— submitted by Peggy Johnston, one of the founding coaches at JLAC and an important part of the East Bay rowing community for many years. She still rows competitively and coaches; at EBRC, she is one of the coaches for the Masters program.
I will admit that, after being in the world of rowing for 42 years, regattas can sometimes come and go without as much import for me as they used to have. But something big happened last Saturday at Masters Nationals; I watched (loudly) from the balcony as nine East Bay women thundered down the course leading wire to wire to become National Champions in the Women’s Club F-K category. The “Club” designation is significant, as it means it can’t be a boat assembled from various ringers, the crew must all be real members of your club. Homegrown, as it were. The significance for me? This fulfilled a promise that started some 10 years ago.
In November 2007, six women finished JLAC’s very first adult ‘Learn to Row’ class. At the end of the class, we had nothing to offer them, no team, no open sculling, nada. To continue rowing they would have to join an existing team like Lake Merritt Rowing Club, or Marin. They were a smart, feisty, committed gang and it felt like this particular bunch could be the beginning of something bigger, something really good.
So, as in the beginning of many good things, we all closed our eyes and made a leap of faith; I said I would coach them if they would commit to showing up three days a week. Thus we became a rowing team. A rather small rowing team. With no experience. And with a coach with minimal coaching experience. And no coxswains. And no permission from the Board of JLAC. But we had all the promise in the world. More people showed up in dribs and drabs, friends and co-workers were strong-armed into joining, and the group persevered, slowly, slowly growing.
I’ve heard it said that if a new rowing club can last 5 years that they will make it. The next 5 years were fun, hard, but always filled with homegrown promise. Having moved on myself after year three, I watched the team from the outside as new rowers kept coming, some rowers left, novice races were won, bigger races were attended, the rowing got better, men were added, and then a blow that could have killed the promise — the supporting non-profit JLAC went under — but that smart, feisty group reorganized as EBRC, kept afloat, kept learning, and kept growing.
It might have taken longer than many of us wanted with all of the two steps back/three steps forward moments, but last Saturday, as my heart filled and I screamed “YES YES YES,” that promise came rocketing across the finish line in an untouchable first place as National Champions for the first time ever.
8: Pauline Velez
7: Frederika Horton
6: Helen Keohane
5: Denise Martini
4: Jolie Krakauer
3: Annie Mudge
2: Maggie Grover
1: Rhonda Nelson
c: Abby Rezneck
Promise fulfilled, indeed.