CREW 309: 40 breast cancer survivors celebrate recovery through rowing

Local News

EAST PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Raising awareness for breast cancer while giving women a place to come, exercise, and have a support group.

That’s exactly what Crew 309 is doing right here in central Illinois. CREW stands for ‘Cancer Recovery By Empowering Women.’

“Our mission is to provide those touched by breast cancer with an outlet for physical activity through the sport of rowing with their peers,” said CREW 309 President Kassie Williams. “What we know through science and research, women affected by breast cancer, if they’re involved in regular physical activity, at least 150 minutes per week that they reduce their rate of cancer recurrence.”

While COVID-19 threw a wrench in their plans, they’re still rowing on.

A team effort brought together by one common thing

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013,” said Crew 309 member Jennifer Helms.

“I am a breast cancer survivor as well,” said Crew 309 President Kassie Williams.

The group is made up of 40 women across the area who have survived breast cancer.

They’re now getting physical activity through the sport of rowing.

But COVID-19 is causing a delay on the women actually getting out on the water.

“We would’ve been putting boats in the water about the time COVID hit this area in early April. The recommendations are not to row in anything more than a single boat at this time,” Williams said.

Jennifer Helms said it’s just a bump in the road. Nothing her and her teammates can’t handle.

“We will be back on the water. We know there’s a boat, we know it’s waiting for us. We will become stronger,” Helms said.

Williams said the group is an affiliate of ‘Recovery on Water’ (ROW for short) based out of Chicago.

Now after two years, they’ve got the groundwork, and are their very own group.

Kassie said she’s proud to carry on the legacy of rowing in Peoria.

“The Water has not seen a rowing shell since the early 1900s. So to be able to get these women, especially breast cancer survivors, back on the Illinois River is so amazing,” she said.

Jennifer Helms said her family had no history of breast cancer, so she was surprised when she was diagnosed from a checkup at the doctor.

Now she has a message for other women out there.

“Get your mammograms, it does work,” Helms said.

The group now practices outdoors and socially-distanced in a garage at Carl Spindler Marina in East Peoria.

They have to practice in smaller groups due to the pandemic, but they’re hoping to get back out on the water early next year.

You can learn more about Crew 309 on their website launching soon,

You can learn more about them below.


Founded in 2007 and incorporated in 2008, Recovery On Water (ROW) began as a collaboration between Sue Ann Glaser, a breast cancer survivor, and Jenn Junk, a high school rowing coach. 10 years later, ROW Peoria has become the first national affiliate team of ROW, bringing the sport to breast cancer survivors in the Greater Peoria Area.


All members of our team have either received a diagnosis of breast cancer, or carry a high risk gene mutation like BRCA that increases the likelihood of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. These women have undergone surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of all three in attempts to treat/prevent their disease. Such treatments may leave patients with significant complications, including lymphedema, obesity, depression, and poor quality of life. Many studies demonstrate the beneficial effects of exercise on breast cancer survivors, showing significant reduction in depressive symptoms and fatigue, and improvements in lymphedema, bone mineral density, body mass index, quality of life, and most significantly, recurrence rates. BENEFITS OF ROWING

  • Efficient cardiac workout and strengthening
  • Full body muscular workout and strengthening
  • Increased flexibility and maximum range of motion
  • Efficient caloric output and weight control, important for those with mobility issues
  • Non-impact sport – not hard on joints
  • Emotions improve positively with increased endorphins from the exercise
  • Improved immune system with increased exercise
  • Improved memory and learning due to new cell creation
  • Inclusion and social interaction
  • Competition teaches teamwork and can benefit self-esteem
  • Social interaction improves by interacting with others, camaraderie, friendship
  • Independence and freedom

If you’re interested in getting involved, you can email them at

You can find them on Facebook here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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