Last week I returned to my roots and the waters of Lake Merced in San Francisco. My high school rowing team had its annual alumni event. This was my first time back in over 20 years and I do not have a real answer on why it took me so long to return to the place that shaped me so in my life.
Former rowers and current team members packed the boathouse and surrounding area. Yet nowhere did I see the old guard – guys from the early days. I stood alone with the realization that I was the oldest alumni present. I know this for a fact as we formed St. Ignatius Crew during my sophomore year. Those early days were challenging with second-hand boats, mis-matched oars and a struggle for recognition from the school. Yet we loved to row. Time on the water was special.
Over the years the crew program grew and indeed gathered the proper support from the school. Over 20 years later St. Ignatius won a national championship and won at the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta on the Thames River in England. From humble beginnings, the program became world-class.
Yet the real success of the rowing program is how it formed young men and later young women once the school went coed. Those who row … know. Crew goes beyond sport to build character and strength that serves us well in life.
The alumni event this year was special by honoring Tom O’Connell the coach that took St. Ignatius Crew to the top of the sport over the last ten years. Tom received the ultimate rowing honor of having a boat named after him. I knew Tom from my days rowing as a man who could give us a challenge even from his single scull. I had several good coaches in high school and later rowing at UC Berkeley, yet it would have been an honor to have Tom O’Connell as my coach.
Below is a very good video professional produced for the alumni event. It is long at over 9 minutes, but a worthy watch. Listen to how these young men talk about their coach and what rowing meant for their lives. Congrats to Tom O’Connell for your coaching success and impact on and off the water.