After living in Connecticut for five years, James Conlu moved back to Seattle in the Fall of 2004. He joined the evening team before it was referred to as the Evening Competitive Team (ECM), and then moved to the 5am team late in the spring of 2005 and has been there ever since. Conlu had learned to row back on the east coast in 2001, and instantly fell in love with the sport. Conlu said, “while rowing for Riverfront Recapture in Connecticut, one of my coaches told me about SRA when I was preparing to move back to Seattle in 2004. She had rowed with some of the SRA junior rowers on the Jr. National Team.”
Growing up, Conlu was an army brat that spent most of his time between the U.S. and Germany. During his time in Germany he grew a love for another sport, soccer, and played on a competitive junior team for a few years. When he moved back to the U.S. he kept soccer in his life by attending soccer camps. Rowing wasn’t quite on his mind yet.
Conlu said that even though he lived in Seattle from 1996-1999 he ironically did not learn about rowing until moving to Connecticut. When asked what keeps Conlu returning to the boathouse he mentioned community. “We work hard to push each other on the water, and we help each other at regattas by carrying boats and oars regardless of which team we're on. But I think it’s the off-water camaraderie that really provides that sense of community. We’ve seen it time and time again. We came together to make the new boathouse a reality.” He says so many cherished friendships have resulted from the sense of community at Sammamish from helping someone move in, find a new job, getting someone through a rough time, or just getting together to hang out.
In 2008 Conlu had been coaching Learn to Row (LTR) I and II as well as novices in the evening. Conlu said, “I was lucky to have had a motivated group of folks for my 1st LTR I class. I was fortunate that there was very little turnover as we progressed to LTR II and into Novice.” Over the course of the next few years, Conlu experienced some great success from those Learn to Row programs he coached. The team saw a couple of men’s and women’s 4+'s growing to men’s and women’s 8+'s. As the team grew Conlu knew a new coach was needed so he contacted Lee Henderson who came back in 2009 to coach the evening team. “This led to the creation of the ECM team as we know it today. And many of those early rowers are still rowing today on one of our Masters teams.”
The ECM team has seen great success and growth ever since. Rowers on this team are coached by Lee Henderson, Dennis Ferrer, and Matt Lundberg who all show amazing love and dedication to the sport. Lee and Dennis handle the more experienced crews comprised of men and women while Matt coaches the novices. Novice enrollment has seen a great spike this year and that might be directly correlated to the great sense of community at Sammamish that Conlu mentions.
“Other than coaching, I served as a substitute coach, and [I] served on the board during the early years of fundraising for the new boathouse. I do what I can to help the club out. For the last 10 years, I’ve been taking photos at various regattas to hopefully capture the history and document the growth and success of SRA over the years, but more importantly to capture those precious moments and memories for my teammates and SRA,” Conlu added.
Overall, Conlu says some of his favorite moments may not even seem like moments all the time. He cherishes all the strong friendships that have sprung out of rowing on different teams, coaching, and being involved in the club overall. He has been able to celebrate friends growing their families, watching their infants grow up, or seeing their kids move on to college.
James is described by his coaches as a team player. He is ingrained in the history of Sammamish Rowing, and has played a huge role in the success of many of our rowers and teams. He has been selfless in giving his time towards an organization and sport he loves. James is one of many rowers who embody what SRA is all about- personal discovery, safety, thoughtful stewardship, and team success.
Remaining true to SRA’s original vision of a community organization open to all, SRA continues to provide rowing opportunities on a non-exclusive, first-come-first-served basis. Some 20 years after its founding, SRA honors and upholds its mission, to spark and nurture a passion for the sport of rowing. It is safe to say James Conlu has done an excellent job of honoring and upholding that mission.