Monday, October 31, 2016

Varsity Retain Homecoming Cup in 20th Anniversary Race

This year's Race for The Homecoming Cup may have been the most exciting to date. An unseasonably warm day set the stage for the annual showdown between Racer rowers past and present. Heading into winds blowing up to 20 miles per hour along a 500m course, varsity and alumni boats battled high-rolling swells in a close and hard-fought contest.

The day began with the Alumni women destroying the varsity in the first sprint--a striking contrast to last year's anemic performance. In the second heat, alumni were unable to finish off their opponents, completing the course about a boat-length behind. However, after rotating in fresh rowers from a considerably strong bench, the alumni returned to the good form of their first heat, finishing the event ahead of the varsity by a respectable margin.

The day continued with alumni men facing off against the varsity. Rowing with their shirts off--a clear attempt to intimidate those of us who don't burn calories as efficiently as we did in our early 20s--the varsity held a consistent lead through the first heat, finishing by roughly half a boat length. After rotating in fresh personnel, the second heat began with the the alumni holding firm alongside the varsity through the length of the race course. So close was the finish, neither team nor race officials on the water were sure of who had won. Ultimately, the finish line judge awarded the win to the varsity to conclude the event.

With the alumni women having won the first event and the varsity men having won the second, the Race for The Homecoming Cup would be decided in a third, one-and-done, winner-take-all mixed boat race. How exciting for this to have happened during our 20-year anniversary! Until now, the winner of The Daniel A. Lavit Homecoming Cup had not been determined in a contest between mixed 8s.* 

After a final rotation of personnel, the two boats cleared the starting line in a dead heat. Through the first half of the course, the alumni crept forward, leading first by one seat, then by two, then by a half a boat length, then by a little more. But crossing the halfway mark and into the final stretch, the varsity tapped a reserve to inch ahead, reclaiming positioning to take the lead. The finish was close, maybe closer than the finish of any the previous homecoming race. Ultimately, the varsity's mid-course surge was just enough to fight back an advancing alumni squad...who will have to wait yet another year for their chance to reclaim The Homecoming Cup.

Happy Homecoming, everybody! Thanks for another fun weekend in Murray.

Some additional comments:
  • Matt Weaver's service to Racer Rowing was commemorated with the christening of a boat in his honor. Thanks for all you've done for us, Matt.
  • Lensey and Josh Medley are taking initiative to formally organize The Racer Rowing Society; to coordinate efforts that better serve the needs of the team. Keep an eye out for opportunities to get involved!
  • Thanks to Dan Lavit for graciously welcoming Alumni to his home for our Friday and Saturday night shenanigans.
  • Thanks Allen Besand for organizing our Saturday-afternoon post-race banquet.
  • Thanks Marshall Brice for serving as Grand Marshall for this year's contest.
  • Thanks Joe Kayse for designing this year's poster and t-shirt.
  • Thanks to all the alumni, parents and friends who have supported Racer Rowing!
* Note: Homecoming attendance has varied over the years, necessitating changes to the rules of the contest. For example, in the 2012 Race, neither the varsity, novice nor alumni could field full men's or women's 8s. The contest was decided in a best of three contest between mixed boats that didn't follow the 4 men / 4 women rule. Here are a couple additional notes about the 2012 Race, just for the record....First, the alumni won that contest.  Second, this was the year that Carter Jones and Colin Neeley unveiled the "new and improved" Homecoming Cup trophy. Third, Dan was unable to attend that year's homecoming. As punishment for his treachery, the Homecoming Cup was temporarily renamed after assistant coach, Sarah Marshall.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Invoking a Special Kind of Nostalgia

Longtime team designer, Joe Kayse has unveiled the poster to commemorate our 20th Anniversary celebration. Depicting The Rosemary Crisp in it's sectional, "travel mode", the poster invokes a special nostalgia for those of us whose regatta experiences involved unstrapping the boat, from the roof of a university panel van, sealing the middle with Vaseline and hoping beyond hopes that the seal would hold through the end of racing.

Ah those formative years--when the notion of the team owning a boat trailer seemed as distant a dream as owning more than one boat. Look how far we've come!

Joe Kayse has produced posters for previous homecoming gatherings as well as designs for the team's official website and The Racer Rowing Society Blog. A Generation II alumnus, Joe rowed from '97 until graduating in 2001. Joe is an Associate Creative Director at Bohan in Nashville, TN.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

On the Nearly-Traumatic Experience of My First College Party

Experiences are punctuated by our own unique point of view. As such, I don't ask anyone to take this account as the definitive record of all that happened. I hope that in the comments below, others will share their own recollections of this event--MSU Crew's first party.

