Paul Colvin is married with two daughters. One of his daughters began rowing during her freshman year of highschool. By her junior year Paul took up the sport as well. “I had an erg since early 90’s, and it sat unused for about a decade. Though I had used it a bit and knew it was a great workout,” Colvin said about his rowing beginnings. Once he was part of the team he was hooked.
Andy Roberts, like Colvin, had never rowed in his life before starting the sport as an adult. Roberts had joined Sammamish Rowing Association’s (SRA) Learn to Row (LTR) program in 2012 and had a huge group of great people in his LTR class. “I needed to do something competitive. I played soccer before, but my teammates kept getting injured,” he said. Like Colvin, Roberts had caught the rowing bug and stayed with SRA year after year, unlike many of his fellow LTR teammates who seemed to fizzle away.
Paul Meyer rowed a bit during his school years in the Netherlands, but wasn’t particularly looking to get back into rowing until his wife took it up. When they moved to the United States, his wife picked up rowing at SRA to stay fit. At the end of her Learn to Row experience, she introduced Paul to Jenny Proby and he eventually joined the ECM team. Meyer said, “it took a couple of years to get all the fitness back, but I'm happy I did it.”
Then there was Mike Fitzner who moved to Washington in 2004 from California. At that time, SRA offered winter conditioning classes that appealed to Fitzner. The crazy good workouts were matched with terrific coaching as Fitzner learned proper erg form during his initial time at SRA. However, other sports drew Fitzner away from the old boathouse for a few years before his return. “I introduced a colleague at work, Leslie Moser, to erging. She ended up doing LTR, and told me it was the best thing ever. She eventually wore me down to try actual rowing so I gave in,” Fitnzer said. He loved it and has put his entire focus on rowing ever since. He too commented on the fact that his LTR class seemed to dwindle out despite the strong sense of community and fun.
Just a few years back the men on the Evening Competitive Masters (ECM) were few and far between. Fitzner, Colvin, and Roberts are some of the men who have stuck around the longest to see the team really grow. Fitzner said, “Over the years we tend to lose people, the ones who stay are the ones who would do it for life.” All of the men agreed that while many LTR participants love rowing not all of them are ready for the commitment that comes with rowing.
Roberts commented, ““At our age and the time we row, life can get in the way. Rowing at 6:30pm at night is hard for some people.” Time, family, work, and other commitments can make it hard for people to consistently make it to the boathouse.
Fitzner added, “If you want to row competitively you cannot half-ass practice and the time commitment. You won't advance in your rowing technique and make better boats. That is going to weed out and frustrate people.”
It’s true that it takes a certain type of person to stay committed to the sport. All the men agreed that they don’t just row- rowing is a part of them. Fitzner said, “My friends have no idea how difficult this is,” to which Roberts added, “but they all know you row.” Despite the dedication it takes to be successful in rowing, these men along with all of our other members, see their dedication as totally worth their time.
Slowly but surely the ECM team has seen growth in the amount of men on the team, as well as its competitiveness. Fitzner, Colvin, and Roberts have simply attributed that growth and development to the strong community and time. Colvin said, “I can’t say I’ve actively recruited anyone- it’s a hard sport to recruit for. If people show up you hope they are having a good time and have that desire to work hard and stick with it.”
Meyer said that Colvin and Roberts were incredibly encouraging during his entire time on the ECM team. He said, “To me, Paul and Andy have been a constant in the time I was with ECM. A couple of years ago, ECM sent a Men’s 4+ to the Head of the Charles Regatta. That was not a completely ideal journey (we had to replace one of the rowers at the last minute), but it set the stage for what is possible. This ignited the initial ambition and it has only grown since.”
Roberts added that they lead by example. “We are working our asses off and have fun while doing it, and people see that. Having people come in seeing we are succeeding now and seeing we started out where they started out is a big factor in having people stay.” All of these men came to join ECM through the LTR program. It took time for them to be at the level they are now. They remember how hard it was in the beginning and that memory reminds them to encourage new members as they embark on their own rowing journeys. The men agreed that when they see someone with athletic potential come up through LTR they encourage the individual to stay.
Coach Lee Henerson of the ECM team talked about the team growth as well. “It has been exciting and rewarding to watch the team over the years. The thing that I preach is to own your experience and there’s a core group of guys that have bought into that. Paul [Colvin], Andy, Paul [Meyer], and Mike have definitely bought into that among others. These rowers have been through the ups and downs and thick and thin. We’ve been able to build up through the LTR ranks and that core group has gotten stronger.”
Henderson added, “The group has continued to grow and buy into the ‘own your experience’ philosophy. They run workouts together and make it fun. A cadre of guys have been coming together all of July. The improvements we’ve seen are a result of that philosophy.” Henderson also attributed team growth to the intentional targeting of better racing opportunities. ECM has begun adding bigger and bigger events to their racing schedule such as the Head of the Charles Regatta. The increase in exciting racing opportunities has correlated to increases elsewhere in the team.
Those increases were in numbers and competitiveness. Fitzner said about their progress as a team, “we have rowed splits this year we never thought possible. In contrast to other crews or other crews from other clubs, we don’t have anyone who rowed collegiately in our men’s eight. We all started novice year here at SRA.” All of them agreed that their favorite SRA memory was this year’s Opening Day. Fitzner said, “our rowing then was so good it felt like the season was over for me, as I didn’t think this experience could be topped. We came in second place even though we went in with no expectations. It was an awesome race out of the gate. The whole 2K with the boats and yachts on starboard side, with the noise, and the way the boat felt- it was perfect. Stars aligned.”
Their progress over the years has been due to many factors; hard work, dedication, patience, and an incredible support group. They’ve talked about the tremendous impact that excellent coxswains like Amy Shotwell and Lia Roberds have had on their progress. Fitzner, Colvin, and Roberts all agreed that Roberds’ coxing skills and dedication to them has made all the difference in many of their practice and races. They trust her to help them get the best practice in possible or race their best race, and say she provides a unique benefit in that she acts as both a skillful coach and coxswain when in the boat. Coach Henderson mentioned that Shotwell has been instrumental to the team for years and having Lia around to coach and cox is an incredible benefit for the team.
With their recent success and incredible progress the men now feel like they belong. By that they mean they feel that they are finally good enough to be worthy competitors with fellow SRA teams, local crews, and even national competition. Henderson said, “I believe having multiple strong competitive teams within SRA just makes for an overall healthier program. It gives options to athletes that I find exciting.”
However, rowing prowess isn’t the only strong part of the team. Their bond as a group has grown too. Roberts said, “One of the best things about ECM are the things we do outside of the boathouse. We do a rowing camp at Lake Samish. It’s such a great way to start the new year. We get such great bonding, rowing, and the very spartan cabin accommodations add to the overall experience. It makes ECM a unique place!”
Colvin added, “We have fun together. The first and third Thursdays of the month we drink beer as a team and hang out.” Meyer also loves the third Thursday beers as well as the team's Christmas party.
Strong bonds, incredible work ethic, and years of patience and determination have paid off for the members of the ECM team at SRA. Fitzner finished with, “It’s a great time to be in ECM right now. We have a great group of guys,” which Colvin agreed with.
“And a great coaching staff,” Roberts added quickly, “Lee, Dennis, Lia, Matt- all of them.”