The Ohio State Crew Club is a highly competitive, co-ed rowing club that represents The Ohio State University in the sport of collegiate rowing. Since being founded in 1978, the team has taught men and women from OSU to compete at the highest levels of competition. This drive has resulted in several OSU Crew alumni representing the United States on the U.S. National and Olympic teams. A former member recently won several gold World Championship medals in the U.S. men`s eight, a gold medal in the 2004 Olympic Games, and a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympic Games. The Ohio State Crew Club is completely self-funded. The organization depends upon the drive of its members and the generosity of friends and alumni to make rowing possible. The love of rowing and the desire to be better than just average compel the men and women of this organization to work and train harder than many students ever realize.
In The Beginning
The Ohio State Crew Club was started with an idea and not much else in 1976, just after Chris (Squatty) Swartz graduated from Marietta College. He spoke with the athletic department in the fall of 1976 about adding crew as a club sport. He proposed a budget of $2700 for two used boats and one coaching launch. The athletic department denied him. However, they did give him permission to try to get interest. The group, consisting of Squatty, started posting flyers around campus (It’s a big campus for only one person posting fliers!) and having meetings. He held six meetings before anyone showed up. Cathy Craig was the first student to express any interest. Then there were two more meetings where at least ten people showed up. The intramural recreation department gave the team approval to get started. Many people helped out in the formation of the club. Among them were Dave Greiner, the first advisor, and Joe who ran the bowling alley in the Drake Union. The crew was allotted the far back cage area in Drake to store boats (not the middle where the boats are today but the back cage, behind where the ergs are now). They only had one single, which belonged to Cathy Craig, which had previously been stored in the barn owned by former in-laws of Squatty.
The first practices were in early January of 1978. There were about ten people working out at Larkin’s Hall. The work outs consisted of water tests, weights, and running. Then, in March, there was word that a boat, an old Pocock 4+ and four oars, could be borrowed from Nebraska, but it had to be picked up at Notre Dame. Determined, Squatty reserved a van from the university and found someone to help him get the boat. But Squatty had an 18-mile race to run in during early April. Immediately after the race, Squatty got the van, picked up his assistant, and drove to South Bend. The boat racks he put on the van were homemade from the legs of old school chairs, (the plastic kind with metal legs) and the straps were just old braided ropes. The drive took almost ten hours because there was construction on US-30 and US-33, not to mention the lousy weather. Squatty had had the misfortune of injuring his Achilles tendon during the run, and by the time they reached South Bend, his left ankle had swollen to the size of a small melon. Early Sunday morning, the two men, one injured and one inexperienced, loaded the boat on the racks and started back. The racks gave way in Goshen, Indiana, and so they lashed the boat to the roof of the van by running the rope through the cab windows. Of course it was raining and only 37 degrees F at the time. They got back to campus at 5:30 am on Monday and started calling people to help unload the boat into the Boathouse at the Drake Union. The main casualty of the trip was Squatty, “By the time I got the boat unloaded, van returned, took the bus back to home in Grove City (missed that day of teaching), my leg was screwed, I was exhausted and it was about noon. . . the next day the doctor put me in a cast.” Practice was slated for Wednesday. In mid-April, the crew entered the Midwest Championships in Madison and the MACRA (in Marietta). They had only been on the water for two weeks of practice.
The First Road Trip
The crew had two fours (borrowed boats from Wisconsin), one novice women’s 4+ (male cox) and one men’s novice 4+ (same cox). Both boats raced at about a 26-28 rating. They looked good, got crushed, and went home happy. According to Squatty, “We got to Madison without reservations for a hotel. Cathy Craig and I went into some hotel in Madison and checked in as Mr. and Mrs. The other eight people snuck in the back entrance (near the desk) and we all stayed in the same room. Yee-haw.” The next weekend there was a race at Marietta. The race plan was the same, the results were the same, and everyone was still feeling good.
