Many North American and some other rowers get their start in the sport rowing at high school, university or college. “Crew” defines their existence as much as the degree or diploma that they earn. There seems to be a culture of challenges, dedication, survival, team spirit and hopefully success. For some, this institution-based rowing is the launch of a national and international level rowing career. For many, the experience remains a seminal experience, whether they leave the sport or continue training and racing at the Masters level.
I am not an alumni rower, although I did learn to row while at graduate school. I am curious about the experience, especially as there seems to be a rise in alumni regattas and reunion crews participating in key events like Head of the Charles. Racing is important, but given my business I wondered about whether there might be alumni rowers who might like to get together with their old crew or alma mater and row together – just not in a race. So, I ran a survey.
The sample size was small, but the results had a few interesting twists. Not surprisingly almost 70% of respondents indicated that their crew or alma mater had never undertaken a reunion trip other than participating in a regatta. Perhaps the interesting part of that were the 16% who had – I should have asked about those! However, about a third had never raced with their old crew and a quarter had never raced in a regatta with other alumni rowers. About 60 % had participated in a rowing alumni social event within the last five years, with 30% doing so annually.
For me, the most interesting and initially surprising result was that only 12% wanted to travel with only the members of their former crew. Perhaps the bond of the boat is not so strong? That answer made me realize that I had an idealized view of university rowing. I now realize that powerful personalities that can work together to win races do not necessarily get along beyond the boat house. Actually I think that I intuitively understood that, but was entranced by the romantic ideal of a reunion row – coming back together after 30 years or so, to row together in beautiful surroundings without the pressure of racing, yet with a taste of the former magic that made the boat sing. Likely there are some crews who are like that – do you know some? Please let me know. I would like to tell them about my Classic River Thames trip …. And for all the others, well, I would like to tell them about my Classic River Thames trip.