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A Legacy of Rowing: Seattle’s Ancient Mariners

July 27, 2016

It is 4:50 a.m. at the Pocock Rowing Center in Seattle and Tom Olson is antsy to get out on the water.

“I look forward to this the night before,” he says. “When the alarm goes off at 4:10 a.m., I’m ready to go.”

Olson is a member of the Ancient Mariners, a competitive men’s masters rowing team. Olsen is 77 years old and has been rowing for most of his life.

“It’s hard to describe,” says Olson. “The whole process of why am I doing this? Why am I up so early? I get down here and all that melts away.”

For Olson, rowing is an inherited sport. His father Dick rowed directly under University of Washington coach Al Ulbrickson, famous for coaching the Olympic rowing team regaled in the book The Boys in the Boat. Tom also rowed under coach Ulbrickson as a freshmen during Ulbrickson’s final year coaching at UW. 

There are many stories like this among the Ancient Mariners. Dieter Struzyna, 64, began rowing with the team when his children were young and looking for a challenging sport. His son Hans is now a member of the Olympic eight rowing team heading to Rio this summer.

“I am really thrilled for him,” says Struzyna. “It’s a big event in my family’s life.”

“Most of the Ancient Mariners grew up rowing competitively,” says Lenny O’Donnell, the team’s commodore. “We’re competitive people — both in recreation and in life. We train hard so that we can compete at high levels across the country,” he explains.

Paul Harvey, 78, is one of the eldest team members, and still competes with the team. “Sometimes it’s stressful because I’m rowing with these kids — these guys in their 60s — and they row at a high level,” says Harvey. “It’s challenging for me, but I love it and it’s [about] the camaraderie for me.”

Camaraderie is an essential factor of the team’s success, and it extends beyond the boat. The Ancient Mariners often eat breakfast together at Voula’s Offshore Café after practice, and host get-togethers at each other’s homes. In a sport where there is no hero, where anonymity is the key to success, harmony amongst team members is crucial. Olson sums it up best:

“I’ve often equated it to playing in a chamber music orchestra,” he says. “Small group, no conductor and you just get together and you synchronize and you’re always in search of that moment when they call it ‘the swing’ — when everybody’s rowing together.”

Learn More:
Ancient Mariners facebook page
Pocock Rowing Center


Made possible in part by

Stacey Jenkins

Stacey Jenkins is the managing producer of Spark Public. She is an Emmy-award winning producer who is passionate about pushing the boundaries of digital media and training the next generation of multimedia journalists. Stacey has been a Digital Content Producer at KCTS 9 for the past four years; her stories have been showcased locally on IN Close as well as nationally on SciTech Now and the PBS NewsHour's Art Beat. Stacey’s experience also includes working as a senior producer for KPTS, as an assistant media instructor and producer for Portland Community College and a TV news reporter for the CBC in Canada.

Fun Fact: Stacey’s guilty pleasures include over-the-top Halloween decor, eating sweetened condensed milk straight from the can and Maroon 5’s “Sugar” video.

More stories by Stacey Jenkins

There are 3 comments

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Thank you Stacey for your terrific piece on our rowing club, The Ancient Mariners.

You're welcome Paul! I am in awe of your strength and commitment to such a beautiful sport - keep it up!

Thank you for being the best in what you do; keep up the great work!

~LS Walker