April 24, 2017


Old Music, New Life

Sarah and Hal were the first ones to arrive at Rose’s Café.  Vinny and Jules and Kathy were not there yet. Sarah admired the seven-petaled rose drawn on the placemats. She knew the Café was named for Joe’s wife, Rose.  Nonetheless, she took the seven petals as a reminder that the café was open seven days of the week (especially because the owner had written each day of the week onto a petal!). She was considering using a similar image for her training business as a way of depicting seven days of health for seven days of exercise each week.

            Hal warmed his hands around his coffee mug as Betty delivered his omelet and whole grain toast. Since he had coached this morning and would not get in a workout in his single until later in the day, he was still chilled from the time spent in the coaching launch.

            “So, how was your session with Frank this morning?” Hal had seen Sarah on the river that morning rowing alongside one of her most avid students in their two singles as he passed with his varsity rowers.

            “Frank did great on the water and, as usual, kept pushing me for more tips as we put our boats away. He has gotten comfortable in the racing single and is one of the most avid of all the people I have coached when it comes to doing drills. Most people want to do a drill once and move on. Or hesitate to try the drill, especially where it involves balance.  But Frank would have stayed on the water and repeated the drills after our five mile row if I had not explained that I had to check him in and get going.

            “And the questions! He is always thinking about how the rowing stroke works and how to become more efficient. He wanted to talk about the release and the wrists on the water, and was still discussing rigging as we put the equipment away. Then he told me more about his goals as we walked out to the parking lot. He said he was thinking about aging because he is turning 55 this year. He said, ‘You know, Sarah, my wife and I have been married 32 years and I would like us to stay together another 32.’ he said. ‘I want to be able to dance with my wife when I am in my 90s - and not a slow dance propping one another up in an assisted living facility,’ he said.”

            “Somehow this got him off onto a comment about an old song by Bob Dylan. He said, ‘I want to be able to dance like a teenager “with one hand waving free.”’ I guess that is from some song, because he went on and on about it. Very enthusiastically!”

            Hal was older than Sarah and recalled the 1960’s as a time of intense training and personal growth for him, a time of experimentation and reflection for lots of others.

            “That quote is from Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ I think,” Hal said. “That was a big song and one lots of folks debated about. It sounded like an artist exploring creativity or just having wild thoughts during a long, sleepless night.  Drug-induced?  But someone suggested once that the song actually was about life as a long night, which we can choose to sleep through or experience more fully, to be followed by a ‘jingle, jangle morning’ as we pass the bells of the pearly gates and follow the Tambourine Man into a new life.”

            Sarah nodded and waited. She figured Hal was not quite done and she had never heard him talk about that time of his life or about music, so she wanted to wait him out and hear what he had to say.

            Hal took a couple of bites of his omelet and looked out the window for a minute. He looked back at her. “That was a long time ago. And it was different time,” he said. “Not better; not worse.”  He stopped there and smiled.

            Sarah took the cue. “Maybe you and Frank should get together. He said something about not being sleepy and not wanting to get sleepy or to wake up. I thought he was making sense until he got to that point.”

            “Dylan asked the Tambourine Man to ‘let me forget about today until tomorrow’,” said Hal. “If Frank thinks Dylan meant life by the night and an afterlife coming at dawn, I guess it could make a difference how you interpret not being sleepy during the ‘night’ – and what you mean by waking up at dawn. Certainly better than NOT waking up at dawn! Maybe Frank meant he wanted to live more fully, be more alert. You would have to ask him.”

            Hal kept eating. Sarah waited and drank her coffee as Betty brought her a buttered, toasted sesame bagel.

            “But it sounds like Frank has a good plan to use rowing to stay fit and alert for years to come, right?” asked Hal.

            Sarah nodded and smiled. As usual, Hal got the main point. Vinny and Kathy walked in and the discussion shifted to planning for the upcoming fall regatta.



April 2, 2017


What We Do with What We Eat

Jules put down his cup of coffee as carefully and deliberately as if he were handling a racing shell. Before he became a lawyer, he had worked as a boatman, a member of the honored profession who design, manufacture and maintain rowing equipment for clubs, colleges and individual rowers. He had gotten into the profession during the transition from wood shells to composites and was comfortable working with plastic and carbon fiber as well as fine woods. He and Hal, one of the deans of college rowing, had been discussing food and rowing.

