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Jack Hailand: Rowing takes humor as well as a lot of pull

Competitive rowing in a racing shell is a very demanding sport. Being successful requires a strong commitment, many hours of training on and off the water and mastering the proper technique. It is arguably the most demanding team sport, requiring perfect synchronization, trust, dedication and a strong work ethic.

I came to the sport in 1948, first rowing for Buffalo Technical High School and later for the West Side Rowing Club until 1954. Then I took some time off to raise a family, and returned in 1984 as a master (over age 27) and competed in more than 260 races, until 2002.

As serious as the sport can be, I look back on both humorous and ironic moments.

At the World Masters Regatta in Cologne, Germany, we were at the starting line in a double. In a double both rowers have two oars and at least one of them must hold on to both of them to prevent capsizing.

Unfortunately, my partner and I let go at the same time, I to reset a stroke counter, and he to adjust his glasses. Over we went. The officials helped us out, literally, and we got set to go again.

Waiting at the starting line I shouted over to the San Diego crew sitting next to us that we were just trying to psych them out.

In Austin, Texas, I was scheduled to row in a mixed four (two men, two women). The afternoon before the race, the person who had made up the crew told me that I was being replaced.

Disappointed, I ask a friend from California and two women from the Atlanta Rowing Club if they would join me in setting up another entry. Sure they would, so we borrowed a boat and oars from the Atlanta club. As luck would have it, in the race the next day our newly created crew was in the same race as the one I had been removed from. Yes, you guessed it correctly: We won the event by 0.8 seconds.

But there is more to that story. When I went to pay the late entry fee I realized that I had no money with me.

The entries were closing in five minutes and I told the officials that I needed to go back to my room, but could not do it in just five minutes. They said they would be unable to wait.

A voice behind me asked, “who should I make the check out to”? I turned to see Ed Stevens, who had stroked the U.S. Naval Academy eight to victory in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.

I ask him why he would do this for a complete stranger and he said it was because I had attended the Naval Academy. I had not, but was wearing a shirt with Navy crew lettering on it, which I wore when racing with the Navy masters.

I explained this to him, he said that was fine, gave me his business card and said mail him a check any time.

One final story. We were on the starting line in Augusta, Ga. I was in the stroke seat of a New Haven Rowing Club eight, and next to us was a Navy masters boat with a good friend of mine stroking. As we sat waiting for the start he yelled across to my crewmates: “Hey, do you guys know that your stroke man was in a Buffalo hospital a few days ago?”

I had been, but it was just to rule out a heart attack.