As the Generation I squad started taking form--holding regular land workouts at  Stewart Stadium and water practices at Ledbetter Bay, we organized our first party. In the years that followed, our bacchanalian revels have have become the stuff of legend. But in those early days, I think are our parties were proportional to the limited experience of our all-novice club.

Like most of my teammates--as far as I know--I was a teetotaler. The prospect of a college party filled me with dread. But it seemed a necessary right of passage to attend--if only to serve as an observer should the evening's events prove auspicious enough to warrant any retelling. As it would happen, this was not the case. Moreover, having not discussed this particular party in 20 years, much of what might have been interesting has faded into a nearly inaccessible recess of my memory. But I can vividly remember how I felt, and there are a few details that should at least be offered for the sake of posterity.

We had the party in the Cambridge subdivision, just northwest of campus in a house that was rented by one of the "Women's blue team" members. The house  was decorated with blue and gold streamers. Someone had gotten a poster-board and drew a picture of an 8....I think there was also something written on it. Was it something like, "Crew Team Party?"

Back then, we frequently referred to ourselves as a Crew Team. We were totally un-ironic about this too.

The lights were dark and there was music on the stereo. At least two dozen 19-20 year-olds stood around awkwardly. Dancing was intermittent.

In a corner of the kitchen, there was a small dinette table. Two of the "Men's blue team" members were engaged in a heated game of Kings Cup (neither of these guys would stay with the team--but they were totally committed to the present contest).

There were a few cans of beer cooling in a tub of ice. But not many were drinking. A lot of us really didn't have a taste of strong drink over the course of the 1996-1997 season. There were some exceptions to this--but it's not my place to single out those dear friends who had an advanced taste for the occasional brewski in the early days.

I wasn't in the mood for a first beer that night, but thought it wise to neither proclaim this nor stand around with an empty cup. I found a suitable drinking vessel in the kitchen. Filled it with ice from the freezer and water from the kitchen sink.

Dan was there. Years later, he shared with me that he and Steve weren't sure about the extent to which they should get involved in the social aspects of the club. They wanted to make sure that things didn't get out of hand, but didn't want to impose a prohibition on fun that would alienate the many juniors and seniors that were well-accustomed to the socially progressive lifestyle of the mid-90s college student. On this occasion, they decided that only one of them should be present to make sure that nobody got into trouble. Legend tells us that a coin was tossed and Steve won. Dan had to serve as chaperone.

My earliest memory of Dan was approaching me in that kitchen. "What you drinkin' Moode?"

"Water", I said.

"Me too" replied Dan...his voice suggesting an odd mix of approval and disappointment. I think that in this all but brief exchange, there was some, unspoken acknowledgement that in a span of time that would follow--after I turned 21 and walked back my late-teen allegiance to the spirit of Frances Willard--that we'd have a few beers at the crew-related parties that would come later.

The first crew party ended around 10 or 11PM. The Kings Cup contenders--having consumed most of the party's limited selection of beer--staggered into the night. They were followed by at least two dozen, awkward, very temperate 19-20 year olds.

Training With Louisville Rowing on Our Club's First Trip

Novice men replace an 8 in the LRC boathouse.
In early November of 1996, MSU Crew made its first trip to row on waters far from our beloved Kentucky Lake. The destination was Louisville and our host was the Louisville Rowing Club. Members of their organization played an important role in consulting Murray State at the very early stages of our club's inception. The purpose of the trip--as I reflect in retrospect--was to demonstrate gratitude for their guidance. To show that their good advice had indeed been heeded.

In the month leading up to the trip, the inaugural team had winnowed down from 170 to about 4 vans worth of novice rowers (two boats for the men and two boats for the women, plus extras--low hanging fruit that neither Steve nor Dan could shake from the tree). Although the ultimate spirit of the trip was one of goodwill, some of us had convinced ourselves that this trip would culminate in a contest to rival the Royal Henley Regatta in its scope and importance. Coaches Steve and Dan didn't do much to tamp down the hyper-competitive spirit among our ranks by their appearance at the club's Halloween party the week before--disguised respectively as a grotesquely overweight Louisville Club rower and his ugly girlfriend [photo unavailable].

The idea that we were on the road to race--AND WIN--was taken to a ridiculous extreme, during a dinner gathering among the guys at Mr. Gatti's. One of our less promising, but most enthusiastic novices gave a stirring, impromptu lecture on the importance of carb-loading that was filled with sound and fury, and earnest urgings of, "eat up, boys. We're going to need these nutrients on race day" (said as pizza grease dribbled down his face, staining his residential college t-shirt).

