Using Rowing to Overcome Life’s Biggest Challenges: Two Stories of Survival

Finish Line Marks Triumph Over Breast Cancer

Ami Mehr, center, and her Quinsigamond Rowing Association boatmates.

By Kiran Jivnani  Published on October 19, 2014

When Ami Mehr, a young mom from Upton, learned she had breast cancer in May, she resolved that cancer would not dictate the terms of her life. When she was diagnosed, she set one goal that would get her through her hardship—rowing in the 50th Head of the Charles Regatta. On Saturday, cancer free, she realized that goal when she and her Quinsigamond Rowing Association teammates posted a time of 21:50 to finish 25th in the women’s masters fours. There were three other rowers and a coxswain in the boat, and they all drew their strength from Mehr’s.

“It was a given. There was no doubt in my mind that in our Head Of The Charles boat, Ami would be in that boat,” said QRA head coach Julie Waddell. “The majority of our team knew that it’s Ami and she’s not giving up to anything. She’ll be there and she’ll be on the water.”

When she was diagnosed, Mehr opted for the most aggressive form of treatment, a double mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery all in one go. Her reasoning for this was that she would forever lower her chance of getting breast cancer again, and raise her chance of recovering in time to row in the Head Of The Charles.

“Someone actually gave me a bracelet that I wore during my surgery and I kept it with me the whole time so, that every time I would look at it, I was reminded of rowing.” The bracelet was a pink Henley Women’s Regatta rowing bracelet, which was given to her by Patrick Guida, one of the many coaches/supporters of the team. Although he does not remember exactly what he said to her when he gave Mehr the bracelet, he recalls that it was something along the lines of, “you’re stronger than you think you are.” The bracelet served as morale booster to Ami, who looked at it all the time for comfort and because it reminded her of rowing. She has kept it on her wrist ever since that moment, and had it on during her race.

“She let that bracelet remind her that this is temporary and this is hard, but I’m going to get through it,” said Waddell.

For Ami, the experience of having breast cancer really opened her eyes to the benefit of early detection and encouraged her to get involved in her community by helping to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. She has single handedly managed to raise over $5000 dollars for the, “Pull for a Cure Challenge” which is an annual event that allows rowers from different local regattas to raise money and awareness for breast cancer research. This year the regatta that was chosen was the Head Of The Charles and the challenge has raised a total of $90,793 so far. Ami’s support team during this entire time has been absolutely incredible. Not only are her teammates going to be wearing pink throughout the day in her honor but also her nurses, doctors, and family are actually going to be cheering her on from the sidelines.

Mehr hasn’t lost her competitive edge, but her goal for this Regatta was something far more important than winning a boat race.

“My goal on Saturday,” she explained, “[was just] to finish the race, because when I cross the finish line, I told myself that I’m closing out the hardest days of my life.”


When a Stroke Leaves You With One Good Arm, You Can Still Row in Circles

By Matthew MacCormack  Published on October 19, 2014

Steve Maloney stands on the banks of the Charles River, eyes fixed on the stream of rowers that cruise across the murky waters. There is a passion and excitement in his voice as he watches boat after boat power through the final stretch of the course. Maloney explains how special the Head of the Charles is, how positive and kind all of the spectators and competitors have been. Having just finished a grueling race in the Men’s Grand Master Singles, its clear that the fifty-eight year old is relieved to be able to watch the rest of the regatta as a fan.

Four and a half years ago, was just about the only person who believed he’d be back in a boat at the Head Of The Charles, or anywhere else. He had just suffered a crippling stroke, and the prognosis wasn’t good. But Maloney defied the odds, and rowing was at the center of his improbably recovery.

In early 2010, Steve Maloney was on top of the world. The brilliant entrepreneur had worked his way up to a high-ranking executive position with Intel, one of the world’s largest and most influential technological conglomerates. As a talented public speaker and innovator, the London-born entrepreneur was considered one of the most powerful businessman in the country, and a leading candidate for an eventual spot as Intel’s CEO.

Then, in February 2010, Maloney’s path took a drastic turn.

After going on a run with his son near his San Francisco home, Maloney suffered a stroke. A split of his carotid artery shut off blood flow to the left side of the brain, and the centers that controlled speech and language were hit particularly hard.

In the wake of the stroke, Maloney was in tatters. Controlling his right arm became essentially impossible, and, a man who made a living speaking publicly now found himself unable to talk.

“I was completely out. I had no sentence production,” remembers Maloney. “It was awful. Two days before, I was really speaking incredibly well. Then, nothing.”

There were concerns that Maloney would never return to normal speech and walking, but he debunked those rumors with impressive progress. In June of 2010, however, a doctor told Maloney that returning to a rowing shell was out of the question.

But Sean Maloney wasn’t ready to believe that.

Maloney recalls heading out to his boat, at first merely moving around in circles because he was only able to use his left arm. As time went by, he kept working, and was able to use both arms. Slowly, the strength on the right side began to grow. “Rowing is fantastic for me because I used my right arm constantly,” said Maloney. “It was brilliant for me because I knew exactly what I was doing.”

Maloney’s rowing life began as a 16-year-old rowing, in a double with his brother in London. Now, with nearly forty years of rowing experience, he has used the sport to focus himself in his recovery.

To Maloney, rowing is somewhat of a microcosm of life itself; no matter how difficult something is, there is always the opportunity to do better the next time. “You’re never done in a rowing boat. Tomorrow you can go even faster,” says the rower. “Life is like that.”

Nothing was going to keep Maloney from the sport that he loves. In October of 2010, eight months removed from a life-threatening stroke, Maloney was racing in the 46th Head of the Charles as a single sculler.

He returned to work in 2011, and was promoted to the CEO of Intel’s China division. Maloney had persevered through the worst part of recovery, and was back in commission as an elite business leader. After three years in China, Maloney returned home to the states this year, and decided to re-enter the Regatta that he had raced in four years early.

At the 50th running of the event, Maloney finished in the second half of the grand master singles race, rowing under the colors of the Bair Island Aquatic Center of Redwood City, California. He admits that his preparation wasn’t as focused as it could have been, but with good reason; he had been training more on his bicycle than in a rowboat. As the chairman of the Silicon Valley American Heart Association, Maloney is in the process of training for a cross-country bike trip to help raise awareness and funds for stroke prevention. Maloney plans to bike ninety miles a day, starting in New York and finishing in his hometown of San Francisco.

To Maloney, the essence of his recovery story is perseverance and optimism. He refused to allow a stroke to derail his passion and dreams. In life, just like in rowing, even when the going gets tough, there is always an opportunity to move on and power through.

“Everyday is better and better,” says Maloney. “Even if I have a really rotten day today, it doesn’t matter. I’ll go to bed, and tomorrow it will be better.”

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Make this year’s Head Of The Charles® a success. There are many opportunities to get involved over race weekend and before.