row2k Features
In Memoriam
Miriam Baer: A Tough and Caring Coach
November 14, 2019
Ed Moran, row2k.com

Miriam Baer on the dock with her junior crews in 2017

When former Olympian Micah Boyd was asked about his memories of Miriam Baer, his first rowing coach from the Minnesota Boat Club, the mention of her reputation as an intense and tough coach made him chuckle.

It was how he remembers her, and he knew that she was not concerned what anyone thought about that.

"She was always looking for a competitive advantage and she didn't care what other people thought of her," Boyd said Monday. "You always cared what Miriam thought of you, but she didn't care about what anyone thought of her."

Miriam Baer with Anders and Micah Boyd after winning the Youth Double event at 2000 nationals
Miriam Baer with Anders and Micah Boyd after winning the Youth Double event at 2000 nationals

That she felt this way is not in question. Baer had no problem being seen as tough. In two separate newspaper stories written more than a year apart when Baer was in her early 70s - and still coaching - her personality came through crystal clear.

Part of a headline in an Associated Press piece written in May, 2014 declared her "tough by choice." And in a story that ran in the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, this was what the writer had to say about Baer:

"Baer is a 72-year-old grandmother. She's also a longtime rowing coach for the Minnesota Boat Club who coaches rowers ages 13 to 18. But if you are expecting this to be a story of a sweet and kindly granny, gently mentoring young people along life's unexpected waves and wakes, well, this is not it.

"Baer is tough and loud and blunt and demanding - and the dozens of young rowers who sign up to learn from her each year are well-advised to respond accordingly. To their credit, and Baer's, they seem to. She's coached several champions over the years and helped many earn spots on prestigious college rowing teams coast to coast."

Boyd, who rowed to an Olympic bronze medal in the US men's eight in 2008, laughed when he was told about those two newspaper stories, mostly because it was all true, especially the part about how she cared, and how she molded young people from when she began coaching at the Minnesota Boat Club in 1983.

Boyd, who is now an assistant rowing coach at Duke, said that without Baer, he probably would not have achieved all that he has in rowing. Baer passed away last week from complications of a stroke she suffered in October. She was 76.

Born July 14, 1943 in Bright, Ontario, Baer was raised on a farm with 14 siblings. She studied nursing at the College of Saint Scholastica, in Duluth, Minnesota and worked as an operating room nurse for many years.

When she was 31, Baer took up rowing and soon became a beloved member of the Minnesota rowing community. She began coaching the youth program when she was 40 and was still coaching until this year.

Like in the newspaper stories about her, Baer was remembered in tributes on her memorial page by many of the people whose lives she touched while coaching, including parents who thanked her for her passion and dedication to their children.

Boyd, who was unable to travel to a memorial service held Monday, was happy to contribute to those tributes in an interview with row2k.

"Miriam was a fixture in the boathouse," Boyd said. "Everyone in the Minnesota rowing community is going to know something about Miriam, or have a story about Miriam. She meant a lot to a lot of people."

Boyd recalled that he began rowing under Baer when he was 16, along with his brother Anders. Baer guided both boys through their high school careers and coached them to a Youth National Championship in the double in 2000.

"I think one of the things about her toughness was that she cared. She made you believe that you could win a race, but she also made sure that you knew that it was going to be tough, and that you might not be good enough.

"I don't think Minnesota Boat Club had ever sent a boat to Youth Nationals before then, and there were a lot of really, really good boats there that year," Boyd recalled. "And she knew it.

"She told us, 'guys I don't think that you are going to be that great, or that you are good enough to beat these people, but if you have a really good race, you might win this thing.' The things she said and her race plans were very simple.

"'Get your bow ball out in front and keep it there;' that was the plan."

After his junior rowing years, when he was rowing at Wisconsin and later when training for the national team, Boyd said he often went back to visit Baer, either to be coached by her, or just to visit. And the bond they formed in her youth program just grew.

"Every time I went back home to Minnesota, I would go see her at the boat club to see how she was doing. She was always there," he said. "She was a very good coach, and a very good person, and a really good friend."


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