The Road Trip to Philadelphia (aka “The Trip from Hell”)
The team left for the Frostbite Regatta on a Friday afternoon in 1981. Squatty had a short red Ford Econoline 150 van. It had captain’s chairs in the front and a bench seat along the side of the panel in the rear, so that rear riders mostly sat on the floor. Squatty had a modified ladder rack that had been welded on to extend the sidebars that slope downward from the top of the van. The van carried three 4+’s and 12 oars on top. The boat’s seats and riggers were inside along with eight rowers and the only driver, Squatty. Jody “Hode” Shaw rode shotgun. The van got to the Washington, PA, toll mall at about 7:30 pm with quite a long drive still ahead of them. The other rowers were in separate cars and had left earlier. They pulled up to get a ticket for the Turnpike. “Sorry, pal, too long,” said the toll booth guy. “What ??? Hey, we’re only seven feet on either side,” Squatty replied, although they were actually about 15 feet on both ends. “No can do.” “How are we supposed to get to Philly?” “Take 50,” he says. Now anyone who has ever driven 50 through the mountains of Pennsylvania can testify as to what a bitch it can be. Add to that hassle the fact that there were eight kids sleeping in the rear, and that the entire rowing program was riding on top of the van, and that Squatty was already tired from being on the road for more than five hours; what could be worse? It started to snow of course! “Hard, really hard” according to Squatty, “Up and down winding hills we ride, my hands locked to the steering wheel. Jody, well, he didn’t sleep much. I think he felt it was his job to keep me sane and awake, so we all didn’t die.” Around 1:30 am, they made it to Breezewood, PA, and tried to get on the Turnpike there. No good-they continued on 50. Finally, at around 4 am, they tried to get on at Harrisburg. Success! They were finally on their way. The only problem was that their first race in Philly was at 8:30 am. No pressure, right? At 6:30 am, they pulled into the canoe club in Philadelphia where the Frostbites were being held. It was still dark, so Squatty had a chance to sleep. After about 45 minutes, they all got up and found four other Ohio State rowers who had arrived earlier–Dave Koch, Gary Monasky, and two others–sleeping under the bushes by the canoe club… like homeless men, in sleeping bags, in 28 degree weather. Perhaps only in rowing… The team did race that day and did pretty well, as Squatty remembers it, “A couple of thirds, a fourth, maybe one second. Something like that… Then we left the boats there to row the next day at the Braxton and left for Atlantic City to stay at my parents’ house.” That evening, the team got to Atlantic City and most of them went uptown with Squatty to the casinos. The team played while Squatty took the opportunity to sleep in the van. They did not return to the van until after 1 am, then headed back to Squatty’s house to sleep. Imagine 40 rowers, men and women, stretched out in the living room, dining room, back room, and kitchen of a small cape cod style bungalow. Some were on the dining room table; some were under it. What a marvelous sleeping arrangement! Early the next morning, they had juice and bagels, and were off to Philly for race day #2. After the races, the team loaded up the van for the return trip to Columbus. On the trip home, Squatty had some help with the driving. Pepe Isern was at the helm when the van reached the Valley Forge entrance to the Turnpike. When he was asked by the tollbooth operator how long the load was overhanging the van, he replied, “Four or five feet, tops,” in his wonderfully raspy voice. No questions asked, so on down the Turnpike they went, as big as they pleased.
The First National Regatta
Four years after its inception, in 1982, Ohio State attended their first Dad Vail National Regatta, entering an undefeated women ‘s varsity 4+ with Joe Corna as coach, a once beaten lightweight men ‘s varsity 4+ with Pat Dennis and Bill Swartz coaching, and a men ‘s novice 4+ posting a winning record with Squatty and Ira coaching. The team had gone to Florida for their first spring break trip. (The women’s stroke, Sue Pearce Shields, was from Winter Park, FL.) When they got to the Vail’s, the women’s stroke, Sue Pearce, didn’t race because her best friend was getting married that day. Oops! The women ‘s four did not make finals. A crew that the women had beaten earlier in the season by more than three seconds won the finals. The lightweight men were leading in the heat at the SMB, but Dave Koch caught a huge crab-a boat stopper. The men lost twelve to fifteen strokes. They came back but missed qualifying by half of a deck. The men’s novice 4+ came in second in the heat to FIT by five seconds, who had beaten them by fifty seconds five weeks prior. The coaches had told the men just to stay with FIT and qualify, not spend too much energy trying to win. The men included Shields, Van Dresser, Buge, Big Bob, and coxswain Dan Smith; “A great bunch of guys,” according to Squatty. The final morning, the coaches psyched up the men. They had them see the race in their minds, watch themselves rowing away from the field, and see the other boats behind them. It worked! They won the final by four to five seconds and walking! FIT took second, even though the Golden Panthers had beaten this boat by more than a minute in Florida. This was a great end to a great season!