            “I think there is more to it, Hal. The kids competing at the Olympics or other high-level regattas don’t just eat more because they are burning it off in their workouts.”

            Hal studied his cup of coffee a moment and then looked up at Jules. Hal was a successful college coach but he did not have either the girth or swagger you might associate, for example, with a winning football coach. He not only coached rowing, he still competed himself. And he knew Jules had competed, as well. He also had known Jules long enough to know that, although Jules had worked with his hands for many years before going back to school for his JD, he was smarter than any two average college graduates put together. His success as a lawyer showed that to some, but Jules’ common sense and instincts were what impressed Hal, and had for years. He looked sideways at him anyway.

            “If you were talking about what shape of hull will make a shell go faster,” said Hal, “or the ideal length of the water line for a given weight sculler, I would assume you are right. Or if you were discussing how the law applies to a motion you are filing, I would accept what you say. But what the heck is it you are trying to say about exercise and diet? Do you just want that last blueberry muffin over there under the glass or are you trying to say something I should apply to my team?”

            Jules called to Betty, their favorite waitress at Rose’s, and she came over, coffee pot in hand. He pointed to the counter. “I’ll have the last muffin if it’s not spoken for.” She refilled their cups. As she left, Jules turned back to Hal.

            “When I eat that muffin even though I don’t need it, I am going to put a little more on here,” he said, slapping his gut, “because I only work out occasionally. It will turn to fat not just because I won’t burn it off today. It will turn to fat because of my daily routine.”

            Hal continued to wait with raised eyebrows.

            “What I am pointing out to you is that when your team trains they are not just burning calories and getting stronger during the workout; they are tuning up their engines, engines that idle 24 hours a day. You know that is what is happening, just as surely as if they were race cars in the shop being tuned by mechanics. Except the human engine adapts a lot more than a mere tune up can do for steel, aluminum and rubber. And it does not simply turn on and off at the touch of a key. It operates all the time as adjusted during exercise.” And with that he accepted the muffin from Betty and took a big bite out of it.

            Hal winked at Jules over his coffee cup. “OK. We are thinking along the same lines. I don’t think of it in terms of food or calories, though, so much as horsepower and stamina. But I think we have the same idea. You cannot look at a novice rower and know what they will be able to produce based on their early performance without being able to see what they will do to improve on it. The functioning of each person’s body is not a given. As you said, that is where your race car analogy breaks down because you do much more with the body than “tune it up” when you exercise. When you give the body the right stimulus every day, the body adapts and becomes something else, something better, more efficient, stronger, faster. That happens over time with every beginning rower who sticks with it.”

            Jules winked back as he chomped carefully down on a corner of muffin that looked like it had a cup of blueberries in it alone. “So why did you mention the Olympic swimmer and say that, like the rowers, he was a calorie-burning engine?”

            “He is and they are. I just wasn’t focusing on the fact that they have become bigger, more efficient engines. What most people see is simply the snapshot of that day, that event, that level of performance and consumption. They do not see or think about the path that got them there or the changes that occurred over time. And they certainly do not think about the fact that the same principle applies to all of us.”


March 25, 2017


The Vineyard

Sarah and three of her rowing students met at the Boathouse for a wine dinner featuring a local winery. The vintner spoke at each course about the wines they were sampling with dinner. In addition to discussing the wines and their flavors, their fit with the food and the challenges of transforming the grapes into wine, he also spoke about growing the grapes. In that context, he described the soil as a complex living organism to be cultivated and cared for.

            As they returned to their food, Sarah commented that his perspective was very different from the way most of us think of soil, if we do at all. “I think of soil as sandy or rocky or full of clay. I notice what grows on it, but do not think about the soil itself. I see that it is easy to grow a garden in or to maintain a lawn on, or it is not. It is there. It is a given. But to him, the soil sounds far more complex and alive.”

            One of Sarah’s longest rowing students, Kerry, took a sip of her wine. “Perhaps it is the wine getting to me, but his perspective on soil is kind of like my view of the human body. Even though we all appreciate how the body keeps going for decades, most of us do not understand or think about how it functions, what is happening inside it, much less how well it adapts to what we need it to do.”