Realistically, our prospects for winning any contest at that point were pretty slim as most of us had only a few days worth of time on the water. And with only two boats and ALOT of prospective novices, a lot of that precious water time was spent rotating people from the coach's launch. No, this was not an outing for us to bring much braggadocio or hope to beat even the most modestly prepared novice squad. This was a time for MSU Crew to be humble and see with greater clarity, the road that lay ahead.

But it was a fun trip. On the road to Louisville, Lavit had us playing a game were we were yelling "poo poo" when we saw blue cars. I distinctly remember one of our men's team coxswains playing this game with particular enthusiasm.

When we got within range of the cool Louisville radio stations, there was much rejoicing. Murray radio stations weren't exactly on the cutting edge of pop culture (have they ever been?). A stream of 90s alternative hits came on the radio that prompted us to raise our voices in song. I most vividly remember the group's enthusiasm peaking when The Cranberries's "Zombie" came on the air.

When we arrived at our hotel, we divided up the team to occupy a block of hotel rooms. At this point, not everyone trusted each other. Some roommates were less desirable than others. Little Matt and I were especially worried about one of the guys who was supposed to room with us...however with Louisville bars staying open until 4am, we didn't really have to worry about sharing a bed with him....Although there was a brief moment of panic in the very early hours of the morning when I could hear Big Matt open his door in the adjoining room, proclaiming this guy's name after a heartily spoken, "holy shit!"

Seemed as though our teammate had one too many rounds at the bar--through the wall, I heard him say "sex on the beach" at least a dozen times. At some point he found a place to crash--fortunately in a spot where Little Matt and I weren't bothered. This guy was a real piece of Year 1 progressed, he demonstrated time and time again that his heart was usually in the right place...but he always managed to leave a niggling shred of doubt; that he could snap at any minute and murder us in our sleep.

The next morning, we went to the Louisville Crew boathouse. One of their club's senior members presented a beautiful introduction to the sport of rowing, placing it within the broader context of human invention. He showed us many depictions of rowing's prominence in ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Viking cultures. And he showed us examples of how the modern sport evolved (including a clip from a silent era film staring Buster Keaton playing a college boy who sought to win the love of his sweetheart by being his school's coxswain and steering his team's boat to victory).

Then he took us outside to show us how to erg. He provided a lot of individualized attention. This took longer than anyone had planned...there were far more of us at this event than I think anyone had thought there would be at this point, perhaps a testimony to the appeal of our sport and the quality of our people. But at this point in the trip, a lot of us did a lot of standing around. This was a problem. The weather was growing cold.

On the night before, Big Matt had--in his very influential and big-brotherly way-- encouraged the guys to show up "in uniform."

"Guys," I think he said, "we've got to look legit!"

Trouble was, however, we had not yet gotten our team Henleys (or jackets). The money for those didn't come until the spring. So we had to agree to wear outfits that were as close in appearance as possible. Our options severely limited. The best we could do was to show up in dark shorts and white t-shirts. Not the best gear to have on a cold day in Louisville in November.

Then it got colder. There were snow furies. Some of us were miserable.

After the erg clinic, it was time to put boats in the water. I recall Coach Steve telling us before the trip that he had hoped that we could put MSU rowers in 4s and have them do some short-distance racing against each other. But in terms of keeping a boat set, and rowing on the feather, and following a stroke, we were not up to this.

Even still, we got to end the fall season with some quality time on the water. We rowed. Through a chill brought by a greying sky, we rowed in mixed 8s alongside Louisville club squads. Certainly not racing...more like baby ducks following mama. Oh we were so precious in those early days!

I think Steve video recorded us as we were rowing. I recall afterwards looking at film with him later on....having all kinds of bad habits pointed out to me. Some of which I think I have since unlearned; others I worry that I'm still taking into our alumni races.

Before we left Louisville, we stopped at a team member's parent's house. Their family made a huge pot of chili for the whole team. It was a welcome respite from the cold. And with our bellies full and the color restored to our frost bitten faces, we reloaded the team vans and made our way back to Murray. Less boisterous than on the drive out, certainly wiser, and with another 6 months ahead of us to learn the sport before our novice debut at SIRA.

All Aboard: Copy from the 1997 Shield Sports Section Dedicated to the Inaugural Team

The Shield was campus institution that, like our own, faced an existential crisis as funding for many organizations was cut in 2008. Sadly, Murray State has not had a yearbook since, and its eighty-third volume marked its last. 

