When South Bend Community Rowing members and friends gathered for our successful fundraiser last February, optimism abounded. Our enthusiastic group talked about the momentum building for the 2020 season. Introductory classes were filled, membership interest was high, and we had set up an ambitious regatta season for our Master’s program. Sadly, that was the last time we would all be together in 2020 as the pandemic spread and brought rowing to a halt around the world.
Like others, I donned a mask, practiced social distancing, and found myself spending a lot more time at home, with plenty of time for household projects I had skillfully avoided for years. My wife, Geri, decided now was the time to address the disaster that was our basement, and while going through some old boxes, she came across a scrapbook that contained photos from my high school rowing days. While I hate to date myself, most of the photos were from 1967 and 1968.
I rowed four years for Weber High School, one of two Chicago schools with crew teams, the other being Lane Tech. In the summers, many of us from both schools participated in club rowing for the Lincoln Park Boat Club, and during those summers we rowed in regattas held on the Detroit River, the Mississippi River, the Chicago River and Rabbit Lake in Kenora Canada, among others.
My junior year in high school, we rowed in the National Schoolboy Regatta on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, the epicenter of the rowing universe at that time. Rowing out of Boathouse Row is something I’ll never forget.
That summer we also made a trip to South Bend to row against the University of Notre Dame club team … my first experience on the St. Joe River. The men on the crew we rowed against appeared to be twice our size, and we declined when they suggested we race for jerseys, as was the custom of the day. Looking back, I wish we hadn’t, as we finished ahead by a couple of boat lengths.
After high school I drifted away from rowing. Then, after spending four years in the military, I attended Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and rowed for a year on its inaugural club team in 1974. After that, schooling, career, and raising a family took precedence, with rowing again becoming a fond memory. After we moved to South Bend in 1988, I would occasionally drive by what was then the University of Notre Dame Boathouse and think about the possibility of rowing again but never seriously looked into it.
After retiring in early 2016, I read an article that spring about a Learn to Row program, and Jill DeLucia was the contact person. Thanks to fortune and fate, after forty two years I found myself back in a shell. I shared Jill’s vision of a community rowing program, and the following summer we and a dedicated group of rowing enthusiasts launched the first full season of what would become South Bend Community Rowing. In 2018, we participated in our first regatta, the Chicago Sprints sponsored by Lincoln Park Boat Club. For me rowing had come full circle.
Many of the lessons learned from rowing have carried over into my adult life. Memories of long rows out into Lake Michigan on those summer mornings so many years ago will always be with me. However, it’s the teamwork that stands out … working with people who share your passion and experience … a sense of family. Looking back on 2020, I think that’s what I missed most.
We’re still not sure what the coming year will bring, but South Bend Community Rowing hopes to return to the water in 2021. The leadership team is monitoring all the relevant factors and should have a clearer picture by early spring. Until then, take care of yourselves, stay healthy and safe, and look forward with us to bright days on the beautiful St. Joseph River.
Wishing you all the best in the new year,