            Stan responded. He was a relatively new indoor rower, having worked with Sarah for just over a year. He had never rowed in school, but met with her every other week on his lunch break from the university computer center. “I notice that when I don’t row for a week I put on weight and my muscles get softer. Is that what you mean?”

            Joe chimed in. Joe saw Sarah most mornings at his restaurant, Rose’s Café, and met with her once a month for training on the rowing machine. “When I start to make the coffee in the morning for the Café, I am running water through grounds. I do the same thing with my body – run water through it, except my body has lots of processes going on at once, not just a filter holding coffee grounds.”

            “Wait a minute,” said Stan. “Making coffee produces a cup of product with the water.  Our bodies produce waste with the water we drink, like sweat. That’s different.”

            Kerry put her wine glass down and joined back in. “It is different, but I think Joe is getting at what I meant. We tend to think of our bodies like black boxes – water in/waste out; effort in/good score out. Like that, without thinking about how it happens. Some people talk about exercise building muscles. But how? And what else happens? When I row, what does that do to the water in my body? Where does it move the water, filter it, use it, and how is that different than when I am just sitting at my desk? What does the water help my body do with oxygen, energy, waste? How can I improve on how all that happens?”

            “Put another way,” said Sarah, “is it enough to exercise and know it helps, or do you want to understand more about the biology? Just like the vintner wants to know more about the living soil his grapes are growing in. He says that helps him care better for the soil to produce better grapes and, as a result, better wine.”

            Stan swirled his wine and took a sip. “So you are saying that the body is like the soil in the vineyard in that it is complex rather than homogenous, full of bacteria and dynamic components rather than static or dead.”

            “Yes,” said Kerry. “Plus, at the same time, the body is also like the seed or plant the vintner has in the soil, taking the nourishment we give it and bearing fruit proportional to the care we apply.”

            “And we have a unique potential to develop the body with daily exercise,” noted Sarah. “When we live a sedentary life, it is as if we are not watering or feeding the vine, as if we are keeping the leaves in shade and ignoring the soil. The effect upon the vine or the body is to tend to wither and weaken, to be more susceptible to disease, and probably not to live as long much less to prosper. When we stimulate the body with exercise, it is like nourishing the vine with needed water and sunlight, tending to the soil to support the plant. For those who want to compete, you can stimulate your bodies with greater demands and succeed not only with health but also with better performance. But the average person who simply wants to feel good and be healthy can achieve that by cultivating the body like a vintner cultivates the soil. Provide what it needs to nurture good health, including daily exercise.”

            As the wait staff cleared the dishes to prepare for the next course, the vintner rose again to discuss the next wine on the menu.



March 18, 2017


What is Rowing?

Sarah and Kathy basked in the sunlight streaming in the window at Rose’s. Sarah had asked Kathy to meet her in the afternoon to talk about sharing a boat for her novices at an upcoming fall regatta. She wanted to know what Kathy wanted in terms of changing or not changing rigging, when they could practice in the boat, coordinating their timing between races, which oars they could use and so on in order to be sure the loan did not cause any problems for Kathy’s team. After all, this was the first time they had done this; she wanted it to be a success.

            As Betty brought their sandwiches, Sarah mentioned a recent call she had had with the sports writer for the local paper. “He is doing an article on my indoor rowing training center and this group of novice rowers. It was great to talk with someone who usually follows football and soccer and find that he knew something about rowing. After we talked about my shop, he turned to the sport of rowing and his first question was, ‘Is there a fine line between rowing for competition and rowing for health – or is it a chasm, like completely different sports? Wouldn’t most rowers say what you are teaching is not really rowing?’ I guess I should not have been surprised by his question.”

            Kathy finished chewing a bite of her Monterey Jack and avocado sandwich and looked at Sarah with a smile. “Some would say that rowing for health rather than to compete is simply not rowing. I realize that. The core message of rowing is ‘No pain – no gain.’ Or, ‘Pull hard – go fast.’ You use a different approach, right?”

