Spending her Mother’s Day at the Atlantic County Rowing Championships is exactly where Lee Ann Dragovits wants to be, even in the pouring rain this year.
For the mother of two St. Augustine Prep boys crew members, this Mother’s Day marks 18 years since her oldest son, Christopher, was discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit after he was born 12 weeks premature.
“This race is really special to me,” Dragovits said. “It’s a great event, it’s really geared toward moms. This is Mother’s Day to me now — I’m going to miss it when they graduate.”
Dragovits also said Mother’s Day is an important day for Christopher because every year at counties he is reunited with Carrie Edwards, the nurse who cared for him in the NICU.
“It’s special to him to because the nurse-practitioner who discharged him on Mother’s Day for me puts his medal on him each year he wins a medal,” Dragovits said.
Edwards has stayed in touch with the family since Christopher was born. She said she looks forward to seeing him each year.
“This is big for me — this is the last time I get to put a medal around his neck,” Edwards said.
Christopher, a senior lightweight who will row for Duquesne University next year, also looks forward to seeing Edwards.
“It’s really humbling seeing someone who helped you out still helping you,” he said.
Edwards is on the board for both the Atlantic County Rowing Association and the Southern New Jersey Scholastic Rowing Association and helped start the county races in 2005.
“I just feel like a lot of these kids are my kids,” she said.
Crew mothers like Dragovits say they’re not sacrificing their Mother Day’s — they’re doing what mothers do best, supporting their children.
Melissa Knoff, president of the Holy Spirit High School crew booster club, helped set up the team’s food tent at 7 a.m., getting ready to watch her daughter Mollie, a sophomore, compete in the varsity eight contest later in the day.
“I couldn’t think of a better place to spend Mother’s Day, just watching her do what she loves,” Knoff said. “I enjoy it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You do it to ensure that your kids have the experience that they deserve.”
Knoff was able to put a gold medal around her daughter’s neck after Spirit won the varsity eight contest and Tamara Haney was able to do the same for her daughter Fauve, who won the girls single contest.
Haney was busy at the race working at the Atlantic City tent as a member of the parent association and selling T-shirts for the event. Even though she was running back and forth, she said she wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
“It’s very special because I get to see my daughter row firsthand,” Haney said. “We work very hard and it’s worth it in the end because we make it special for our rowers and their families.”
At the Ocean City tent, the mothers got the day off, so Jennifer Cooper was grateful for the chance to watch her daughter Sofia compete in the varsity eight category.
“This is exactly where we’re supposed to be, so we’re concentrating on the kids and their accomplishments,” Cooper said. “This is better than brunch at a restaurant.”
Looking back on their four years supporting their daughters, the mothers of Egg Harbor Township seniors Mary Hewitt, Jessica Salerno, Patty Hendricks, Tracie Ferra and Amy Diggins said they have gotten used to spending Mother’s Day at Lake Lenape.
“I can’t imagine any other Mother’s Day. This has been my Mother’s Day for four years and its going to be strange not standing by the water,” Salerno said.
“It’s bittersweet because its so exciting,” Ferra said “It’s a family sport and we’ve become a family.”
With her son, Liam, just starting out as a freshman, Mainland Regional High School mom Lynnett Schroeder said she already sees why her day at counties is both a celebration and a continuation of her work as a mother.
”I think it falls into the mother territory. You do what you need to do for your kids.” she said.