By tuli alexander
During the last weekend of May, the Western Women’s Rowing Team will be going to nationals for the ninth consecutive year. They’ve won first place in their division every year since 2005.
Bellingham community member Steve Brinn said he’s been on the sidelines marveling at the success of the team. He got together some friends and decided to buy a $25,000 four-person shell for the team. The decision was made last fall during the Viking Night dinner and sports auction, which is a fund-raising event for Western’s athletic department.
“I was pretty shocked for the rest of the night. I couldn’t believe that they could be so generous,” varsity coxswain Kristy Theodorson said.
The shell is a blue Vespoli, the same brand as the rest of the team’s boats, Theodorson said.
“It’s absolutely incredible that people who we haven’t really known—practically strangers—would donate $25,000 in a spur of the moment decision,” Captain Audrey Coon said.
Brinn lives on Lake Samish, where the women practice nearly every day.
“For a number of years I would get woken up by the coxswain yelling, ‘Stroke! Stroke! Pull! Pull!’” he said. “For a couple of years I would watch them and think, ‘Wow, that’s incredible that people do this every day, regardless of the weather.”
Brinn got in touch with Head Coach John Fuchs and was told to meet them at their dock at Lutherwood Camp and Retreat at 5:30 a.m.
“It was life-changing,” Brinn said. “The combination of the passion and the physical stamina and the amazing level of accomplishment without adequate gear just blew me away.”
Brinn started to ask more questions about the program and learned that there are no recruited athletes for the team.
“It’s surprising. You’d think that by trying to build a national-level program you’d use scholarships to recruit,” Brinn said.
Instead, team membership is advertised at the beginning of the school year and whoever wants to join, can.
Brinn also asked how the team was funded. Previously, they were getting money from an endowment, but because the stock market hasn’t been doing well, the team isn’t getting the money that would be made off the interest, Fuchs said.
Community member Betty Haskell purchased an eight-person boat for the team, named “Molly K” after her granddaughter, Molly Kay Koch.
Haskell and her late husband, F. Murray “Red” Haskell, have been important donors to the crew team, Coon said. The Haskells have also donated three other shells to the team.
According to Western Crew online archives, Red Haskell donated $10,000 in 1969 to begin the crew program.
The owners of Rocket Donuts recently committed to purchasing a new two-person boat, or pair, for the team last week. It will be named “Rocket,” Brinn said.
“As a team, it has kind of taken our breath away. I don’t think that too many teams, especially at Western, have this kind of support,” Coon said.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Coon. “People are recognizing that we’re a successful team and we’re starting to get the support.”
“It makes it easier to train at a high caliber when you have the boats that you need. It makes it much easier to do the work that’s intended for you,” Coon said.
This is Coon’s fourth season rowing. Before she joined the team at Western, she’d rowed recreationally. Her previous experience, however, is unique, as many of the team members are walk-ons with no former rowing experience, she said.
Usually, in the course of the fall, half of the girls who join the team drop out, Coon said. They started giving new members a two-week window to decide if they want to make the commitment because many of them often don’t know what they’re getting into, she said.
“It’s physically pretty intense and there’s also the time commitment, so it’s kind of all or nothing,” she said. “And, of course, getting up at 4:30 a.m. is not really fun, either.”
The women row from 5 to 7 a.m. Monday through Friday and from 6 to 9 a.m. on Saturdays.
The coaches have a Blackboard site where they post afternoon workouts for the team members.
A workout may include 45 to 60 minutes of cardio and perhaps a weight workout or pushups and pull ups, Coon said.
The donations feel like a validation of all the hard work that the team has put in over the years, she said.
“It’s just nice to take that component of racing out of the picture,” Fuchs said. “You can’t fault the equipment. We want the kids to be able to go out there and race and not have other factors having a negative impact.”