Judy Goldberg and I met during a United Way Fellowship program for Executive Directors in New York City in 2007. We sat together on the first day of the program (the group met monthly across 11 months) and chatted over sandwiches during lunch. We shared a love for sports and a desire to see more young women on the playing field, in the pool and on the water in boats.
During coffee breaks, Judy would update me on her projects at the Initiative for Women with Disabilities at NYU Langone Medical Center. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time so sometimes we talked about baby names. Always, we came back to the idea that it would be amazing to get young women from her program on the water with Row New York. To date, we had never served anyone with disabilities (physical or cognitive), but Judy, in her calm and confident way, re-assured me it could be done. Looking back, neither one of us was sure about the "how" but the desire was certainly there.
Over the next year, with Judy's help, Row New York's adaptive rowing program for people with disabilities was born. Our beginning was a modest one. We had hand-made equipment for transfers from dock to boat. We learned as we went. We read what we could online and built our own ramps for wheelchairs.
Judy accompanied her group of girls out to the boathouse with us that summer. They were game to be our first adaptive rowers on the water and Judy was right there with them. At the end of the summer, we huddled in her office at NYU where she served us sandwiches and cookies (she knew how much we rowers liked to eat) and she had a ten-page list of feedback for us. It went to show that Judy had high expectations of us, of her young women, and of her own staff and organization. Together, over the next six years, we grew and improved upon our rowing programs for people with disabilities. Today, these programs at Row New York serve over 250 individuals a year.
After the fellowship program ended, Judy and I worked closely together on the adaptive rowing piece, but we also became friends. She was so happy when Beatrice was born that summer of 2008 and always asked about how she was doing as a baby, a toddler, and now a kindergartner. I admired Judy as another Executive Director, as an athlete, as a mentor, as a friend, and certainly as a woman who had great goals and aspirations for other women, especially for women with disabilities. Certainly it is a cliché, but the world would be a better place with more Judith Goldbergs in it.
I was saddened to hear of Judy's passing last week. I keep wanting to pick up the phone to call Judy and check in, to talk about how we can make the adaptive rowing program better, to laugh about Bea and what a big girl she is now. I have lost a colleague and a friend and this city has lost a great leader. I hope others will continue to be inspired by her work and her vision for women with disabilities.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Kraus
This picture was taken in 2009 when Row New York was awarded IWD's Partnership Award. Judy had asked me to bring Bea along too.