroyed in the fire that were not covered on either the juniors’ or master’s insurance, and so there was a shortfall on insurance coverage. Upon further inspection, we discovered we had scheduled one of our shells twice and had been paying higher premiums because of this. Please learn from our experience and make sure that the inventory of all of your equipment is carefully and periodically updated in case of an emergency such as ours.
In our situation, word of our misfortune spread very quickly among the rowing community. I think it speaks volumes of our community that there were others who stepped in to help us in our time of need. The first to call us and offer help were the University of Tulsa and Okie CrossFit. Both organizations offered us access to their rowing machines and in the case of the University of Tulsa access to their rowing tank. Additionally, Reed Recreation Center on the west side of Tulsa also gave us access to a room in their facility when we needed it. The recreation center also provided storage for our ergometers. Imagine, 40 displaced teenagers, their coaches and an adult rowing community all coming at you with requests of assistance to keep their rowing programs running. We were all blessed to have the compassion and assistance at both the local and national levels.
There were organizations that were willing to waive our entry fees to various Spring regattas (Dallas Jesuit, Austin Rowing Club, OKC Riversport). In Oklahoma City’s case, the entry fees for a youth regatta that they organized were donated to our organization. There were those that gave us equipment (Woodlands Rowing Club, Dallas Rowing Club). Others loaned us rowing machines as all of our machines were destroyed in the fire (OKC Riversport and Dallas United). Texas Rowing Center loaned us sculling equipment so that we could race at the Heart of Texas regatta in early March.
The wonderful people at USRowing were also very supportive in our situation. They were very quick to contact us and help us get the word out for our fundraising efforts. USRowing allowed us to communicate with its large database of rowing contacts, which resulted in donations and offers of the use of equipment. USRowing is an invaluable resource in this regard, and I know they have answered the call of other clubs who have suffered losses in floods, hurricanes, and other unfortunate situations.
I would also like to mention that our parent support group and our board members were essential in our recovery efforts. Our support group rallied behind us and did a great deal of work negotiating with insurance companies or helping us secure practice locations. There were many parents who stepped up and without their support it would have been impossible for us to move forward. In a community youth rowing club, it is vital that there is support for the coaching staff from the parent base and board. In our case, we were lucky to have this and I am grateful for all of the support we received.
Finally, last but not least by any measure, we owe a debt to the Tulsa Firefighters that responded quickly to the fire. Thanks to their responsiveness many of the juniors rowing shells were saved. One of the firefighters was injured during the blaze due to some falling debris. Thankfully, after a short stint in hospital he made a good recovery. We appreciate these firefighters risking their lives to help save the equipment that they did. However, they did not stop there and some took part in our subsequent fundraiser (see video below). These people are real heros and we will forever be grateful.
If I have inadvertently forgotten someone, I apologize. Needless to say, our heartfelt thanks go to everyone who stepped up and offered to help us in our time of need.
It goes without saying that we would have preferred it if our boathouse did not burn down. However, given that you cannot change the past it’s worth mentioning that the media were on hand to spread the word about what had happened. We had various pieces of airtime on many of the different television stations. It’s fair to say that we got more media attention in the three months after the fire than we had experienced in the last ten years. In a place like Oklahoma, media coverage is helpful when spreading the word about a sport such as rowing. Below is a segment that aired on Tulsa’s Channel 8 (K-TUL). During this segment, I thought that it was important to acknowledge all of the positive events that had occurred after the fire rather than dwell on the tragedy. It was a very tough time for our club but we persevered thanks to all those that supported us. I have also included other examples of local media that helped us communicate our rebuilding message.
In addition to local media, we posted images of the damage and the aforementioned news segments on our Facebook and Twitter feeds. This also helped raise awareness to our plight.
It is often the case that insurance will only cover part of your losses. In addition, there is almost always a deductible. Holding a fundraiser can help you rebuild, but when you have lost your facility, who can you count on to host the fundraiser? Search for ways to tap into the community that you serve and there will be people who will be able to assist you. In our case, we held a row-a-thon fundraiser and partnered with a local CrossFit gym (Okie CrossFit). We had a great time at our event. Some firefighters from local stations formed a team and rowed with us during our fundraiser (see video below). There were people who used our online PayPal fundraising page and sponsored the firemen and other teams made up of both rowers and some generous community members. We raised around $20,000 which helped to bring our insurance and fundraising to equal what we had lost in the fire.
I truly hope that no one suffers the kind of loss that our club did last year. However, the above discusses the critical issues that our clubs (Juniors and Masters) faced in the aftermath of our loss. At the time of writing, we have signed a contract with a construction company and are scheduled to have our boathouse rebuilt by May this year.
On behalf of Tulsa Rowing Club and the Tulsa Youth Rowing Association, I want to extend my gratitude to everyone that “pulled” for us last year. I am hopeful that the future of rowing in Tulsa is bright and we will rebuild a stronger and better community rowing program than ever before.
If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Authors note: I’d also like to acknowledge Liz Ferrari and Claudia Briere who contributed to this post and were very helpful in the writing process.