Jose Pineda

Row Boston Alumni

Meet Jose

Jose Pineda knows how being the new kid feels. Because that’s what he was, over and over, until the day he learned about CRI and Row Boston.

“I came from Puerto Rico when I was five. We moved from staying with one family member to another, from apartment to apartment. I never had consistent friendships, never belonged to a team or club. I worked hard at school so my academic performance wouldn’t be a burden on my family, but when I was in middle school I got fed up. I focused less on my studies, and more on just trying to make connections. That was a dark time.”

But when he was fifteen, three CRI coaches visited Jose’s high school. They held an erg race--he came in second--and they talked about Row Boston, which gives Boston Public School students access not only to competitive rowing, but academic tutoring, personal and professional mentoring, and perhaps most importantly a supportive, caring community.

“Row Boston gave me a sense of belonging,” Jose says. “The first day, in the barges, I thought, ‘I don’t know’ but I came back and Sandra Cardillo was there. She helped everything make sense, and she spoke Spanish, so we could communicate that way if we needed to.”

 Jose’s mother wasn’t so sure about his rowing. “She was always working and said it was too far for her to come pick me up. But Row Boston provided transportation, which was huge so she said ‘okay, that’ll work’.”

Jose’s breakthrough came the day Coach Sandra was boating a four. “She said it would be the most committed, dedicated people, and I thought, ‘I’m definitely not going to be there.’ She read three names and I thought, ‘I knew it’ but then I heard mine. That changed my whole perspective. I thought, ‘okay, maybe I should put more effort into this’.”

 When Jose decides to make an effort, he is unstoppable. “In the four we pushed ourselves to be the best we could be. The varsity kids encouraged us, saying ‘stay with it, keep going’ and when I became varsity, I wanted to help novices just like I’d been helped.”

That meant being a role model, and Jose knew what to do. “My love for rowing would never have happened without Sandra. I will forever thank her for that. I wanted to motivate everyone, so I thought ... this is how Sandra would do it.” 

Row Boston became so important to Jose that when he got injured as a varsity rower, “I had an identity crisis. If I couldn’t row, who was I? What did I bring to the team? That was also when my mom became less supportive of my rowing, and wanted me to get a job.” But Jose’s natural energy and resourcefulness, along with what he’d learned as a student-athlete, helped him find a solution.

“I thought, I row at CRI, maybe I can work here. I started in the repair bay, then moved to the front desk, because that way I still had time for homework and to practice with the team. But being injured, all I did was ride in the launch. So I started helping Sandra by coxing the novices and working as a coxswain for corporate events. That brought in more money, so I could help my mom.”

“When I was injured,” he says, “it hurt so much not to row with everyone that sometimes I wanted to quit the team. I am so glad I stuck with it.” 

And Jose is still with CRI, well after graduating and going on to UMASS Dartmouth as a psychology major. He comes back now to work with and inspire the next generation of Row Boston students.

When Jose reflects on his Row Boston experience, he doesn’t just talk about rowing. “We learned to row but also about technical skills, networking, resumes, interviewing. I’m an RA at school now, and when I had my interview, I already knew what to do to get the job and be comfortable as a student leader.” Talking to Jose, it’s easy to picture him succeeding in any professional arena, along with other Row Boston students like him.

“I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t come to CRI,” he says, “I’m a different person. Maybe I'd have ended up being one of those kids who never finds their place. Row Boston gave me a sense of belonging… gave me my community.”

 Rowing changes lives? Look no further than Row Boston students like Jose, who arrive needing only the chance and encouragement to prove themselves, and soon are not only successful athletes, but on their way to becoming leaders in their professions and communities.

Ask Jose, and he might tell you that rowing doesn’t just change lives—it saves them.