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Rest in the Sincerest of Peace Neil Ulman

29.Feb.2016 by Steve Whelpley

Neil Ulman, a valued member of our Craftsbury community, passed away last weekend.

As I sit here in Palm Bay, Florida, between training sessions on a leap day, I have a lot of mixed emotions as I think of Neil. People often say that when considering a loss. They also often speculate as to how the deceased would have wanted things. Frankly, I didn’t know Neil well enough to draw accurate conclusions on what he may or may not have wanted me to do right now. However, I knew Neil well enough to know that he had a very unique perspective on the world.

Neil attended more fitness offerings at the Center than I ever could have expected. In the heart of winter, he would be at Community Fitness or out on the ski trails as we practiced around him. In the middle of the summer, he would be an avid attendee of Community Rowing. For his age, Neil was an astonishingly eager student always trying new challenges or activities even if it meant attempting pull-ups with a resistance band after not doing pull-ups for years. I guess one thing I know Neil would want right now is more coaching. No matter what realm we were in, he wanted the most informative coaching I could offer. It was almost to the point that it was off-putting to people how sternly he would request input on what he was doing. I could also be certain that Neil would attempt anything he did to the fullest of his capabilities. He would only stop his work for the buzz of the clock, and if he didn’t hear that (which happened), then you had to grab the weights from him.

What some people might not have known about Neil is that he was a very successful and distinguished journalist. Not many could have guessed from his crew neck sweatshirt, hiked up athletic socks, and his hand frequently cupped to his ear that he had traveled the far reaches of the globe to cover stories and experiences that many of us have only read about in works similar to his if not his. I was also fortunate enough to be one degree of separation from an individual who received a very, well-written poem from Neil, a poem that he spontaneously wrote to champion Craftsburian life when moved by a local holiday concert. That is not something everyone takes the time to do.  Moreover, that is not something everyone has the ability to do to such a brilliant degree.  Here is one more recent sample of his writing that is naturally pertinent:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704328104574517881445075764

Once, Neil took me up in his plane, a 2-seater Cessna, pictured below.

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I am not built for small places. I’m also not built as flexibly physically or mentally as I’d like to be. I was still thrilled to go up in the air with Neil and cover terrain that I knew so thoroughly from one perspective but not from this one. Flying was another area of Neil’s constant quest to learn. As I look at this plane, sure, I remember getting airsick and worrying about how the landing was going to go as I recalled the humble athletic lessons Neil and I worked on during Community Fitness and elsewhere at the Center. At the same time, I just keep coming back to the thought of how such a learned person managed to be such an open student. In the areas where I was the teacher (weights, erging, rowing, stretching, etc.), Neil saw me as an expert for better or worse and somehow confidently trusted me to steer him in the right direction. Not many people have the humility to put his or her experience, seniority, and wisdom on the shelf even if his or her expertise is in a peripheral field.

I realize that the communities of Craftsbury, the Outdoor Center, and the Green Racing Project extend far beyond the geographical location. At the same time, it is from this geographical heart that we form our foundation and identity. Another member of the community took the time to share news of Neil’s passing with me while I’m miles away and for that I am grateful as I am for many other gifts from our neck of the woods. In my limited years of knowing Neil (just four), I can easily recognize what an exceptional human being he was. I am thankful for the opportunity to meet him, coach him, and in turn, learn a new perspective from him. He will be greatly missed by me and undoubtedly many others. For starters, I will make the most of this extra day, this leap day.

The Craftsbury Outdoor Center as seen from Neil Ulman's Cessna.

The Craftsbury Outdoor Center as seen from Neil Ulman’s Cessna.

Premature Migration

10.Dec.2015 by Steve Whelpley

Birds of a feather flock together, and so the rowers flew south for a spell. Unfortunately, it sounds like we didn’t really run from the harshest of winters, but it has still been a worthwhile training camp so far. While we wish all of our northern, Nordic skiing friends loads of snow, we needed some time on the race course in Sarasota, FL. I’ll dish a bunch of words, and hopefully, a teammate will follow up with a bunch of pictures.

