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Jon and Judy Runstad – ‘Life is about teamwork any way you cut it’

By Eric Cohen

2017-2018 was the inaugural year for our Beyond the Boat program, a valuable new investment in the growth of our student-athletes at Washington.  The program was developed as an extension to the unique culture and community that surrounds our rowing program, adding a higher learning platform for the character, values and leadership we aim to teach every rower who enters the doors of Conibear Shellhouse.

One of the lasting characteristics highly valued at Washington, and reinforced through the Beyond the Boat program, is personal commitment:  Individual responsibility and accountability channeled directly to the team and, by extension, to the community.  Add to that the high value our coaching staff places on not only building fast teams, but building future leaders, the Beyond the Boat program has quickly become a cornerstone of how we teach character and instill values that lead to success in life.

A strong reflection of these values, and really the best example we can give to our athletes, is our alumni community.  What we aim to instill in our students is reflected in the lives of many of those who have previously rowed on the team.

This past March, Jon Runstad, ’65, along with his wife Judy, ’74, were honored by the University with the naming of the Runstad Department of Real Estate.  But the reality of that honor – the background to it – lies in decades of quiet volunteerism and philanthropy to the UW, illustrating the kind of people we aim to build here at Washington.

“Jon and Judy have been behind the scenes in so many of the things we do here, and for many, many years,” said Michael Callahan, Washington’s men’s rowing head coach.  “Giving back is a personal value to them and they do it without fanfare… it is part of who they are.”

For Jon, growing up in Seattle and watching the races before he came to the UW, he learned from a young age what it meant to row at Washington.  One of the emphasized phrases his parents would use when describing former rowers in the community was, “He was a crew man.”

“A ‘crew man’— the way the words were used—meant something special,” Jon said recently. “Yes, he rowed, but it was more than that.  It said something about his character. It wasn’t necessarily definable, but I knew from a young age what it meant.”

Jon would enter the UW in 1960, rowing in the 1961 Frosh 8 that won the IRA. He would conclude his career in the 1964 IRA 2V8 that also won gold.  “It was in my four years here that I learned what a ‘crew man’ means.  There was a moral imperative to the work ethic, the self discipline, and the tenacity you had to find every day, and you did it without fanfare and with a confidence within yourself. “

“Life is about teamwork any way you cut it, “said Jon. “You have to be able to work effectively to get the most out of your team.  And most of all… you have to lead by example.”

The Beyond the Boat program seeks to instill the values that Jon and Judy live their life by.  “When I think about the kind of people I want these young men and women to be after they leave here, it is to be like Jon and Judy,” said Michael. “An understanding that life really begins once you leave this place, and that you carry with you the values and the commitment that made you a champion when you were here.  If we can do that successfully – and Beyond the Boat is really helping shape this – then we can be confident the Washington Rowing program is continuing the tradition of graduating high quality people into our community, and into the world.”