I purchased copies of The Shield throughout my years at Murray State. My favorite volume was produced in 1999--Brian Howell had a hand in many aspects of its production (a very careful examination of the 1999 yearbook reveals at least one well-hidden nod from my friend that still makes me've got to look really hard to find it!)

But the 1999 yearbook is a story for another time...For this post, I wanted to focus on the 1997 yearbook--when Murray State Crew made its first appearance within the Sports section of The Shield.

On pages 128-129, yearbook staff member, Shane Hughes introduces the club, accompanied by a collection of four photographs from our very early fall practices (including a photo from our early-November trip to Louisville). The photos are not of an especially great quality. I've decided not to scan them from my copy because I suspect that doing so would make them look worse. However, the full section may be viewed in its original form via the Murray State University Digital Archive.  I am going to include the captions for the photos, however, only because they are so pun-tastic....Shane Hughes and the yearbook staff must have really knocked themselves out coming up with all of these.

All aboard

Crew newest part of athletic tradition

Princeton, Yale, Murray State...Murray State? Yes, Murray State. This year marked the founding of the Murray State crew team [sic]. No longer will rowing be confined to the rivers of the Northeast.

The team was founded, in part, to attract students from other parts of the country and to introduce a new type of competition and recreation to the area. Murray State's proximity to the lakes area was also taken into consideration. School officials wanted to take advantage of the area's natural resources.

Classified as a club sport, crew was unique in that open tryouts were held. No one was cut, but several people left the team do to the physical demands of the sport.

"Most people unfamiliar with the sport do not realize how much physical endurance and discipline are required to participate," said Sherri Gallimore, director of intra-collegiate sports and recreation. 

A physically demanding as crew can be, the biggest challenge may lie in the mental aspect. Athletes are required to attend 5:30 a.m. practices. They are asked not only to perform at their highest personal levels but also to perform in sync with the rest of the team. 

"Crew is the ultimate team sport," head coach Steve Marchino said. "There are nine people per boat. Each must work in perfect unison with the others to achieve the greatest level of performance."

"To be successful, athletes must practice self-discipline and manage their time effectively," said team member Renah Rushing, a senior from Mayfield.

Another aspect of crew that separates it from other sports is the diversity of the athletes that participate. Through hours of practice, an unlikely combination of 35 participants that included an ex-Olympian, an ex-marine, as well as freshmen with no prior athletic experience was molded into a cohesive unit.

With the number of competitive sports for women at Murray State being limited, crew proved to be especially attractive to female athletes. Approximately two-thirds of the team was made up of women who may not have had the opportunity to step into the sporting arena had it not been for crew. 

After practicing through the fall semester, the team planned to participate in at least three competitions, or regattas, during the spring semester. Its performance in these first competitions would determine whether the team would be invited to other more prestigious competitions. The fact that the competitions were divided so that athletes of the same size and experience competed against each other worked in favor of the young squad.

The hard work and dedication of the founding members speaks well for the future of the program. 

"After future successes, I will be proud to say that I played a part in building the tradition," said team member Julie Matheny, a junior from Lone Oak.

Photo captions (pun for the whole family!!)

  • ROWING ON A RIVER--Jill Bendarczyk, Jamie Melendez and Jennifer Preher practice their technique. One of the main goals of the crew team [sic] was to just have fun.
  • MAKING WAVES--The crew team [sic] attempts to row in unison. After a rocky start, the team developed the precision necessary to be competitive.
  • ROW CALL--As the sun rises over the lake, head coach Steve Harchino [sic] supervises the men's team as they roll the shell into the lings. Since most practices started before 6 a.m., theam [sic] members had to get used to performing in the early morning hours.
  • SHELLING OUT--While on a weekend trip to Louisville, the team selects a shell from the Louisville Rowing Club. The trip provided the team with the opportunity to practice on the choppy waters of the Ohio River.

Friday, August 5, 2016

How Matt Fischer Learned to Go Fast

In this update, former Club President and Men's Stroke, Matt Fischer (Class of '15) reflects on his novice year and learning about perseverance. 
Matt Fischer with a cardboard cutout of Carter Jones

"Starting college, the majority of people who row do not know that one day they would sit in a boat with their feet strapped into the hull of a 60 foot shell with eight other guys or girls, anxiously waiting at a start line to begin one of the most grueling tests of fitness. I surely didn’t plan on doing anything like this when I got to Murray State.  I didn’t even know what rowing was until a high school friend who rowed at Purude told me about it.  Growing up, I played football, baseball, and basketballthese were the most “popular” sports in Evansville, Indiana. If you were good at these sports, you were considered a great all-around athlete.  However, transitioning from high school to college, I was kind of at a loss as I didn’t have practice to go to in the evenings or games on the weekends.  Something was missing from my life and that something was competition.  So, as soon as my friend told me about rowing, I checked to see if our school had a team.  

