In 2024, Lawhill and the Cape Coastal Rowing Club (CCRC) will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Lawhill/CCRC “Learn to Row” programme.

The programme has grown from strength to strength over the years, with Lawhill providing the enthusiastic rowers and CCRC members volunteering as coaches and providing their personal boats for use by Lawhill students.

While the sport of rowing was new to all our students, they took to the sport like a ”duck to water” and the number of rowers soon grew to a point were we urgently needed to acquire new boats.

Funds to purchase two second hand boats were generously provided by the  National Lotteries Commission and in 2023, celebrated American rower, Arshay Cooper, and Concept2, donated six indoor rowing machines to assist with training, especially during stormy winter days.

The Moller family in Canada also provided a most generous cash donation which have helped grow the rowing programme even further.

The sport of rowing is about more than being on the water – it’s a sport of wellness and a sport of meditation which helps students deal with the challenges they face.

in the words of Arshay Cooper,

 When we were on the water, we were in a place where we could not hear the sound of sirens or bullets and that allowed us to shape a different vision for ourselves, of who and what we could become. And that was a most beautiful thing,’ [Arshay Cooper.]

Please visit our Lawhill Youtube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/@lawhillmaritimecentre1995/videos – to see how the difference this funding support has made  .. our channel includes a number of MUST WATCH VIDEOs, including a:

  • Video of the CCRC rowing programme
  • Video on our maritime sports programme, which includes rowing
  • Video of the highlights of Arshay Cooper’s visit to South Africa
  • Video of the Concept2 RowErg donation
  • Video of Thobeka Mavundla, one of our rowers, who joined Arshay Cooper for a Summer Camp in the USA in July 2023

Lawhill welcomes any further financial support for this programme.  Please email info@lawhill.org


Scroll down to read more…


A MOST BEAUTIFUL THING is the inspirational story about a sport that takes four young men from the mean streets of Chicago, to the hallowed halls of the Ivy League, and in doing so, forever changes their lives – and the sport – for the better.

Arshay Cooper grew up on the West Side of Chicago in a community surrounded by gangs in drugs.  In 1997 he joined (and later became captain of) America’s first All-Black high school rowing team.

He is a best-selling author and the protagonist of the award-winning film, A MOST BEAUTIFUL THING, which is currently in development for a scripted TV series on Amazon. A MOST BEAUTIFUL THING has won several international awards and was named one of the best films of 2020 by Esquire.  (Scroll down for more info)

Only 100 tickets were made available for a special screening of the movie at the Labia Theatre on Thursday 25 May 2023 and only 60 tickets for his talk a the Royal Cape Yacht Club on Wednesday 24 May.  

All proceeds from the movie screening were used in support of the Lawhill Rowing programme.   (Scroll down for more information on the programme and a short video).  

MEDIA ENQUIRIES: See below for the OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE for this visit.   Arshay Cooper was accompanied by top American Rowing Coach, Kevin Harris.  Click here to read Harris’ impressive rowing CV.

Please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @LawhillMaritime for more details on this event.


To Delta Air Lines for sponsoring three free flights for the Arshay Cooper visit to South Africa.

To Concept2, who will be donating six new RowErgs to our CCRC Learn to Row programme.  Concept2’s Indoor Rower is the world’s best-selling rowing machine and is used every day by Olympic athletes, cardiac rehab patients, individuals at home and every calibre of rower in-between. (Read more on www.concept2.com).

To Marine Inspirations for covering local costs related to the visit. 

To Mariners Guest House in Simon’s Town for sponsoring accommodation costs for Arshay Cooper and offering special rates for the rest of his entourage.


 CCRC LEARN TO ROW programme video



Celebrated rower and author of A Most Beautiful Thing to raise funds for SA youth

 When we were on the water, we were in a place where we could not hear the sound of sirens or bullets and that allowed us to shape a different vision for ourselves, of who and what we could become. And that was a most beautiful thing,’ [Arshay Cooper.]

Celebrated rower and award-winning American author, Arshay Cooper will be visiting Cape Town at the end of May to raise funds and share his inspirational story of how an impulsive decision to join a rowing team at high school, helped to transform his and others lives, for the better.

Cooper is the bestselling and award-winning author of ‘A Most Beautiful Thing’. He is also a Golden Oar recipient twice over and has received America’s National Recreational Award for his contribution to youth sports.

While in Cape Town, Cooper will help raise awareness for rowing, as an inclusive sport, as well as fundraise for the Lawhill Maritime Centre’s ‘CCRC Learn to Row’ programme. Many of Lawhill’s student rowers are drawn from underserved communities affected by gangsterism and poverty.

