Theresa Welsh

CRI Competitive Women Team Co-Captain

It was 2002 and Theresa Welsh knew something wasn’t right. She hadn’t felt well for days and was having balance and coordination problems. “I was only 39 and thought, what could possibly be wrong with me?” Finally she drove herself to Mt. Auburn Hospital, and “right there I had a massive stroke.

Fell on my face, broke my nose, lost all my left-side function. I was in the hospital for weeks, rehab for months, couldn’t walk for half a year. The doctors told me I’d probably end up in a wheelchair permanently.”

Instead, Theresa ended up at CRI. One day four years after I began exercising again, my neighbor showed me a CRI flyer and asked me to take a rowing class with her. I’d rowed in my twenties and thirties, quit when I got pregnant, and hadn’t started again though I’d planned to. After the stroke I was happy I could move, let alone row, but my neighbor persuaded me. I thought “if I can learn to walk again, I can learn to row again.”

Theresa not only relearned rowing, but pursued it with her characteristic drive and passion. “I did everything--novice, GS1, GS2, sculling. In 2016 I tried out for the comp team, and when I learned I’d made it, I remember thinking, ‘this is amazing, how can this be happening?’ But that’s CRI—I had a goal I wanted to achieve, and CRI helped me get there.”

What Theresa didn’t know was that another major medical ordeal lay ahead.

A month after the tryouts, I got diagnosed with stage 3 malignant melanoma. I come from a big Irish-Italian family and my parents taught us to always keep a sense of humor. I told my doctor, “I’ve had a stroke, this is child’s play.” She said “look, this is serious,” and she was right. Because of the treatment I lost muscle in my forearm, even more so in my leg, and I was back in a wheelchair all summer. But my parents also taught me perseverance, so later that summer I rowed a four at Nationals in Worcester. If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan, but never the goal. That’s my motto, and I live by it.”

It was during her cancer that Theresa really learned how supportive the CRI community could be. “It always chokes me up,” she says, “I’d barely gotten to know them, and no questions asked, they were there for me. They wore melanoma bands and dyed their hair red, and last fall, when as a follow-up I had to have an operation on my foot, they delivered my meals, did all my errands, drove me to every doctor’s appointment. I just cannot say enough about this amazing group of women.”

Today Theresa rows, races and is committed to giving back to CRI. “I have so much gratitude, and the wonderful thing about CRI is all the opportunities to volunteer. I’ve helped with adaptive, the amazing kids under 23 who have intellectual disabilities, and the military rowers. I’m captain of my team now, and after tryouts I reach out to the people we have to cut. I tell them “come work out with us, join us on the days we don’t practice. You don’t have to be on the team to be part of the group.”

CRI gave strength and support to Theresa during trials that might have made many give up on life, not to mention rowing. Along the way, she’s become a source of energy and inspiration both around the boathouse and beyond it.

At work, people ask how I stay so calm. I’m like, I’ve had a stroke and cancer, this is nothing. And I tell them they should start rowing.” Coming from Theresa Welsh, cancer and stroke survivor and a powerful example of how rowing changes lives, that is advice worth following.