            “Yes, I emphasize that I am training my guys to row for health, not for a race, and they can stay within their comfort zone. That’s why this head race is going to be so unusual.”

            Kathy went on. “Competitive rowers pride themselves on being 100% reliable for their team mates – never the weak link in the boat, and train as hard as they possibly can. To many rowers, paddling or rowing easily is to be avoided. The goal in a power piece – and those pieces define a workout – is to push as quickly as possible to the point where you are gasping uncontrollably for breath – and then to keep pushing just as hard until the end of the piece. Doing a piece on a rowing machine is always a challenge or a test, not something you do in your comfort zone.”

            Sarah agreed, as she had been a successful competitive rower in college and still competed in her single. “Rowing smoothly and efficiently is a point of pride because that’s how you get the most speed out of your effort with the oar. And the fun comes from going faster than ever before. I know taking it easy, rowing only occasionally instead of six days a week, and taking breaks during a row are simply not part of rowing for the competitor. I have had to temper what I expect in working with non-rowers – but I am not sure it is fair to say they are not rowers just because of those differences!”

            “Well,” said Kathy, “on the other hand, anyone rowing for health is succeeding if they simply break a sweat and breathe more deeply for 20-30 minutes, right? They can do it at their convenience and measure their success not by speed but just by breathing more deeply, never having to get so winded they are gasping.”

            “I guess from that perspective, the differences between rowing as a competitive sport and rowing for health are pretty fundamental,” said Sarah. “No question they are different.” She dug into her salad again, looked out at the leaves starting to turn on the maples, and turned back to Kathy as she took a sip of her coffee.

            “On the other hand, competitive rowing is healthy; it is a false distinction that appears to suggest that competitive rowing is unhealthy if you say ‘rowing for health is not rowing.’  I know there may be some medical conditions where the intense experience of competitive rowing exceeds the “recommended daily dosage” of exercise. But subject to very narrow exceptions, all rowing is healthy.”

            Kathy nodded her agreement. “Doesn’t the real difference come up in figuring out what to do for your workout? As coaches of college rowers, we are looking for the best way to bring a group of athletes to peak condition and coordinated effort in the boat. But if I want to row for my health, what do I do?  How much or little should I do?”

            Sarah put her cup down and covered it briefly with her hand, smiling at Betty as she approached with a fresh pot and shaking her head, “no, thanks.” “I agree,” she told Kathy. “It is a genuine concern for many. How do I (a rower for health) draw the line so that I am doing enough, and yet I am not pushing so hard that I dread the next row? That is key to what I work on with my guys every day.”

            “There is a large middle ground, too, isn’t there?” asked Kathy. “At the local community club where you row, they want to grow their ranks with new rowers, even if those rowers are recreational rowers or rowers for health or weight control. The solution for some new rowers willing to try the club boats may lie in encouraging them to try pushing (‘take hold of the water,’ which does not happen without some effort, for example), but to let them know they can fall back to their comfort zone at any time.”

            “No question that, for the beginning rower, defining one’s comfort zone may be a learning experience,” said Sarah. “The lower threshold is relatively easy to define subjectively: If you feel like you are working harder than when you are at rest but can keep going, you have entered your exercise comfort zone. For some, especially the elderly (if we can still use that word in this age when they say ‘80 is the new 50’), this may mean nothing more than rowing at a paddle.”

            Kathy picked up the thought. “The upper threshold of the comfort zone must be more interesting.”

            “Right,” said Sarah. “Perhaps the first and most important lesson for the new rower to learn is that the upper threshold will vary with time and experience. What is difficult today may become comfortable next month. Another important guideline is that the threshold is subjective. You can try to define your competitive performance by an established standard, like your pace per 500 meters, but no such bar need be set to guide the limits of your rowing for health.  Whether a fine line or a bright line, that distinction should offer beginners some comfort.”

            They started to discuss the boat Sarah was borrowing and worked out the details for the coming week.



March 11, 2017



Kath sat down opposite Hal in their usual booth at Rose’s Café and started to work her way out of her anorak. Despite wearing a hat, her hair had gotten soaked from the rain that had fallen throughout practice and it felt good to settle into the booth. The owner, Joe, brought them both place settings as they sat down, and motioned to Betty, who was just grabbing the pot of fresh coffee.

