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‘A Most Beautiful Thing:’ Rowing While Black

Arshay Cooper grew up on Chicago’s West Side in the 1990s. While most kids his age took up football and basketball, Arshay was attracted to a different sport: crew. Rowing was foreign to his school and neighborhood, but it provided a release and meditation for him. Arshay’s team became the first all-Black rowing team in the United States.

Here’s what he told Jamie Lisanti for Sports Illustrated:

And so I tried it out and I remember it was rough at first, but like being on the water, away from the police sirens, street noise, the broken street glass and the downtown view right in downtown Chicago where you can’t talk, you just row. And it was almost like, if there’s a storm or if you’re in the shower by the ocean, it was just peaceful, and it was the only sport that really didn’t trigger me—it wasn’t a combat sport or conflict sport. It really just helped me heal. It’s pure meditation—the rhythm, the water. And so it really helped me.

In 2015, Arshay wrote a memoir about his high school crew team. Now the book, titled A Most Beautiful Thing, is being re-released alongside a documentary of the same name, narrated by Common and with former NBA star Grant Hill as an executive producer.

We talk with Arshay Cooper and Grant Hill, one of the producers on the film, about his high school crew team, his commitment to social change and how rowing changed his life.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5

Haili Blassingame