HomeCherry Hill NewsCherry Hill rower undeterred by muscular atrophy

Cherry Hill rower undeterred by muscular atrophy

Fifteen-year-old Will Chernets is working hard to slow down the progression of his disease and is actively competing as a multi-sport athlete.

At the age of 3, Will Chernets was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that results in muscle weakness. At the age of 15, Chernets, a student at Cherry Hill High School East, is working hard to slow down the progression and is actively competing as a multi-sport athlete.

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On Saturday, Aug. 17, Chernets competed in the BAYADA Regatta for the second year in a row. The event is the oldest and largest all-adaptive regatta in the United States and takes place each year along the banks of the Schuylkill River. 

Spinal muscular atrophy is a neurodegenerative disorder, so as Chernets gets older, the disease is expected to get worse. He said a new drug has been helping him, but he’s also gotten involved in sports to try to help counteract the atrophy. 

An active participant at Pennsylvania Center for Adaptive Sports, Chernets competes in sled hockey, wheelchair basketball and cycles. Chernets was already actively involved with cycling when PCAS Executive Director Jeff McGinnis suggested that he might enjoy rowing, so he stopped by the Philadelphia Adaptive Rowing program one day. He gave rowing a try for the first time that day, and then, he kept coming back.

This is Chernets’ second season rowing, and he typically competes in the front seat position as part of a duo. He said he enjoys all of his sports for different reasons, but what he loves most about rowing – as compared to some of his other teams – is that it gets him outside. He said rowing is one of the more intense sports because once you start, you never stop moving. 

Chernets practices once a week for about two hours, and he said rowing works his shoulder muscles, a muscle group some of his other sports weren’t targeting. He said when competing in duos, you have to find someone who’s rowing style matches yours and try to get to know their style well. 

Athletes from around the country traveled to Philadelphia to compete last Saturday. Athletes were classified according to their physical or visual impairments and competed in events for novice, veteran and youth rowers. 

Chernets said he and his boatmate did pretty well in the competition, but his favorite part of the regatta was meeting people from around the country and learning about their experiences with their boathouses. 

Chernets’ mother, Olga Chernets, said, in her eyes, the greatest benefit of any adaptive sport is the feeling of belonging. She said it can be therapeutic to communicate with kids around the same age who are facing similar challenges and who are working through it, in part, by having fun competing. She’s glad they found Philadelphia Adaptive Rowing and for the experience of the regatta.

“People have this passion for rowing, and they’re able to come and experience that together [at the Regatta],” Olga said.

She said despite any of his physical conditions, at the end of the day, Chernets just wants to compete like everyone else, and she’s grateful that so many opportunities exist today for him to do just that. 





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