Margharita Amihava moved with her family from Belarus to the United States when she was 4. "My parents were looking for a better life and more opportunities," she said.
Amihava, now 18 and a student at Central High School, recently realized one of her parents' dreams when she earned a scholarship to study biology and row at Drexel.
Philadelphia City Rowing, established six years ago, has played a huge role in Amihava's development in the sport. It gives students from city public and charter schools that do not have rowing programs the chance to compete on the water.
PCR, with about 80 members, has seven boats entered in the 90th annual Stotesbury Cup Regatta. One of its highlights under sunny skies Friday on the Schuylkill was a fourth-place showing in the girls' junior eight in 5 minutes, 10.60 seconds.
"That's great, especially since they haven't rowed a whole lot together," said Terry Dougherty, PCR's executive director.
Veteran rower and local philanthropist Tony Schneider is PCR's co-founder and board chairman. "He's a big believer in positive youth development," Dougherty said.
PCR has an indoor practice facility at 27th and Girard, with 40 rowing machines, a small weight room and a study area with five computers.
In addition to Central, PCR's members come from Girls High, Masterman, Palumbo Academy, and Science Leadership Academy, among others. Twenty-two of the city's public and charter schools are represented.
Dougherty said that Stotesbury, the world's oldest and largest high school scholastic event, is this year "reviewing the definition of 'scholastic' to allow us to row as PCR." Previously, a PCR boat had to be made up of student-athletes from the same school.
On Friday, the PCR girls' senior four was made up of Central's Amihava and Hannah Boroff, Masterman's Hana Pearlman and Calla Bush, and String Theory's Nina Sponheimer. All but Sponheimer, a junior coxswain, are seniors and four-year varsity members.
Pearlman, who will study math at Penn, first learned about PCR at an activities fair.
"It was intriguing to me because it was a team sport and open to beginners," the 18-year-old said. "And when it comes to other sports, I'm not good at throwing or catching a ball."
PCR, with five coaches, has a boat yard right next door to Lloyd Hall on Kelly Drive. With no covering, the boys and girls (the girls account for about 65 percent of the membership) place their book bags in bins. Could a sheltered home be in the offing?
Said Dougherty: "Mayor Kenney stopped by earlier this month and he said, 'We have to find a way to put a roof over your heads.' "
In qualifying for Saturday's semifinals at Stotesbury, the PCR girls' junior eight finished behind Holy Spirit (5:04.98), Mount St. Joseph (5:09.19), and New York's Niskayuna (5:09.47).
St. Joseph's Prep (3rd in 4:27.57), La Salle (5th, 4:30.17), St. Augustine (12th, 4:36.52), and Ocean City (14th, 4:37.17) advanced in the boys' senior eight.