row2k Features
Dartmouth's Tanner Mathison
January 19, 2010
Erik Dresser,

Tanner following a midnight row in London

row2k kicks off it's 2010 Collegiate racing preview with an interview with Dartmouth junior Tanner Mathison. Mathison's father Ralph was a former rower and coach and passed away when Tanner was a boy. In the past two years since Tanner discovered rowing, he's built a connection with his father through the shared experience of the sport.

row2k - Your father was quite the rower and coach, tell us about his rowing history.
Tanner Mathison - My father Ralph learned to row at Oregon State and he graduated from OSU (the first in his family to graduate from college) in 1970. In the spring of 1971, he took the bus and hitchhiked from Oregon to Rochester, NY and slept on the doorstep of then National Team coach Allen Rosenberg. When Rosenberg left the next morning, my father stood up and said, "I came here from Oregon. I want to row for you." And he did.

Under Coach Rosenberg, he rowed to win the Senior 8 at Nationals in New York City in 1971.

Ralph went on back to Oregon to coach at Oregon State for 10 years, sending old 'Super 8' tapes of his oarsmen to Coach Rosenberg for advice. Coach Rosenberg would review the tapes and then call or write to Ralph with his advice (we still have some of those letters).

In 1980, Ralph's OSU women went on to win the National Women's Rowing Association (NWRA) Senior Heavyweight 8 Gold Medal in Oakridge, TN. It was the first national championship race to be held on that course. His heavyweight and lightweight women's 8's each took second at collegiate nationals in that same year. My mom rowed in the lightweight eight that took second in the collegiate nationals.

Ralph died when I was a child in 1997 at 48 years old.

row2k - You decided to attend Dartmouth after growing up on a farm in Oregon, what made you choose Dartmouth and to ultimately walk on to the rowing team?
Tanner Mathison - Dartmouth maintained the type of culture and community which fit best for me. I was deciding among other good institutions, but in the end Dartmouth felt like home which separated it from the rest. I don't think this is a unique answer either; everyone I know who attends the school loves it. I went to school at Holderness where athletics was part of many requirements; although I was never an exceptional athlete in high school, I still retained the desire for the hard work and rhythm that a sport can provide.

As far as rowing goes, I was driven to pursue the sport in many ways. One of my most cherished memories of my father came from near the end of his life. He was losing his battle with cancer and was too weak to work on the farm. At the time we were a small Dahlia farming family on the Oregon coast. A good part of our livelihood lay in the unharvested tubers. There was this real need to get help so my father could finish his last harvest. It was years after they had last rowed together, but my father's rowing teammates came down and finished the harvest. I can still remember them sitting around laughing and joking; and it was the shared experiences and endured pains from rowing which made them so close and cohesive. Friends of my father were bonded through their shared sweat. When Ralph needed help, they came.

When I arrived on campus I wanted friends like those of my fathers, and so I rowed, and I loved it. I think at this point it is safe to call it a family tradition. My mother also rowed at Oregon State, and her brother at Rutgers. My younger brother rows at Tabor, and the list goes on. But I wouldn't hear the end of it if I don't mention that my cousin Emily also rowed at Seattle Pacific.

row2k - How has rowing helped you connect with your father in the two and a half years since you picked up the sport?
Tanner Mathison - It really gives me insight into the kind of man he was and it lets me appreciate his life in a perspective that I wouldn't otherwise have. I remember that before my first Oakridge training trip I found boxes and boxes of old betting shirts from my father. Wearing the shirts he won is a pretty substantial motivating factor. I won't ever fill his shadow or measure up to his successes, but that isn't something I'm trying to do.

row2k - What do you like most about the sport?
Tanner Mathison - I love the hard work and responsibility involved in rowing. Almost anyone with enough grit and enough dedication can be successful. You work hard every day. I differentiate it from game sports where "sometimes you're in the game" and "maybe you're working if the play is on your part of the field." There is no bench in rowing. You either make the boat, or you don't make the boat and you're not a competitor. Then when it's time to compete you're responsible for giving it everything until the race is over. There is no waiting for the time when it's "your turn" to run the football or get in the game. You're always competing, someone right now is erging, lifting, rowing so that when the time comes to race, the outcome has been predetermined by the work they've already done.

Of course, the reason I started rowing is that I wanted teammates like my father had, and I've definitely found that. We eat as a group every day after practice and those meals really have been some of the best experiences of my life.

row2k - How has your junior year gone so far and what are your goals for your last two years of rowing at Dartmouth?
Tanner Mathison - The way the Dartmouth schedule works, I won't get to train with my teammates until the spring term. I was abroad in the fall and I sculled for the University of London Boat Club. ULBC confirmed for me that the currency for the sport is still hard work no matter what country you're in. Now in the winter, I am working for a non-profit in Washington DC. I'm doing all the same erg workouts as my teammates back home where the cold New Hampshire weather has frozen the Connecticut.

Big goals are always difficult, because I think you can use them as proxies to feel good about something you haven't accomplished yet. You start thinking that you've already done what you've set out to do; as if the outcome is inevitable and that joy will come. You lose sight that the goal isn't going to come on its own.

The real goal is that every rower has to get faster. That really boils down to "Right now I am going to train and it is going to be hard." And if that's the goal, do it. I say extend your reach beyond your grasp and make it simple. I'm going to work hard and see where things end up. But at a minimum; there are some sophomores in Hanover right now who are trying to get my seat and I can't let that happen!

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Log in to comment
01/19/2010  7:22:26 PM
My god, that's a compelling story.

01/23/2010  9:10:12 AM
In 1980, a lot of the women's races were 1000M (the Olympic distance). Ralphs crew rowed so high (43-44 SPM) and so hard that they went out to massive leads on the opposition and clung on for dear life. Ralph had it all planned out. He didn't have that much raw talent and several were lightweights up against powerful Cal and Wisco crews, but they were crazy tenacious.

The Collegiarte Nationals finals were on Friday. A great Cal crew won the Varsity eight, taking down OSU, which had led by at least a length of open water. But on Sunday, at the NWIRA, with the college crews hanging around, OSU managed to take an even bigger lead and hung on to win.

Considering the short distance and the fact that one could see the whole thing unfold, it was really something to watch OSU go out to these massive leads while the pack struggled to catch up.

John Davis

01/23/2010  11:37:16 AM
Yes indeed! Oakridge made a postcard of the start of the 1980 women's 8 championship race, about four strokes in, OSU had nearly 3/4 of a length and just kept building. Crazy high and crazy fast. And they hung on!

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