REMINDER: Everyone attending our Tuesday luncheon will be asked to wear a mask, except when eating. Masks will be available at registration.
In keeping with Rotary’s mission of service above self, we strongly recommend that only those members and guests that are vaccinated attend our in-person meetings.
ARSHAY COOPER is a Rower, Benjamin Franklin award-winning author, the protagonist of the critically acclaimed film “A Most Beautiful Thing,” a Golden Oar recipient for his contributions to the sport of rowing, motivational speaker, and activist, particularly around issues of accessibility for low-income families.
Arshay grew up on the West Side of Chicago and in 1997 joined (and later became captain of) the country’s first all-Black high school rowing team at Manley High School, an experience that changed his life. He dedicated two years of his life to AmeriCorps, focusing on diversity and inclusion efforts and soon after that attended Le Cordon Bleu, becoming a chef for critically acclaimed restaurants and companies such as World Wrestling Entertainment, Warner Brothers, and various professional athletes.
After years of working and teaching in the foodservice industry, Arshay returned to his true passion: working with young people. He coached rowing at the Chicago Urban Youth Rowing Club and worked as the youth program guidance counselor for Victory Outreach’s Midwest/Gulf Coast region. Arshay has also founded and 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 happens on the water. He’s mentored hundreds of kids to improve their athletic, professional, and personal lives.
Arshay’s award winning memoir chronicling his high school rowing career, “A Most Beautiful Thing,” was recently adapted into a film by the same name narrated by the Academy and Grammy Award-winning artist Common, produced by NBA Stars Grant Hill and Dwyane Wade and Grammy Award-winning 9th Wonder, and directed by award-winning filmmaker and Olympic rower Mary Mazzio. The film won a Gracie Award and was named one of the best films of 2020 by Esquire. It was also nominated for an NAACP Image Award, for the International Press Academy Best Documentary, and the Critics’ Choice Association Best Sports Documentary.
Arshay leads the A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund to bring rowing, academic support, and college access to under-resourced communities. Arshay has been called upon to build bridges across the country through his story and has inspired the founding of new diversity-focused rowing programs across the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and New Zealand. Arshay’s work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, Black Enterprise, BET, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, People Magazine, and The Chicago Tribune among many other outlets. He’s been a guest on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s podcast “Startalk,” NPR, The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, Access Hollywood, and numerous other podcasts and programs. He and Mary Mazzio partnered with FILA to create a limited-edition collection of “A Most Beautiful Thing” merchandise. Deeply passionate about motivating individuals and organizations to be the best version of themselves, Arshay has spoken to top corporations, universities, and nonprofits, including the Obama Foundation, the Aspen Institute, JP Morgan, Comcast NBC, Pepsi, Winklevoss Capital, Vanguard, Starbucks, Liberty Mutual, SC Johnson, Target, the NAACP Convention, the NBA, the Atlanta Hawks, the Oakland A’s, Morehouse School of Medicine, Harvard University, Yale University, and Princeton University.
“A Most Beautiful Thing” can be bought anywhere books are sold. The film is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime, Peacock, and Xfinity Comcast.
Arshay lives in Brooklyn, NY with his family.
Chair of the Day
Mike Knopp brought rowing to Oklahoma City University as the first rowing coach for OCU ever. OCU became the first varsity rowing program in Oklahoma in 2004 after Knopp started the program as a club team in 2000.
Under Knopp’s guidance, OCU has garnered multiple achievements on and off the water. The success of OCU rowers has increased every year during Knopp’s tenure and has included multiple rowing champions and seen OCU rowers compete on the U.S. Under-23 national team.
Knopp has been instrumental in growing the sport in the state. Knopp was also the driving force behind the OCU Head of the Oklahoma Regatta, an annual rowing competition that attracts more than 50,000 spectators and competitors to Oklahoma City each year. This event has been recognized as the “National Regatta of the Year” and was the first U.S. Rowing competition to include night racing.
Other achievements include the designation of the Oklahoma River as an official Olympic training site, the construction of the Chesapeake finish line tower, multiple local, national, and international championship competitions, and the master plan development of the Oklahoma River. Knopp also serves as the executive director for the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation. In this position Knopp helped create the first community rowing and kayaking programs as well as the Chesapeake Boathouse.
Knopp has been recognized with several awards including the Abe Lemons/Paul Hansen Award for Sports Excellence, Jack Kelly Award, Oklahoma City Business Record Forty Under Forty Award, Journal Record Achievers Under Forty Award, Leadership OKC Class XXV, March of Dimes Headliner Special, Harry Parry Award for Foundation Excellence and the Neil Horton Award.
OCU created the first collegiate varsity canoe/kayak program in the country in 2010. During the same year, OCU opened the $10 million Devon Boathouse, which serves as home to OCU rowers and as a training site for U.S. High Performance athletes. In 2011, U.S. Canoe/Kayak, the national sport’s governing body, relocated its headquarters to Oklahoma City. Knopp serves on the governing board for this organization.
In the late 1990s, Knopp was instrumental in organizing the Oklahoma Association for Rowing at Lake Overholser in Oklahoma City. A few short years later, he took note as the city’s MAPS program began rejuvenating the then-North Canadian River. During this time he helped establish club rowing programs at Oklahoma City University and the University of Oklahoma.
In 2003, Knopp left a successful legal career to become the head rowing coach at Oklahoma City University.
Originally from Minnesota, Knopp discovered rowing as a high school student in Annapolis, Md., watching the crew from the U.S. Naval Academy. He began pursuing his passion as an undergraduate at Oklahoma State University and helped re-establish OSU’s club rowing program.
Knopp worked for the Federal Aviation Administration as legal counsel before joining OCU. Knopp, who was raised in Minnesota and Maryland, has rowed for 15 years. As a high schooler in Annapolis, Md., Knopp became interested in rowing by seeing the Naval Academy rowing crew.
Knopp holds a juris doctorate degree from the University of Oklahoma. Knopp graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1994 with a degree in economics. Knopp graduated high school from Edmond Memorial in 1990. Tempe, Knopp’s wife, also works with youth and high school rowers. The couple have two boys, Keaton and Cameron.