OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A man with a motivational message is inspiring Oklahoma teens to take up a sport they may have never thought about before – rowing.
Arshay Cooper travels the globe, inspiring kids of color to join a rowing team to experience everything from comradery to a full college scholarship.
“We don’t know what kids are going through at home, and sometimes they go to school and everyone is stressed, and they need that outlet,” Cooper said.
Cooper grew up in Chicago’s gang-filled West side in the 90’s, with no father and a drug-addicted mother.
The sound of gunshots kept him awake at night – and stole the lives of loved ones.
As a teen, he found his escape from the violent, loud, concrete streets, through the soothing sound of water, when he joined the country’s first all-Black high school rowing team.
Cooper went on to college, became a rowing coach, and now offers hope to kids worldwide.
His travels recently included a trip to the Chesapeake Boathouse in Oklahoma City, to encourage kids in under-resourced communities to take up the sport that he says saved his life.
“If I could go back and tell my 14-year-old self anything, it would be, ‘You don’t have to fight alone. Your anxieties, your fears, your doubts, your depression,’ because rowing teaches you to work with others, talk to others, share with others and do it together,” Cooper said.
While at the Chesapeake Boathouse, Cooper trained with students from Douglass High School’s brand new rowing team.
Teens can sign up here to join a middle school or high school team with OKC Riversport. No experience is necessary.
“Because of the college opportunities, because they get a chance to learn how to swim, higher education opportunities, and also to be able to travel, also interact with kids from different schools, also interact with kids who don’t look like them, and give them a full scope of what the world looks like,” Cooper said.
Cooper leads “A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund,” which, in part, recruits teen rowers, then introduces them to college coaches for scholarship opportunities. He put his story of hardship and hope onto pages, authoring an award-winning book titled A Most Beautiful Thing. The book has also been turned into a film with the same name, which can be streamed on Peacock, Amazon Prime and Xfinity.