You see the 2016 Olympic trials happen in April for many rowing events. We usually have a race in April, but it is of less immediate consequence than this one. As such, having it take place at the usual venue in West Windsor, NJ, is alright despite the possibility of rougher weather. This year (like the last Olympic cycle) we need a venue that will be rowable beyond a doubt. Additionally, the course in Sarasota will be the future site of the 2017 World Championships. For all these reasons, we needed some exposure.

On top of this, while many of us relish our time cross-training on skis, this year is a critical year. For some of us, it is our first go around and for others it may be our last. I personally don’t want to leave anything to question and want to make sure that there are no wishful adjustments in hindsight. I think the camp is benefiting everyone. It is simply a two week camp, but already feels very thorough and fruitful. For those in team boats, they’re getting an extended and/or earlier start on building rhythm and chemistry. For me, I’m making up for lost time this fall between a torn hamstring and pneumonia (more on that at my personal blog if you can handle my absolute candidness). It may be too hot in Vermont for this time of year, but it is still quite refreshing being down here in 70-80 degree weather. Although hotter temps require some additional cardiovascular and cooling work from your body, it makes limbering up substantially easier.

We have two houses in a subdivision that is between two rowing venues. One called Fort Hamer offers longer distances on tidal, brackish water, while the other, Nathan Benderson Park, is the future site of both our Olympic trials and the 2017 FISA World Championships. The Benderson course has 10 buoyed lanes right now, which is naturally good for practice. People at both sites have been incredibly hospitable. As we near our first weekend and the halfway point, we hope to make the second half as productive as the first.

Manual Spring

19.Mar.2015 by Steve Whelpley

For the third year, we GRP Rowers have disappeared from Craftsbury. It’s not that we’re afraid of the two more months of winter we still might face in our homeland. Rather, it’s dictated by the fact that we’re a liquid based sport that really starts up in April. In order for us to be ready to go at the first National selection regattas of the year, we need to head south in search of unfrozen waters. We’ll try to write off our lack of posting on how confused our biological clocks are by manually switching seasons.

Our team is a little different looking this year. We have 2 open weight women, 3 lightweight men, and now 8 heavyweight men. I would say this shift was both partly coincidental and purposeful. Various people moved on to the wide, fruitful, green pastures of life, while others found new locations for their pursuit of rowing. At the same time, as the Olympics near, we’ve specialized a bit more in heavyweight men as it may be where we can have a greater impact. Only mention this because we have new faces and a new approach.

The new team coupled with a change to selection procedures this year has turned our time in Clemson from being predominantly in singles to more of a team boat selection process. I’ll curb my personal opinions on all this for now, but will at least say that I think last year was very productive for our boat moving skills.

Clemson like any home away from home has its pros and cons (or deltas if you’ve recently gone to business school).  Here’s a perk:

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The weight room at Clemson is unbelievable. Each year, it has been updated and upgraded. What was once a simple Gatorade buffet has expanded to smoothies, Pro Bars, Stinger Waffles, and much more.

Anyways, the pros are things like: 2 buoyed race courses, gracious access to the weight room, enough to do to not go totally crazy but not enough to be too entertained or distracted, a VERY hospitable host team, plenty of vacation rentals, and a nearby Smoothie King. The cons from my point of view are few but important. While there’s a lot of available water here, it is water that is frequently not that conducive to rowing. You face these issues most places. If you want miles and miles to row on, they typically won’t be reserved for rowers. However, compared to other places I have trained I think there are more pleasure boaters, bass fishers, and unprotected winds on this body of water.