            “Thanks for hanging around after practice today,” Kathy told Hal as she settled in.

            Betty came over and poured her coffee without asking. The coaches came in to Rose’s just about every morning after practice and she knew their routines. It was unusual that it was just the two of them. Hal sipped his coffee and looked out the window at the wind whipping the trees.

            “The last leaves will be gone before you know it now,” he said. It seemed like it was still summer yesterday but that late fall was coming fast. And, although it was still early in the college rowing year, Hal was already looking forward to the spring racing season. But he knew Kath was not, at least not yet. The challenge she had teaching non-rowers how to row effectively was not a simple one, even though it seemed so obvious to the coaches what needed to be done and what the rowers had to do.

            She was not her usual talkative self.

“What’s on your mind this morning?” he asked her.

            “Do you know what one of them said to me today?” She did not stop to let him answer. “‘When are we going to stop and rest?’ she asked me. And then, ‘Why can’t we stop and rest?’”

            “It’s mind-boggling sometimes how long it takes to develop a ‘rower’s attitude,’” Hal said. “We’re used to it – not just the attitude of rowing but the continuity, how different it is from pedaling and then coasting on a bike or running for the ball and then stopping or walking. So we lose sight of the fact that beginners have a whole different mentality and a different way of using their bodies – too often barely so.” Hal glanced at the door and smiled. “Speaking of different mentalities, here’s Vinnie.”

            Vin knew something was up when Hal stopped speaking as he approached. Normally, nothing would stop Hal in the middle of making a point, especially not the approach of one of his rival coaches. Vinnie coached the college varsity up river from Hal’s boathouse. Their teams competed against one another and they enjoyed visiting with and ribbing each other. Vinnie decided not to ask what he had missed as he arrived at the booth.

            “Sarah’s parking her car,” he said. He unzipped, removed and hung up his rain parka. As he sat down next to Hal, he motioned two fingers to Betty, who was bringing over the coffee pot.

            “Will this rain ever end?” asked Betty as she poured two cups in front of Vinnie.

            “End? You want the rain to end? This is bringing the river back up. And it’s good for the crops,” Vinnie answered.

            “Crops?” Betty asked as she turned away. She looked back. “You must think it’s already spring. You’re a couple seasons ahead of yourself.”

            “I hate to say it, Kath, but I think that’s part of your answer,” said Hal.

            “Vinnie’s sense of time and crops?” she asked. “What’s that got to do with how much novices have to learn?”

            “Vinnie’s already thinking ahead several months because he knows it takes that long to adapt, that the seasons connect. When you know what can happen, that it will happen and how it connects with what is happening now, it is easier to wait for it to happen. Experienced rowers know that nothing comes easy or quick that is worth having – at least in terms of fitness. And that’s really what you’re talking about, isn’t it, how far a beginner has to adapt before she sees the world through the eyes of a rower?”

            Vinnie wasn’t sure whether Hal was making fun of him or not. But he agreed completely with what Hal said, so he picked up the thread. “Most people think the only way to live is the way they already live; the only way to do something is the same way they always have. Our bodies act that way! A lot of other athletes learned their sport so young that they do not remember how foreign it seemed at first, that they had to learn how to do it. Rowers don’t start at age four and they learn at all ages. They all have to adjust to a new understanding.”

            “Yeah, including freshmen.” said Kath. “And I know they’ll get it by spring (at least some of them will), but why does the beginning have to be such a challenge?”

            “It is not true just for college kids but for novices of all ages,” said Sarah. She had walked in and sat down during the conversation. She took a sip of the coffee Vinnie slid across the table to her. Sarah was not a team coach like the others but a trainer. She trained some rowers in singles on the river and many others indoor on rowing machines at her rowing studio. And by choice she worked more with people over 50 than with those under 30.

            “It’s not a challenge because it’s hard. It is just a matter of enabling folks to overcome their preconceived notions of how the body works and what it is capable of doing.”

            Hal and Vin talked for a few minutes about the progression over the last 30 to 40 years from partial-year, seasonal training to year-round fitness regimens. Vin tried to explain it to Kath. “We still do not know a great deal about how the body works. But we have learned so much about how training over time can enhance the body’s ability to perform. It is as if we were in the dark ages 40 years ago.”