Cooper’s visit will also include the once-off, special screening of the movie, A Most Beautiful Thing.  Details and tickets for the movie screening as well as talks – which take place on May 24 and 25 – are available via Webtickets (https://www.webtickets.co.za/v2/Event.aspx?itemid=1528743931)

From Ganglands to the Ivy League – A Most Beautiful Thing

Growing up on Chicago’s Westside in the 90s, Cooper experienced the harder side of life. The street corners were full of gangs, his mother was a recovering addict and his three siblings all slept in a one room apartment, a small infantry against the war zone on the street below.

In 1997 he noticed a boat and a poster in the school’s lunchroom which read: “Join the Crew Team”.  Having no idea what the sport of crew was, Cooper decided to take a chance and sign up. This decision changed his life and those of his fellow teammates.

As they began to come together to learn how to row – many never having been in water before – the sport took them from the mean streets of Chicago to the hallowed halls of the Ivy League. But they faced adversity at every turn, from racism, gang violence and a sport that had never seen anyone like them before.

Cooper later captained America’s first all-black high school rowing team and has since helped establish various rowing programmes for low-income youngsters across the United States so that they too, can experience the tremendous change that can occur on the water.

‘In rowing, you move forward by looking in the opposite direction. I learned that it’s ok to look back, as long as you keep pushing forward,’ says Cooper.

Cooper is the protagonist of the award-winning film, ‘A Most Beautiful Thing’ and a special premier screening of the film, hosted by maritime mentoring organisation, Marine Inspirations, will help raise funds for the Lawhill/CCRC Learn to Row programme.

The film regales the inspiring story of a sport that took Cooper and his fellow rowers from the harsh neighbourhoods of Chicago onto the water, forever changing their lives and the sport.

Changing lives

According to Faye Kula, Lawhill Programme Administrator, ‘We are thrilled that Mr Cooper is coming to Cape Town to share his story, to inspire our learners and to help promote rowing, not just as a sport but as a catalyst for change.

‘Student interest in rowing has grown and additional rowing equipment and boats will allow more of our youth to participate in a sport which is becoming increasingly accessible to persons of all ages, genders and social backgrounds.’

But rowing is more than a sport.  It also serves as an ‘’on water’’ classroom for students studying Marine and Nautical Sciences from Grades 10 to 12 and supports the development of soft skills – such as teamwork, discipline, perseverance and punctuality – which are highly sought after by companies who employ Lawhill’s maritime students post-matric.

‘We are most grateful to Mr Cooper for his enthusiastic support of our fledgling rowing programme, as well as those who have supported his visit: 50Eggs Production for granting permission to screen the movie; Delta Air Lines for sponsoring flights* and Concept2 for donating six ‘rowergs’ and other equipment to our programme.”

About Lawhill and the CCRC Rowing Programme.

For the past 28 years, the donor-funded Lawhill Maritime Centre at Simon’s Town School has provided a maritime studies programme to learners in their final three years of senior school.  The programme is aimed at reducing youth unemployment and poverty, while also supporting racial transformation in the high-potential maritime sector.

The award-winning maritime studies programme, unique in Africa, prepares young people for employment in the international maritime industry. The programme promotes several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those relating to better education, reduced disparities, poverty reduction, decent jobs and economic growth.

The Cape Coastal Rowing Club (CCRC) introduced the ‘Learn to Row’ programme at Lawhill in 2015 as a beyond-the-classroom addition to the in-class academic programme.  The aim: To provide practical skills, experience and knowledge and to experience the ocean first-hand.

Weekly rowing training and mentoring is provided by CCRC members, who work as volunteers and use their private rowing boats and rowing equipment, as well as two boats bought with funds donated by the National Lotteries Commission (NLC).

For more information, visit www.lawhill.org or www.ashleycooper.com


(*-Delta Air Lines operates daily non-stop flights (on an A350 aircraft) from Atlanta to both Cape Town and Johannesburg).


About Arshay Cooper:

  • Arshay Cooper is a Rower, Bestselling and Award-winning Author and a 2x Golden Oar recipient and a National Recreational Award recipient for his contribution to youth sports. He is a popular motivational speaker and activist.
  • In 1997, Arshay joined (and later became captain of) the country’s first All-Black high school rowing team at Manley High School. He has shared his powerful story with a broad audience, including some of the world’s top companies (including Microsoft and Starbucks, amongst others) where he has hosted conversations around the film, digging into access and opportunity and the importance of bringing people together.  He has spoken to universities and schools across the USA.
  • Arshay has also helped start several rowing programs for low-income youth across the country, anywhere a puddle of water exists, so that other young people can experience the profound change that can happen on the water.
  • Arshay Cooper and his work have been featured in Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times, Today Show, NBC Nightly News, BBC, Men’s Health, Sports Illustrated, Hollywood Reporter, Chicago Tribune and many others.