I found the Racer Rowing website (I might have been the only rower to sign up on the website itself!). I sent an email and got a reply from Slim (Steve Goeller) inviting me to meet him; to tour the erg room and learn how to row. Then, for three weeks, I was isolated from the team and had to row by myself in a separate room from the varsity and novice guys. I wasn't sure if this was a strategy to get me caught up quickly, or if they just didn't like me. 

After much practice, it was finally time for an evaluation. I thought that the “evaluation” would be about how I was progressing in terms of technique and finesse.  Of course what “evaluation” really meant was how fast I could row 2000m.  Now I don’t care where life has taken you or how bad your memory isyou will always remember your first 2k!

At the start, I thought a 2k was no big deal.  I had just spent the last 2 weeks rowing probably 5,000 meters each day.  How bad could 2,000 be?  I actually thought this would be easy–I have never been so wrong in my entire life!  I rowed by the mantra of “fly and die” finishing at a “lightning” fast average pace of 1:55 per 500m.  The first thing I thought once I was done was, “I am going to die.”  But, the second thing I thought was, “I’m in love with this sport.”

As many of us learned, the novice year experience is only the beginning of a long journey with rowing.  As a novice you learn a lot of things: you learn how to pack light, but at the same time have nearly everything in your dorm room fit into your backpack.  You learn that Winslow Hall is your sanctuary for food, friends, and fun times.  Probably one of the most important things I learned was to buy good spandex/compression shorts. I was not told about this as a novice. On my first day out on the water, I wore boxer briefs and ended up soaked to the bone. I also think that this may have been a devious plan set up by the varsity to get a chuckle out of a novice rowing in his underwear for the first day. 

Actually, most importantly, I think the thing you learn most during your novice year is that when things get tough, you don’t quit. My novice year of rowing was the first time that I felt like I really had a “choice” in whether to quit or stick with it.  You do not have to get up at 4:30 in the morning. You do not have to row over 5,000 meters. You do not have to push past your body’s physical limits….But you choose to do these things anyway. Choosing to persevere says a lot about the character of the collegiate rower.  This doesn’t just serve us in the boat, but it also applies to the years beyond rowing; to lifewhen things get tough in marriage, with kids, or at work. To give up or pull through boils down to a matter of choice.

For me, rowing taught that things will get tough and the choices we make determine everything. Novice year goes by so fast! Enjoy it fully!"

. . .

If you have a Crew story to share, please send it to the editorial staff of the Racer Rowing Society!  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

New Content Coming Soon...

Alums! Contact the editors of this site if you would like to share stories/photos ahead of our 20th Anniversary this October. Thanks!


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Complete Collection of Team Photos

I'm hopeful this task can be completed ahead of Homecoming this year (Oct 10). If it can't be finished by then, we should do this before our 20th anniversary. I want us to have--to the extent possible--a comprehensive collection of our team's group photos. Team photos have been taken at most races...But visual records of some teams are harder to find than others (especially in the post-film/pre-Facebook years). Please help me gather a complete collection of photos that provides a visual record of everyone who has been a rower at MSU. If we can gather at least one group photo from every year (one that includes all members: men and women/novice and varsity), I'll get these printed out and put in a special place in the boathouse.

Please send me a message in Facebook (Michael Moode) if you have photos that can be used. Let me know when the photo was taken, where, and (as best as you can recall) who is in the photo. Thanks!


Generation I (1996-1997)

Generation II (1997-1998)

Generation III (19981999)

Generation IV (1999-2000)

Generation V (2000-2001)

Generation VI (2001-2002)

Generation VII (2002-2003)
Generation VIII (2003-2004)

Generation IX (2004-2005)
Generation X (2005-2006)
Generation XI (2006-2007)

Generation XII (2007-2008)

Generation XIII (2008-2009)

Generation XIV (2009-2010)

When was this taken?

Generation XV (2010-2011)

Generation XVI (2011-2012)

Generation XVII (2012-2013)

Generation XVIII (2013-2014)
Generation XIX (2014-2015)

Generation XX (2015-2016)