Success-Bound, Stroke by Stroke

A woman wearing a RowLA t-shirt talks with a younger woman
George Simian
Liz Attardo Greenberger ’74

Êtes-vous prêts? Partez!” The French command that starts a rowing race means “Are you ready? Go!” It’s with this spirit that Liz Attardo Greenberger ’74, founding director of RowLA, promotes rowing as a way for inner-city girls to spring toward their potential.

Since RowLA was launched 10 years ago in Marina del Rey, California, some 250 attendees have gone on to college. “A lot of these young women come from backgrounds in which there are not high expectations, academically or athletically,” Greenberger says. “We try to change that completely and encourage them to reach beyond what they think is possible.”

Graceful and exhilarating, rowing requires hard work, self-discipline, a commitment to teammates and the ability to dig deep within yourself for something extra. The 18 teenagers on the RowLA varsity and junior varsity crews practice after school and on weekend mornings, three hours a day, six days a week. Another 18 seventh and eighth graders practice on weekends. Races are held year-round. RowLA also takes rowing machines into school gym classes, introducing 4,000 kids to rowing annually.

Girls whose families can afford the RowLA tuition are charged the full $1,500 each semester. Those of lesser means are eligible for scholarships that can reduce their tuition to as little as $200 for the year.

Greenberger grew up in Waltham. Two of her siblings — Loretta ’70 and Francis Attardo ’77 — also attended Brandeis. Rowing wasn’t offered as a sport when Greenberger arrived on campus, so she fenced a bit, and because she and roommate Margot Kempers ’74 had been high-school gymnasts, they were recruited to dive for the swimming and diving team.

Following graduation, Greenberger attended Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and worked for a time as an analyst on the Middle East desk at the National Security Council. After she and husband Martin, a technical and information systems professor at UCLA, moved to California, they developed a program, Tech for Success, to promote computer use by schoolchildren in underserved communities, earning a Humanitarian Award from the city of Santa Monica in 2014.

When the youngest of her three children joined a rowing program, Greenberger was motivated to learn the sport. Because of her diminutive stature, she was tapped as a coxswain for masters women rowers (age 27 and up). She also took up sculling.

The idea for RowLA grew when she and her teammates pondered their sport’s inequities. “We asked ourselves, ‘Why isn’t this available to inner-city girls? Why is it available only to kids whose parents can afford a large tuition?’” she says. “We decided to make a difference.”

RowLA alumna Andrea Lo is now a junior at MIT. She says her coxswain’s training helped her become a better leader: “I learned to put myself in other people’s shoes and understand how to motivate them to succeed.”

Fellow alumna Johanna Rhyner is a sophomore at Northeastern. “Rowing is not an easy sport,” she says. “Success requires that every single person on the team has complete faith in each other to perform to their highest potential. So RowLA is about rowing, but, more than that, it’s about the team supporting each other, on and off the water.”

Greenberger offers simple advice to young women, on the water or at Brandeis. “Keep seeking opportunities,” she says. “Never feel like ‘that’s not for me, that’s beyond me.’ Reach for what you think is possible. You’ll be amazed at where you can go.”

— Mark Sullivan