            Hal agreed.

            “I know, Hal,” said Kath as she took her omelet from Betty. “I know it is will come with time and that sticking with it is makes the difference. I just find that their not knowing that, their expecting it to be like other things they have done, is hard to take.”

            Betty had even brought Sarah’s usual Tuesday waffle, so they all dug in.



March 4, 2017


The Coach’s Dilemma

While waiting in their favorite booth at Rose’s Café for Hal, Vinnie and Sarah to arrive, Kathy was complaining to Jules over her orange-cranberry muffin about her young charges. Some of them simply did not understand the simplest things she tried to teach them and she was frustrated that she was not getting through to them. Kathy coached women rowers on one of the local college teams. Jules built boats, formerly as his day job and, since he got his law degree and began practicing law, in his spare time. Vinnie and Hal coached college varsity teams. Sarah trained masters rowers (and non-rowers, as she sometimes said). They met for coffee most mornings here at Joe and Rose’s Café on Main Street, up the hill from the river. With morning practices over and some time before office hours began, they met to re-fuel and relax. And they usually ended up talking about rowing.

            The sun was peeking over the houses across the street and the hard frost, rare in September, was beginning to disappear where the sun hit the ground. Inside the Café, the air was warm and humid, the chatter steady. Jules picked at his finger to remove a bit of dried resin from the boat repair he had worked on that morning and looked back in from the window to Kathy.

            “I’ll tell you a story I once heard from one of the most experienced college coaches I know. He was talking with his freshman coach early in the year and the frosh coach was complaining about the same thing, why some people have a hard time understanding. He responded by pointing out the opposite point of view.”

            “What?  That some people do understand?”

            “No, just the opposite. The point he made was that it is not the beginner’s job to understand; it is the coach’s job to make it understandable. If what you are doing or saying is not getting the message across, you have to try something else.”

            Kathy thought about that, her coffee cup warming her hands, comfortable enough with Jules not to take offense. Every fall as she began the school year with a few dozen new rowers, it amazed her again how many ways there are for people to misunderstand the simplest things by complicating them to suit their preconceived notions. She reminded herself that they would all “get it” eventually – if they stuck with it. Her worry was that they would not stick with it long enough to get the hang of it.

            “What if someone wants to do too much, to go too fast? It is not that they don’t ‘get it,’ but they need to learn in steps. If they expect that they will get it all the first day or week they will be disappointed, frustrated when it takes longer.”

            “Some people are pretty eager,” admitted Jules. “In the long run, that’s not a bad thing as long as they maintain their enthusiasm.”

            “Yeah,” Kath said. “That’s the challenge – to keep them developing long enough to see the progress without giving in along the way to frustration or boredom.”

            Vinnie and Hal walked in together, removing their hats and unzipping jackets. “You can say the glass is half full or half empty, I don’t care,” said Vin as they approached the booth. “Whichever way you look at it, our job is to help them fill the other half.” Their morning practices had run longer than Kathy’s, in part due to delays when a Jet Ski rider in a wet suit had repeatedly waked their shells. They were still frozen from being on the river in their launches with their respective varsity rowing teams.

            “What’s up?” asked Hal as they slid into opposite sides of the booth with Kathy and Jules.

            “The coach’s dilemma,” said Jules. “Sometimes I’m glad all I have to mold is wood and plastic and deal with clients. And I deal with only one boat or one client at a time, not 40 rowers at once. But I figure that’s what makes coaching rewarding, finding out how to break down the path for beginners and communicate it so anyone can follow.”

            “Easier said than done, but I think you’re right – that’s the challenge,” said Kath.

            “Is that what you’re on, figuring out how to make the point when it seems like everyone needs to hear it their own way?” asked Vinnie. He looked at Hal, who was looking across the café and holding up his coffee cup as a request to their regular waitress, Betty, to fill, and paused.

