It’s Not All About the Money

By Bri Hollis – Posted on October 18, 2015

The National Rowing Foundation (NRF) has a concrete goal: to raise money to support the country’s national teams for international competition.

These funds are particularly important because the U.S. is the only major sporting country that does not receive government funding to support World Championship or Olympic teams. Money raised through the NRF accounts for roughly 40 percent of all funds the U.S. national teams use for preparation, selection and participation in World Championship and Olympic events.

But inside the NRF tent today, no one was talking about money.

“It’s like a huge family reunion,” says Gillian Perry, Executive Secretary of the NRF. “They’ve come from all over the place, and everyone comes together here.”

The NRF holds an event open to national team members, their friends and family, and anyone who wants to donate to the organization.

The area is full of energy. It’s a symphony of hearty laughs, high fives, cheers and warm welcomes.

Around the tent, there are former teammates reuniting; recent national team members swapping stories with those who rowed in their positions in previous years; rowers from the 60s rehashing memories of their glory days on the water; and children – perhaps the next in line for rowing Olympic glory – weaving about through the legs of their 6-foot-7 parents.

“It’s like a homecoming for alumni of all different types of programs,” says Olympian Scott Gault.

Gault rowed in the 2012 and 2008 Olympics, as well as multiple national championships. This weekend, he placed second in the Alumni Eights with his alma mater, the University of Washington. He talks about how great it is to see everyone at the event, because even though he may not see his former teammates as much as he once used to—they still have the same bond.

“They’re my best friends,” he says. “They were all at my wedding. Every one of my groomsmen was a rower – except for my brother in law.”

Money may be collected at the door, but inside is a community.  Goult not only ran into teammates and coaches, but the parents of one his former teammates as well.

He greeted Charlie and Nancy Hovey–mother and father of Olympic sculler Elliot Hovey—with hugs and smiles. The three sat down and exchanged stories of their experiences abroad at various World Championship competitions. The Hovey’s aren’t as active in the rowing circuit as they once were, but make it a point to come to the NRF event at the Head of the Charles every year. And they, like Perry, describe the rowing community as a family.

“It’s such a nice family,” says Nancy Hovey. “We’ve gotten to know so many amazing people, it’s really a wonderful thing.”

The NRF holds similar functions during events in San Diego and New York, but the Head Of The Charles the big one. And this is the one rowing event of the year you have most people in the same room—as is the case of the Hoveys.

Executive Director of the NRF Charlie Hamlin attributes this to the nature of the Head Of The Charles.

NRF executive secretary Gillian Perry and executive director Charlie Hamlin.

“This is the largest regatta in the world,” he says. “The ambiance, the enthusiasm, the energy that goes on here is infectious.”

Hamlin is a very established member in the rowing community himself. He participated in the 1968 Olympics, and rowed for the U.S. national team the following two years. He also raced Saturday morning—finishing second in the 60+ division of grand master’s eights with his Team Attager boatmates—before gearing up to greet people at the NRF tent.

And at the tent, Hamlin says the rowing community is so close because the athletes have a special bond.

“We all have this common bond of having gone through the development and pain and practice that it takes to be a great oarsman or oarswoman,” he says. “On the water we’re competitors, when we’re not on the water, we’re friends.”

And this bond—this camaraderie among rowers, coaches, family members—does translate into donations.

“But people are happy to give them,” says Perry.

This is because the funds raised by the NRF allow the country’s current elite rowers to focus on nothing but pursuing their sport with fervor; and those who have passed the torch want the rowers of today and tomorrow to continue to have that opportunity.

“It absolutely takes a special community,” says Hamlin.  “A community of people who rowed before supporting the athletes of today.”

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Make this year’s Head Of The Charles® a success. There are many opportunities to get involved over race weekend and before.