How Pearl Outlaw Found Purpose Through Rowing

It was only after being introduced to rowing that Outlaw was finally able to accept her vision loss.

There’s something about getting in a boat, being on the water and feeling in control that can only be
described through personal experience.

Pearl Outlaw has known that feeling since she first discovered rowing in high school. A native of
Charlottesville, Virginia, Outlaw moved to Portland, Oregon after recently graduating from Ithaca
College. Rowing has given her a sense of purpose, something she had been looking for ever since being
diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at age 9. Since RP causes a gradual decline in vision, Outlaw hid her
eye condition for several years.

“Up until I was 16, I wanted to not tell anybody about it,” recalled Outlaw, who is completely blind
except for light perception. “I was the only blind person in my whole school and my whole town. The
people I did meet and try to connect with, I just felt so different than they were.”
Outlaw attended an Easter Seals Camp for people with visual impairments. While she enjoyed it, the
camp lasted for only a week out of the year before she would have to return to normal.

“I’d have this week in the summer with all my blind friends, then I would leave and be back feeling

It wasn’t until she became involved in sports that she found an assurance that a blind person could do
something independently. She played soccer, swam and ran cross-country during her high school years
before one of her teachers at Tandem Friends School mentioned she would be attending a learn-to-row
clinic and asked if anyone wanted to attend with her.

Outlaw agreed, even though she would have to get up before 6 Am. It didn’t take long before she
realized she had found her passion.

“The first week, when we actually got on the water, I got put at the front of the boat. The coach
complimented me on how well I was rowing. I think in that moment, I was like, ‘wow, I’m actually good
at this; I’m not falling behind or at a disadvantage’. It just felt so easy.”

Tandem Friends didn’t have a rowing team, so Outlaw convinced the varsity rowing coach at another
nearby high school to let her join. It took some convincing, but Outlaw was persistent. Since she wasn’t a
student at the school, she could only practice with the team. But she didn’t mind.

“I wore her down. She finally gave in and let me try out. I could only do one race every season. I didn’t
care; I just loved being there.”

Outlaw enjoyed rowing so much she decided to pursue the sport at the college level. After visiting Ithaca
College in February of her senior year, she was pleasantly surprised at the warm reception she received
from the rowing team.

“The coach, Becky Robinson, she was the only coach I’d called who emailed and called me personally.
We went to the boathouse, and everybody wanted to come. We had 20 people packed into this tiny
little bakery by the boathouse. I remember sitting there (feeling) so included, like I want to be a part of
this group of people.”

Outlaw enjoyed her time at the school, earning her bachelor’s degree in exercise science in 2020. She’s
competed in two World Rowing Championships, placing fifth in 2018 and capturing a bronze medal in
2019 with Josh Boissoneau, a former international hockey player. This year, she won races at the
Summer Team Trials, the National Selection Regatta and the International Para Rowing Regatta in Italy.

Her current rowing partner is Todd Vogt, who has rowed for nearly 30 years but is fairly new to Para

Susan Wood, one of Outlaw’s coaches sent her information about the Foreseeable Future Foundation.
Outlaw applied last March, and was thrilled to receive an email notifying her she had been accepted as a
grant recipient.

“It was a huge wave of joy and relief when you get that email. We’re training full-time (but) it’s not like
we’re making millions of dollars like other professional athletes. You just feel so supported, like there’s a
little bit of stress that’s just been taken off.”

The grant is being used for coaching expenses. Outlaw has high praise for Wood, who works with her
and Vogt two hours a day, six days a week.

“She helps organize our travel and takes amazing care of us. She works with us at a lower rate than her
usual rate. She’s just amazing.”

Outlaw is currently pursuing her master’s in performance psychology online at Ithaca College, and
expects to compete at the 2022 World Championships in September. Rowing has taught her a great deal
about life, including how to go outside her comfort zone.

“When I think I’m at 100 percent, I still have 20 percent more to give. It’s taught me how to
communicate with different kinds of people. It’s made me feel like a whole person.”