The St. Pat’s Leprechaun Outlaw

After writing my blog post on Sunday it didn’t take long for me to realize that another St. Pat’s blog post would find its way out of me. I’m going to give it a try but I know it’s going to be near impossible to capture the day’s excitement and energy into words or photos.

ROW team members

The morning started early, with rowers from LPJ, ROW and CRU gathering to volunteer, race and cheer. Participants, family, friends, and fans lined up outside of the Frances K. Mennone and Bruce H. Smith floating boathouse.  Looking around, I saw people from every team in Chicago – smiling, happy to be a part of an event that was making history for Chicago’s green river. We were all together for two binding interests: we all hate cancer and we all love rowing.

The boats made their way out on the water, one boat at a time. Knowing that the river was going to be chaotic and busy, safety was a huge priority.  To be safe and ensure that each boat was carefully attended to, we decided that we would give each rowing boat a coaching launch. Some boats were full of team mates that knew each other while others were mixed boats. Everyone was smiling. Every regatta I’ve ever raced in or coached at has been full of stressful, chaotic energy, but not this race. All I can remember about the morning before races was all the shiny, happy people. After we got a few boats out, I decided to bring Liv out for her very first green river row. John Towner, the awesome photographer who has been shooting Row4ROW events, joined me in Liv. The boat was full of rainwater yet to be pumped and a full-grown adult male in the sleeping cabin shooting away – Liv was heavy!

As I rowed away from the dock, I passed–and later was passed by–some of the racing shells.  We cheered each other on as they warmed up on the course.  I stayed with them as best I could as we all made our way downtown in the warm morning air.  Skyscrapers began to line my peripheral view, along with cheering fans donned in St Pat’s green garb. I looked behind me to check in on the races and to guide my course.  Soon everyone was coming to a halt and being asked to turn around by the marine police.  I stopped Liv to see what was going on. I thought for a moment that they were just going to hold us at the bridge until the river was dyed, but they were asking all the boats to retreat. I stood up and looked around at all the fans, really overwhelming to take in.  As soon as I could, I started spinning Liv around.  One of the police boats started towards Liv. John and I got a bit panicked (only because I can’t move fast, and I’m in a fragile, fiberglass vessel that costs a lot of money).  I began rowing west because I thought the officer was trying to direct me back toward the boathouse. He came up to the boat and asked for my driver’s license, so I gave it to him.  He drove away, and without wanting to leave without my license, I stayed still, under the bridge, as the crowd began to cheer. Clearly this was a misunderstanding.  I wasn’t like the rowdy drunk crowd lining the riverbank…did he really think I was out there to cause trouble? Ten minutes later the police boat was out of sight so I asked another police officer to help me retrieve my license. He asked why they took it from me. John and I replied “We don’t know!” He called the other officer over the radio and then proceeded to ask me all about my “awesome boat”.   I shared the Row4ROW story with them and they began to cheer.

 The first officer then returned with my license and a ticket for “disorderly conduct”. The ticket reads that the fine could cost from $5 to $500, along with a May court date.  I was shocked, confused, and upset.  John and I read the ticket in disbelief. I asked the officer what I did wrong and if all the other boats were being ticketed. He shrugged at me and drove away. I know it was a misunderstanding, but it was still very upsetting. A game of telephone started back at the boathouse and rumors that I was arrested began to stir.  Since I was out there with the ticket, I figured I had better make the most of it. Why not row the entire trek of the river? John and I packed away the ticket and set out to show Chicago what Liv, Jenn Gibbons and Row4ROW were all about.

You never know who you are going to inspire by sharing your life and passion with the world. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’re going anywhere (especially when a police boat stops you to give you an entirely erroneous ticket…), and then you get an email like this:

“When I was downtown this last weekend I caught a glimpse of your very fascinating however unique boat. I snapped a quick picture because I was so intrigued not just by the boat however the website mentioned. In other words your publicity worked, the curiosity got the good of me. You lead a great cause, by making a great point regarding exercise and cancer. I have lost almost everyone in my family due to cancer with the exception of my mother, cancer is the curse of the family and we don’t tend to live healthy lifestyles. My girlfriend’s mother has suffered from breast cancer last year. I guess I never thought about it hard enough. After reading your cause I am inspired to lead a healthier life style to help reduce my chances of cancer. Thanks so much and good luck!”

With as silly as I looked Saturday (like a golden, sparkly leprechaun), I don’t think I can recall a time in my life that I’ve ever felt so beautiful, so strong, so meant to be exactly where I am in my life, doing what I’m doing, giving what I’m giving, sharing what I’m sharing. Never have I felt so empowered, inspired and incredibly alive. The crowd of thousands cheering “GO ROW!”, little girls waving to get my attention, learning about a strong, female superhero rowing a big yellow boat. I will never, ever forget that day. It will be in my heart and make me smile–and occasionally cry with overwhelming amounts of gratitude–forever.



2 comments on “The St. Pat’s Leprechaun Outlaw

  1. Jenn – I think, as a team, we should get together & fight this ticket on or before your court date. If you were engaging in “disorderly conduct,” then our other boats should have been ticketed as well. I can’t imagine that there’s a “boat size” criteria for disorderly conduct. Let’s fight it !!!!!!


  2. That photo of you perfectly captures the feeling and spirit of the day, and the letter from your newest fan brings tears to my eyes and makes me even more grateful that I found ROW. Thank you for all you do!!!