            As he set his cup back down on the table, Hal offered, “I used to like the glass analogy. You can do a lot with it – half full or half empty, good or bad attitudes. And I agree with what you were saying about the challenge of communication. It may seem like their challenge to ‘get it,’ but actually it is our challenge to get it across. But even more than that, I sometimes think that the determining factor for us coaches is a choice each person we coach has to make at some time about their approach to life. It is a choice we all make every day, whether we know it or not. I think of it as a choice whether to search for the worst or the best in ourselves. Even though it is not really that stark, I think the choice is a basic one that we all make unconsciously. It could be as simple as deciding whether to stay put or look for something better, to follow the same routine or try something new, to do a task carefully or just get by. When I am coaching, I look for the ones who have decided that they can get better, that every day is an opportunity to grow, and that they want to find the best in themselves. If they have made that choice, no matter how unconsciously, they will adapt and improve better than someone who chooses to just get by.”

            “Hal, you almost sound cynical with this unconscious choice thing, like people are fated to be good or bad, to try or to quit. Are you saying we can not teach people to improve because they are limited by destiny or an internal decision they are not even aware of?”

            Hal laughed. “Vin, don’t try to hook me into a metaphysical-psychological discussion.  No, I’m just talking about rowing, fitness.”

            “You must think people can change that choice, Hal,” said Jules.

            “Yeah,” said Kath, “Even though you’re coaching varsity and don’t have to deal with novices, you must still occasionally have a ‘lard-butt’ surprise you and turn into an ‘engine.’”

            “You’re right. Like I said, I think we can all make that choice again every day. And I don’t even think making the change is any harder than staying the course. One nice thing about college is that it is one of the few times in most people’s lives when they are open to change and learning who they are and what they can be. But the simple fact is that most people don’t bother to evaluate what they are doing and make a choice. They buy into one life-style and let it carry them wherever it goes instead of making their own choices.”

            “That’s why I like coaching rowing,” said Kathy. “I see people realizing they can do so much more every year by working on it a day at a time.”

            Hal agreed. “I also enjoy seeing the rowers’ achievement from working at it day after day. Nothing good comes easily – or overnight. Over time, they learn that if they are persistent they can improve and their bodies will become able to do what they will them to do, something that was once impossible.”

            Jules finished his bagel and pushed back in his seat, looking at Kath. “And there is one of the rewards of coaching, being able to communicate about the sport in ways that help the rowers stick with it to experience that type of accomplishment.”


February 25, 2017

Row Daily 3 will follow in serial form as a draft before publishing.  Copyright 2017 SP Ventures.  Your comments are welcome. 

The structure of RD3 is simple.  Several coaches and friends with rowing backgrounds meet each morning at Rose's Coffee Shop for coffee, tea, breakfast.  Three are college rowing coaches.  One coaches indoor rowing and provides individual instruction and sculling lessons.  The fifth regular is a former boatman/boat builder and is now a lawyer.

Many of their discussions focus on the challenges of coaching rowing.  Hence, the working title, The Coach's Dilemma.  They also discuss technique, training and what they like about rowing.

Here is an introduction to Vinny, Hal, Kathy, Sarah and Jules:

            ANNUAL RIVER MEETING - It was August and the River Committee was holding its annual meeting at the Boathouse. The Boathouse had once been a service station on the river, with fuel pumps on each side, one set to serve the highway, the other to serve the marina. Later, as use of the river changed from commerce to recreation, the service station became a store and marina office. Then it had closed for a couple of years, only to reopen as an upscale restaurant and meeting space, still backed by a marina. It had white table cloths on the dining tables, windows along the water, a riverside deck the length of the building, and an upstairs conference room where the committee now met.

            At the head of that conference room, Hal called the meeting of the River Committee to order. Assembled around the long tables, shaped into a “U” so the committee members could see one another, the Watershed Stakeholder Council, known more informally as the River Committee, drew up their chairs. The River Committee was open to participation by anyone with an interest in safe, shared use of the river, and in how it affected the people and businesses along its banks. The Committee had tried in the past to get the managers of the municipal wastewater treatment plants and upriver factory owners to participate, as well as the riverside neighborhood leaders. But most of those neighbors did not care what happened to or on the river and, with a few exceptions, did not attend. Occasionally, one of the residents who lived in the flood plain along the river made his or her way to the meeting, usually because they fished the river, had a problem with someone else using the river or had a kid rowing on a local team.  The most active members of the River Committee were involved in rowing, perhaps since they and their organizations used the river daily and were affected by all other uses of it, from management of the dams to commerce and private use of fishing boats, pontoon boats and jet skis.