I’m not going to lie though, we’ve had a couple 80 degree days already. Don’t worry though, today was not one of them. 40s and rainy. We’re broken down into the 2 houses we had rented last year. Most of us are paired with people we don’t live with back home, so we get to cook with some fresh faces around us. There’s a group of lightweight athletes from Boston training here as well that include our alumnus Josh Ka-nez-knee (or rather Konieczny). Unfortunately, we haven’t intermingled with them that much as our schedules seem a bit different in focus and emphasis. Some of our lightweights have tangoed with them from time to time though. For the next four days, we have former Danish lightweight rower and coach Thomas Poulsen, staying with us. Hope to pick his brain, but he is spread across a pretty large group here with us and the lightweight camp. Additionally, we should have a surprise visit from the one and only Troy Howell tonight as he drops off a new double for us on his way to spring training with Middlebury College, where he is coaching this spring.

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On the Bosbaan

25.Aug.2014 by Steve Whelpley

Per usual, apologies for the lack of communication.  Boys will be boys though, and with the addition of some racing, long distance communication grows a little scarcer.

We’re here though, settled, and adjusted.  Practices went well, but still had the same typical arch of improving with time in a new environment.  The entire US team stays at one hotel.  It’s a huge place about 10-15 minutes to the course by bus and 20 by foot.  The Australian, Czech, and Canadian teams are also sharing the hotel with us in addition to many innocent bystanders, who like to ask me why my forearms are the way they are.  We received a decent boat from Filippi with carbon, stern wings that are more comparable to our aluminum stern wings that we row at home.  That being said, our boat needed to have some nose work done as it seemed to have undergone a repair at some point.  Dan managed to get the boat set up with relative ease over the first couple days.

The Bosbaan is an interesting body of water.  The prevailing wind is a tailwind that hits the course at a slight angle.  Being the first ever manmade rowing course, they didn’t have all the kinks worked out (not that they do now), and speed varies from lane to lane based on the direction of the wind.  In other senses though, I love the course.  It is just 8 lanes wide and barely over 2000m long.  It has flags marking every 250m that go across the width of the course.  It feels like a giant swimming pool to me in a good way.  The weather has been cold, windy, and rainy.  There have been spots and moments of nice weather, but with the way the wind is moving everything moves in and out quite quickly.  They have a saying in Amsterdam, “if you don’t like the weather, wait one minute (and it will change) but certainly don’t wait two (cause it will change again).”  Just kidding, no one says that.  Our first few days on the course were loud in terms of weather, but quiet in terms of boats with only a few nations present like Argentina, Japan, and eventually China.  That quickly changes though as people pour in the days leading up to racing.  You do your best to fit your workouts in and stay focused even though it feels like an arena for bumper boats.  As I said though, our rows got more and more comfortable and confident as the jetlag wore off and the new routine ensued.

With 20 boats entered, as you can see below, this is a heavily subscribed field this World Championships.  While Lucerne was also relatively competitive and full, you have the addition of crews like China, Russia, and the Ukraine, which all put forth fast quads.

m4xentry list

Our heat did not go the way we wanted it.  We knew Russia and China would be fast, but we also assumed a little too much about ourselves going into the race.  We wanted to approach the fast and bouncy conditions of the Bosbaan with relaxation, precision, and composure.  We did that.  It’s not that that was a bad call or decision.  However, it needed to be coupled with the same kind of tenacious racing we used in Lucerne to assert ourselves and find our place amongst fast crews.  As a result of our third place finish, we now head to the Repechage, an opportunity to get into the A/B semifinal.  8 crews were selected for the A/B semis out of the heats, while the last four spots will be comprised of the top two boats from two repechages.

Although the new World Rowing website is a little sleeker, it’s not always that easy to follow.  All races will have live audio coverage, and video may start by the semis.  To review results, the best, easiest, and most thorough way is to go here.  You then select the boat class you want to review (we’re in the Quadruple Sculls), and then you have access to everything results and start list oriented.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I posted a video with footage from Craftsbury, Princeton, and the Bosbaan on YouTube.  Take a look: