How To Be Inspiring

A lot of people throw around the word “inspiring” when they talk to me or most recently talk about me in the news. I read a lot of blogs-and one I really like that my best friend Ally (read her blog post below!) got me started on is called Zenhabits. I read one this morning called “Be Inspired” and borrowed parts of it to write my own “How To Be Inspiring” mantra (with my thoughts mixed in) below.


Step one: Be thankful for the miracle that is your life.
Step two: Ask yourself-is this how I want to spend it?
Step three: Get going. Begin to create.

Please remember-that my journey didn’t start when I left Chicago Yacht Club on June 15. It began over two years ago when I started dreaming about a rowing trip. On day one it was just me-with my little idea, full of doubts. It’s been a roller coaster- and the ride is about to end. I feel lost. I feel happy. I feel sad. I know that I have to celebrate- but my mind keeps dreaming about the next adventure. I am thankful for this miracle, this life. This is exactly how I want to spend it. The adventures will continue and I will continue to create and share- for you and for me.

Step four: Pick yourself up and get back on the bike, the horse, the boat (whatever you’re doing) when shit happens. Because inevitably, it will.

Step five: Don’t let anyone take away your dream. It is yours. Protect it. Never forgot how important it is to you. Nothing will ever be as rewarding as the day you put that dream in focus, letting all the negativity and every obstacle become blurred around it. People who try to stop you don’t matter. Nothing else matters.

Dear Chicago:

You are all that I can see, you are all that I have on my heart and in my mind- and you have never looked so beautiful.

See you Tuesday morning.

Love, Jenn

Posted in Uncategorized by Jenn. 6 Comments

Looking Back, Looking Ahead: The Humble Beginnings of ROW

by Allyson Gaston

Jenn and I have been best friends since we met in our freshman year of health class at Lakeview High School. We both wore some fly denim overalls to gym class and made faces at each other across the classroom as we learned basic human anatomy. We went to different colleges, but ended up living together in Chicago, hosting dinner parties, practicing yoga, and caring for each other as we went through the challenges everyone goes through in the years after college. Through our adventures, we became incredibly close, finding comfort and seeking refuge in each other as we navigated new interests and endeavors.

Around the last year of college, I heard my gchat go off at work:

Jenn: “I think I want to start a rowing team for breast cancer survivors.”
Ally: “Really?! That’s an amazing idea!”
Jenn: “I have no idea how to start a business.”
Ally: “YOU CAN DO IT.”

And that’s was how all of this ROW amazingness began. At the time, Jenn had been living in Chicago and coaching St. Ignatius Crew, where she fell in love with teaching and coaching novice rowers.

I am not a member of the ROW team, but in volunteering for the group I have been able to connect with many of the amazing women who are on this team. I was one of the fortunate volunteers who helped plan the first fundraisers and who took photographs at the first water practices on Bubbly Creek. I was able to firsthand see the joy on the founding team members’ faces as they took there first pulls on a boat or because they felt a sense of accomplishment with their newfound love of rowing. Because of my friendship with Jenn, I was also able to experience her sense of accomplishment and joy in providing this opportunity for the women. Many volunteers contribute to ROW’s success, but it is their fearless, headstrong coach, Jenn, who has shared this experience with me.

ROW is the product of committed, passionate people coming together to provide support to a group of individuals that we can all relate to. Everyone knows someone who has battled a form of cancer, or has lost that battle to cancer.  People from all over Chicago – and now, the greater Midwest —want to give time, money, in-kind support, or general enthusiasm for the mission. It’s natural that people want to give to this cause—fighting cancer. We want to be supportive of people who are facing their life challenges head-on, and state in the most fearless of voices, “…this is my life.”

When ROW was just an idea, Jenn discovered a breast cancer survivor who was on the hunt for a row team. This woman, Sue Ann, is Co-Founder of ROW and sits on the board. She was the key to the network of survivors that formed the initial team of one or two boats. This group of women, along with a number of volunteers, planned practices indoors and on the river. They helped Jenn plan fundraisers at art galleries and ergathons at gyms. There are the St. Ignatius High School and college student volunteers, who have spent hours assisting and learning from their former coaches, and lifting boats for the ROW women; or who sat with a cancer survivor at her first practice and shared how powerful she felt in the water. This community of people who believe in the mission of ROW have all played a role in the development of this movement.

It wasn’t a surprise when a couple of years ago, my gchat went off again:

Jenn: “Ally, I think I want to row across the ocean.”
Ally: “WHAAAAAT?!”

This is how this trip around the lake began. Jenn has worked tirelessly to build a team, secure partnerships, seek out mentors, develop a board of leaders, find committed coaches, secure facilities, and fundraise. But even in that whirlwind of activity, Jenn needed yet another incredible challenge and imagined rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. As you all know, the idea evolved into a trip around Lake Michigan, a feat that has not been attempted before. It is also a decision that illuminates the grassroots nature of the Recovery on Water team. When Jenn and the Row4Row team started planning this trip, old friends and volunteers all around the Midwest stepped out to be a part of it. The trip is monumental for her as an athlete and as the leader of ROW.

This is just the beginning of what Recovery on Water will be for survivors. Jenn refuses to let the most challenging of circumstances deter her from finishing this trip. Instead, she looks head-on, and says, “I’ve got this…this is my life.” To all of her friends and supporters: continue to rally, send words of encouragement, and donate. Continue to send those positive vibes so that we can welcome her home soon. I, for one, am thrilled to see what greatness is yet to come from Recovery on Water.

I can hear my gchat now:

Jenn: “So I was thinking…”
Ally: “GO FOR IT!”

Posted in Feature by Brenda. 5 Comments

Go, Jenn Go!

by Kenna McDonald

I first met Jenn while she was a receptionist at my former employer. I was still new to the company, and of all the receptionists, she seemed the most friendly. I remember noting in my mind that she seemed like someone I’d like to know better.

Lucky for me, she was quickly promoted to a position that was seated in the cubicle next to me. We became instant friends, chatting often and eventually becoming lunch buddies. Jenn and I sat staring at our computer screens each day sharing how
we both felt we were equipped to do something completely different with our lives than sit in a corporate office, wasting the time away doing something we didn’t love. It was there that Jenn started to dream up Recovery on Water. Somehow, she weaseled her way into having me help with the early stage finances of the organization.

I’m glad she asked for my help. Through Jenn, I was able to meet the amazing women that started ROW, and I was giving back to an organization that meant a lot to Jenn and the members of her team. She inspired me and so many others to take
part in ROW. Soon, Jenn quit her corporate job and was growing ROW in ways only someone like Jenn could.

While working as Treasurer for ROW, I quickly learned that Jenn is the type of person that says “yes” to everything and then figures out the “how” later. This went against my accountant-like operating style, and during the time that I served as Treasurer for ROW, it was a frustration for me. Where I am pessimistic, Jenn is always enthusiastic. Where I am methodical, Jenn is spontaneous. I am cautious. Jenn is an adventurer. Jenn’s affirmative attitude and passion drove the organization to grow better than any bean-counter like me could ever dream. Her figure-out-the-details-later style landed her in the seat of an ocean-rowing vessel, taking on Lake Michigan to raise money for her cause.

So, when Jenn decided to continue her journey via bike, despite the most ominous obstacles, I decided to finally throw caution to the wind. In a moment of “Jenn,” I committed to biking a day with her and figuring out the “how” later. I borrowed a bike from a friend, donned my husband’s bike shorts (ack – somehow they fit!), and showed up at Jenn’s camp on Saturday morning.

Despite the early hour and all that had transpired since the attack, Jenn was her same-old, beautiful, shiny self. She greeted me warmly, and made me feel so at ease with the day’s miles ahead. Once again, Jenn was putting others before herself.

The 75-mile ride around the Leelanau Peninsula was long, picturesque, and fun. Jenn and her entourage made for a motley crew of humorous and fit bikers. Jenn was like our Forrest Gump. Wherever she was going….she was riding! Jenn’s attitude toward another day of riding was amazing to me (my ‘undercarriage’ was less than enthusiastic after the first set of miles). “How does she do it?” I asked myself throughout the day. While climbing up hills or getting on the bike again after a break, I’d remind myself that if Jenn can do six consecutive days of biking (not to mention re-join Liv and row the rest of the way to Chicago), I surely should be able to endure one day. Once we arrived at our destination in Glen Arbor, MI, I was rewarded with some quality time with good ol’ Jenn. I hadn’t seen Jenn in months, but despite all that she had been through since the last time I saw her, she was her lovely, smiling, energetic self. While juggling press calls, logistics, and the aftermath of a sexual assault, Jenn was bubbly, fun, and inspiring. Jenn made the initial commitment to take on the perimeter of Lake Michigan. After a sexual assault, she decided to continue via bike. There’s even talk of her writing a book about her story. Do I think she’s nuts? Yes, my risk-averse self thinks she’s wild, but my inner goddess is jealous and wants to grow up and be like Jenn. Jenn has a unique attitude that nothing can or ever will hold her back. She’s my real-life Forrest Gump.

Never did I doubt, while we were staring blankly into computer screens back in that Chicago corporate office, or now while she returns to Lake Michigan and Liv, that Jenn would make good of it all. Go Jenn, Go!

Posted in Feature by Brenda. 4 Comments