            Jules, who sat up front with Hal, was a boat builder and a lawyer. As a boat maker with a small shop located on the waterfront, he attended because the Committee’s decisions could affect his use of his property and the use by others of his products. Also, as a lawyer, he was often asked for advice to help guide the Committee. Jules had been involved with the river and its neighbors, in one way or another, for over 20 years. He had learned long ago that spending a little time listening and helping to resolve issues about competing uses of the river was far more efficient than trying to resolve a difference after it developed into a dispute.

            Kathy attended on behalf of Lloydville College where she coached the novice women rowers. A graduate of LC, as it was known, she spent much of her life on the river. Despite recurring run-ins with other boaters who, she felt, showed no sensitivity to the novice rowers, she generally tried to help find a way for all of the users of the river to get along. Not on the board this year, but a dedicated chair of the community outreach committee, she sat near the front of the spectator area of the room and closed the door as the meeting was about to begin.

            Vincent (more formally Vincenzo, but more often known as Vince, Vinnie, or Vin by his fellow coaches) had coached the Hazenton University men’s crew from its days as a club sport to varsity status. With his dedicated coaching, they were a perennial competitor in the finals in the championship. He loved the sport of rowing and had little patience with those who did not understand or want to make room for it. He had learned that keeping a low profile suited him. It worked better with most people not to confront them; and it worked better for him because, as he learned long ago, he was not likely to back down from a confrontation once he got involved. Vince sat farther in the back.

            Hal, leading the meeting, headed the coaching staff of h crews. He and his teams had had great success over the years. A bit of a mystery to those who did not know him, friends and family found him quiet but approachable, intense and focused, but easy to talk with once you got his attention. He used the river as a sculler as well as a coach, and still competed in his age group.

            Sarah sat in the back with Vince, watching. After a long career training and competing as a rower, as well as some years coaching young athletes, Sarah had struck out in the relatively new area of using rowing to train adults who were not rowers in the health and fitness benefits of daily exercise.  She had a rowing-based fitness center on Main Street, not far from Rose’s, on the hill above the river in downtown Hazenton.

            Other River Committee participants besides the rowers and rowing coaches included:

·         Sally and her husband Bill, who sat in front of Sarah and Vince, had long headed one of the local nature groups. They advocated for protection of the fish, turtles, herons and other wildlife in and along the river, but many said their real goal was to stop growth and development in the area in order to enhance property values.

·         Dick chaired the executive committee of the largest of the “protect the ducks and geese” groups. They fought annually with the many waterfront owners who hated the excess of goose waste that littered the lawns of their riverfront homes. Dick sat near the front of the room.

·         Next to Dick sat Bob and Stan, dealers in jet skis and outboards who always followed the proceedings on behalf of their customers even though they did not have a business on the river. They owned a chain of stores throughout the metropolitan area that specialized in power boats and recreational equipment for use on lakes and rivers.

·         Pete and Liz owned a marina on the lagoon along the river south of town. Most boat traffic not from their marina was to the north and did not interfere with their marina customers. But they attended every year to fight to extend the rights of powerboat operators who, they argued, were increasingly being limited by the rowers and fishermen who did not appear to want anyone else to be able to use the river.

·         Jeb, the municipal parks representative, attended because of the extensive parks that operated along the river under City and County authority. He made no effort to take a lead or encourage more use of the river, apparently feeling his domain ended at the banks of the river, but he listened and reported back to city and county officials.

·         Todd attended for the state environmental agency which had the power to grant or deny permits to marinas, as well as for dams, dredging, floodplain construction and other activities that could affect the flow of the river onto the lands along the river. Occasionally, he would bring along his federal agency counterpart. Once they even had a representative from the United States Army Corps of Engineers come and talk about moving the banks of the river.

            Hal called the meeting to order. “We are here to review the rules we all follow to share use of the river.” He handed out the rules and proposed changes, and outlined the agenda items, including a review of developments during the past year and new items put on the agenda for discussion.

            An hour later they adjourned, ready for another year.