Available from Exclusive Books:


Growing up on Chicago’s Westside in the 90’s, Arshay Cooper knows the harder side of life. The street corners are full of gangs, the hallways of his apartment complex are haunted by junkies he calls “zombies” with strung out arms, clutching at him as he passes by. His mother is a recovering addict, and his three siblings all sleep in a one room apartment, a small infantry against the war zone on the street below.

Arshay keeps to himself, preferring to write poetry about the girl he has a crush on, and spends his school days in the home-ec kitchen dreaming of becoming a chef. And then one day as he’s walking out of school he notices boats lined up on the floor of the gymnasium, and a poster that reads “Join the Crew Team”. Arshay, having no idea what the sport of crew is, decides to take a chance.

This decision to join is one that will forever change his life, and those of his fellow teammates.

As Arshay and his teammates begin to come together, learning not only how to row, many never having been in water before, the sport takes them from the mean streets of Chicago, to the hallowed halls of the Ivy League. But Arshay and his teammates face adversity at every turn, from racism, gang violence, and a sport that has never seen anyone like them before.


  1. To raise funds for the Lawhill Rowing Programme – see details below
  2. To raise awareness for the sport of rowing in underserved communities in South Africa, particularly those affected by gangsterism and poverty, and in doing support a more inclusive sport and change young lives for the better.

The Lawhill Maritime Centre’s has for the past 28 years, offered a maritime studies programme aimed at reducing youth unemployment and poverty and supporting racial transformation in the high potential maritime sector.

The award-winning program – which unique in Africa – prepares young people for employment in the international maritime industry and does so in their last three years of compulsory senior schooling.  The programme supports several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those of quality education, reduced inequalities, poverty reduction, decent work and economic growth.


The LEARN TO ROW program at Lawhill was introduced in 2015 by the Cape Coastal Rowing Club (CCRC) and is an important ‘beyond the classroom’ addition to the Lawhill’s ‘in-class’ academic program as it provides practical skills and knowledge and helps to strengthen the skill set of the youth via mentoring and coaching.

Experiencing the ocean first hand also gives young people the opportunity to learn about and gain a respect for the oceans environment.

The beneficiaries of the CCRC programme are Grade 10-12 learners who are drawn from under-served communities in townships/ghettos and rural areas and live at the Centre as part of their enrolment in the program.

The CCRC rowing instruction and mentoring takes place weekly, on Friday afternoon and Saturday mornings. To date, the CCRC members, who work as volunteers, have made their private rowing boats and rowing equipment available for use by our students.

Growing learner interest in the sport combined with increased demand from industry for young people to be better prepared for post-school employment and for them to have the requisite soft skills of discipline, perseverance, punctuality etc – all which are taught via a sport such as rowing.

This has resulted in an urgent need to expand our program by purchasing our own rowing boats, erg machines and equipment as this would allow more students to benefit from the valuable life and sporting skills offered via the CCRC Learn to Row program.

The aim of the Learn to Row program is to make rowing accessible to those from underserved, poverty-stricken communities and to holistically develop the youngsters and to give them the skills they need to succeed in life.

The CCRC rowing development program holds the following advantages:

  • Teaches water safety and respect for the sea.
  • Teaches discipline, punctuality, camaraderie and teamwork
  • Rowing promotes physical and mental fitness.
  • Mutual gender respect through training with mentor and together in crews
  • Increases maritime knowledge; Learners are exposed to the elements, and learn weather patterns and basic meteorology.

Rowing is an inclusive sport which supports social cohesion and nation building as it is open to all ages, genders and social backgrounds.   The Lawhill students in the CCRC program gain socializing, networking and sporting skills via the program and by competing in regattas.

These interactions boost students’ self-confidence and facilitates their personal growth, which ultimately increases their chances of finding post-school employment and future success. Professional employment recruiters, including SAMTRA (The South African Maritime Training Academy), and international shipping lines such as Maersk and MSC look for these characteristics in potential employees.

The rowing program is supported by 2012 Olympic Gold Medallist, Sizwe Ndlovo, who is the Lawhill Rowing Ambassador. We also have the support of leading organisations active in the maritime sector.

As a 100 percent donor funded organization, the STS Lawhill Maritime Centre, via our funding arm, the Lawhill Maritime Educational Trust, would greatly appreciate your support for Mr Cooper’s visit to South Africa.

Our goal, with the visit, is not only to change the lives of at-risk youth by having Mr Cooper share his powerful and inspiring personal story, but we are hoping that we will have the opportunity to raise  funds that will strengthen our rowing programme eg through the purchase of sea quad rowing boats.

These will be used to grow our youths’ potential and better many lives.

Email info@lawhill.org for more details.