The Fountain of Youth
February 28, 2008
I’ll never forget the summer of 2001. If 1985 was my “Summer of Love,” then 2001 was my “Summer of Miracles.” I’d been a hack sculler since I taught myself how to scull in 1989, having moved downstream to Riverside Boat Club from CRI. I had a hard time motivating myself to even practice, getting out 2-3 times a week until I got my inevitable singles entry in the Head of the Charles, when I’d up the frequency to 3-4 times a week. For some reason, finishing under 10% of the winning time would get you in the next year, no matter what. Not sure if that’s still the case.
In 2000, we had a new coach, Kevin McDonnell. I liked Kevin a lot. Maybe it was his youthful enthusiasm. A lot of it was that I could understand him, unlike the previous coach, Datsi, whose English, if you could call it that, was virtually incomprehensible. Because of Kevin – but more because of a certain extremely cute sculler who I had a crush on – I decided to show up every day in 2000. You see, I turned 40 in 2000, and I was a Midlife Disaster Waiting To Happen. Fortunately for everyone involved, the object of my affection was married, as was I, and she pretty much didn’t have a clue that I existed. But the upside was that by practicing more, and actually listening to Kevin, I improved my finish to 4th place in my new HOCR category, the Senior Masters Single. I even beat the legendary Jamie Gordon from Philly, who had won the Masters Single handily the two previous years at age 38 and 39. I was psyched! I was so psyched, in fact, that I actually ergged once or twice a week that winter. I never knew what “winter training” was before that.
So into the 2001 season I bounded, full of vim and vigor and extreme cluelessness. Kevin was out there every morning with a whole passel of scullers. There was no “High Performance Group” at Riverside back then, so we got to train with Marika Page, Kent Smack, Dave Gabel, and many others who went on to greatness. Kent & Dave were just figuring out how to row, but by the end of the summer they managed to do well enough to go to Worlds as the U.S. Men’s 2x after a stunning trials upset.
My summer could not have gone better, rowing-wise. I entered a dozen races, and I got first or second in every one. They included a few non-masters events, the most exciting of which, for me personally, was the lightweight single at Riverside’s Cromwell Cup, where I beat Sean Wolf in the heats by 36 seconds (yes, they were separate heats, but as everyone knows, you can compare heat times when you win, but not when you lose). A dumbfounded Sean said to me after the regatta, “You don’t understand! I was on the national team last year!” I looked at him and said, “You don’t understand, you’ve only been sculling for a week and I’ve been at it for 12 years!”
At the Head of the Connecticut that fall, I had the privilege of rowing with Sean, one half of the 2000 U.S. Light Pair, in the Masters Double, and with Tom Keister, the other half of the 2000 U.S. Light Pair, in the Champ Quad – on the same day (Tom and Sean both referred to that boat as the “coxed single”). I won with Tom (along with Kevin McDonnell and Jim Donahue), but Sean and I got aced out by a few seconds due to handicapping. Grrrr… masters rowing – the handicap is only good when you win….
A few weeks later, I got 2nd in the Charles, four seconds behind Jamie Gordon. He and I would go back & forth for the next several years in a friendly rivalry that was truly awesome to be part of. In November, I decided to go to Princeton, New Jersey for the 8k Speed Order, an experience that I could bore you with over an entire blog, but will spare you this time because I’m feeling generous (and getting short on word count). The snotty Princeton undergrad doing registration, ensconced in her gazillion dollar boathouse on Lake Carnegie, looked at my puzzled face when she handed me bow #1 and said, “It’s a duplicate number. You’ll be starting last.”
Well, I finished 4th, behind Rich Montgomery, some other dude, and fellow RBC-er Tom Keister, who got me by 10 seconds (I never, ever beat Tom in a single…that was as close as I ever came). Ahhh, the good old days, when I was a young, cocky whippersnapper in my early 40s…. I only have one question: where the hell is that fountain of youth now? I could sure use it.