Let’s review. With ninety-six seasons behind them, the Washington men’s rowing program had just about seen it all. They had sunk mid-race, broken in half mid-race, lost and won by curvature, won Olympic gold by feet, lost Olympic trials by feet, raced in Russia and Henley and Egypt and Tokyo and a multitude of places across the globe, hit a floating log, hit a floating island, and hit a floating roof. They had traveled by foot, horse, car, van, bus, ship, train and plane. They had coaches hurl megaphones, bite windshields, sink mid-race, yell at upper campus, get fired and then re-hired. They had won shirts, lost shirts, forgotten their shirts, and traded their shirts. They had been carried from boats, swam from boats, ejected from boats, walked on ice and laked through ice. They had lived together, eaten together, laughed and cried together.
By the time the century turned to 2000, more than ten thousand athletes had lifted a white blade out of the water on a Seattle lake. Only a small fraction of that number ever sat in a varsity or JV shell. Yet everyone who came down to row did so because they got something out of it: the desire to compete, the uniqueness of the sport, the camaraderie that was borne out of a common goal.
And all of that was still playing out in the spring of 2000, just as it had decades before. Who would make the varsity boat? Who would make the JV boat? Strategy, desire, and effort were all in open view to the experienced observer. In open view, but no easier for Bob Ernst than Rusty Callow or Al Ulbrickson had it before him. Sure the sport was different; but – and this is a large part of what makes collegiate rowing so compelling – so much was still the same.