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Local women set sights on Head of the Ohio

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Friday, Oct. 4, 2002

Diane Flanagan and Jane Butler grew up in an era when women weren't supposed to play sports. The women have since become top-notch athletes in a most grueling sport.

Flanagan, 63, of Brentwood , and Butler, 55, of O'Hara Township, are masters rowers who have won international and national competitions. Even though they started last in life, they've learned how to finish ahead of most of their competitors.

Flanagan and Butler will compete in a master's double scull boat race in Saturday's Head of the Ohio. They also will be in a master's quad with Ellen Romsaas of O'Hara Township and Martha Ball of Fox Chapel. The master's division is for athletes 30 years and older. Approximately 4,000 people representing a range of experience levels, are expected to participate in 65 races.

Flanagan and Butler won two races here last year.

"This event is special because it is on our rivers," said Butler, a retired nurse. "The course is very scenic with the bridges you go underneath. It is a very beautiful course."

Aesthetics aside, Flanagan and Butler want to win.

They've spent summers training with Duquesne assistant rowing coach Jeff Lowe.

"They are extremely dedicated to working hard and are extremely fit," Lowe said. "They listen to me. I punish them (with a tough workout), but they come back the next day."

They do in hopes of attracting more females to the water. There aren't a lot of women their age competing, so the two have to go up against younger competitors.

That hasn't kept them from finishing first, however.

In the World Championships in Montreal, Canada, last year, they won their age group and finished second out of 32 boats among younger masters rowers. Flanagan and Butler medalled in all three races they entered in the Master's Nationals in August in Virginia. The victories earned them respect among their male counterparts, Butler said.

The two have been rowing together for three years. A retired librarian who spent 10 years at the former Sacred Heart High School and 12 years at Oakland Catholic High School and Baldwin graduate, Flanagan has rowed for 14 years. Butler, a New Jersey native , joined the sport after moving to Pittsburgh 10 years ago.

"I wanted to be part of a team, because I never had that opportunity growing up," Butler said. "We had half court basketball when I was in high school. But now, it is OK for women to be in shape and have muscles and be on a sports team."

"There are a lot of older people who want to do more than just sit in a senior center," Flanagan said. "They want to play basketball and softball and row, and they should be able to do that."

Flanagan and Butler belong to Three Rivers Rowing Association on Washington's Landing. They, along with other women, men and young people enjoy the sport. Butler said the teenagers at the boat house have accepted she and Flanagan. The two want to be an example, so that young people can row into their later years. There is an 84-year-old woman in Philadelphia who still rows who is an inspiration for Flanagan and Butler who train at least five days a week.

Training sessions are serious, but that ends once the boat is out of the water.

"This is more than just rowing," said Flanagan, who handed out pamphlets at the first Head of the Ohio, but then was nervous the next year when she competed in it the first time. "It is about camaraderie and friendship and knowing someone is there for you."

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