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Originally published June 2, 2010 at 8:02 PM | Page modified June 2, 2010 at 8:58 PM

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Jerry Large

This sport can pull you in

Crew in the Northwest is like that. Some degree of misery is always involved, even for spectators.

Seattle Times staff columnist

One cold, spring morning, I watched my son pull on his socks while he stood in a large, muddy puddle.

Crew in the Northwest is like that. Some degree of misery is always involved, even for spectators.

A certain amount of bonding follows, so I empathized when a crew parent called with a dilemma.

Martin Koenig said the small Vashon Island Crew program qualified two boats for the national championship regatta in Cincinnati starting June 11 and is trying to raise $18,000 to send them.

Well, who isn't hurting for money these days? I'm not sure where crew would fit on most lists of the needy, but I wouldn't write it off.

Once I would have. Before my son's participation, I saw the sport as belonging only to rich people. It was a world apart.

But participants acquired other attributes as I got to know them.

Exposure works that way. It tends to weaken stereotypes or at least to put them in a more complex context.

Whoever their parents are, the athletes have their own reputation. A crew kid is a hardworking, clean-living young person (um, mostly), maybe it's upbringing or innate personality, but mostly they are just too busy to get into anything. Crew kids go from school to an energy-draining workout every weekday.

Sam Burns, who coaches the Vashon Island kids, told me their workouts are 2 ½ hours long. Rowers do 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) on the water almost every day and spend up to 50 minutes on an ergometer, a rowing machine. And they lift weights, sometimes doing a circuit from lifting station to lifting station for 45 minutes to build up their endurance.

He adapted part of that routine from the one that the U.S. National Team used when he was a member. Burns rowed in a coxed four that won a gold for the U.S. in the 2007 World Rowing Championships.

Before that, he rowed for the University of Washington from 2000 to 2004. "We won the national championship freshman year and I was hooked," he said.

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There are a lot of good rowers in the Seattle area.

Burns coaches junior crew, rowers from eighth through 12th grade. Strength and endurance are musts.

"It definitely takes the most amount of training for the least amount of racing," he said. Teams train all year for a race that lasts six minutes and is repeated just a few times a year. It's common for teams to travel long distances only to have a race called because of a storm.

"You have to enjoy the process, getting better every day," Burns said. "And it has a lot to do with the other people on the team pushing each other. You have to do the best you can do, otherwise you are letting your team down."

Crew is community. My family discovered that over the years that our son rowed for Mount Baker Junior Crew. Players bonded, and parents too, standing bundled up before dawn at the aptly named Frostbite Regatta on Green Lake.

Three Mount Baker boats qualified for nationals this year.

The extremely hardworking Peggy Tosdal is one of two Seattle Parks Department staffers at the Mount Baker Sailing and Rowing Center on Lake Washington.

Crew is one of the programs she helps keep afloat. It's an unusual public/private partnership that draws athletes from around the city and the region, including some who need financial aid to participate. And two years ago Mount Baker and the rowing community added a second crew program, Rainier Valley Rowers, which is drawing in minority athletes who might never have thought of crew as a sport for them.

Donations allow a broader spectrum of kids to participate. Just one eight-person shell costs $35,000, so money is still a factor in the sport.

Tosdal said it costs slightly more than $1,000 per athlete to send a team to nationals. Athletes pay half or more of that and do fundraising for the rest.

Here in the West, crew draws from more economic groups than much older programs in the East. Crew's broadening appeal will mean more appeals for help in the future. (See www.rownw.com and click on "Organizations" for links to all the region's clubs.)

The short-term payoff is seeing kids wet, cold, exhausted and feeling a great sense of accomplishment.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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