row2k Features
Book Excerpt
Women's Voices in Rowing: Judy Geer
December 14, 2020
Daniela Nachazelova

Judy Geer

"Women's Voices in Rowing" is a debut by a former Czech rower Daniela Nachazelova. In the book, she collected 14 interviews with influential women in rowing who talk about their professional careers and about how their lives have been affected by a sport where you win by going backward as fast as you can.

INTRODUCTION

We were sitting randomly on the freshly cut lawn under a majestic linden tree. It was the end of July in the Highlands, Czech Republic on one of those hot, sum-mer days when you just want to lay down and watch the clouds going by. Al-though we were in the shade for a reason. People from all over the country, mostly college students, got together to learn about writing, journalism, ethics and current trends in media, including solutions journalism.

One by one, we introduced ourselves and presented the reasons why we were at the camp. When it was my turn, I introduced myself and told them that I came from the rowing world. I wasn't a true journalist but I believe that there is a theme that's worth covering and nobody in the media has picked it up yet. I mentioned that we were a year away from another summer Olympic games. Japan would host them in Tokyo. This would be the first time in the history of Olympic rowing that there will be gender equality, equal men's and women's events as well as participants.

I continued to explain that globally "40% of all sports participants are female, yet women's sports receive only 4% of all sport media coverage and female athletes are much more likely than male athletes to be portrayed in sexually provocative poses."1 Given these statistics, I'm sure that mainstream media would continue to cover women's sports the same way as they always have. That was the moment when I realized that it's up to me to help change the narrative because nobody else seemed to be interested. As the camp continued, I got confirmation that my thought process was correct. After the initial silence of the group from the statis-tics that I laid out, they all agreed it was worth pursuing.

As the week of workshops with the journalists progressed, it became evident why it was worth pursuing. As I asked questions of the media personnel about the coverage of women's sports, reactions were obvious. Either silence or "nobody would be interested in women's sports." I was shocked. A quick look into the statistics shows that most sports journalists, at least in my country, are men. Out of 378 sports journalists only 26 are women.2 They cover soccer, hockey and occasionally other sports related to the town the sports journalists are from.

Even before the camp, I had an idea of putting together a book about women in rowing because I can only recall two books written by women from my sport. The books published in the last few years focused on male coaches or athletes, with two great exceptions: the Katherine Grainger's autobiography from 2013 and "My Olympic Life" memoir by Anita L. Franz from 2017.

Given the fact that the Olympics now are going to be equal women and men, I decided I would try to help out the literary aspect of that and bring women's experience in rowing to the front as well. You are holding the reality in your hands now. I met 14 amazing women that I think should be heard. Women who were very open about their lives, opinions and reasons why they started to do a sport where you go backwards.

Rowing is the underlying narrative, nevertheless each story is more than that. Through different generations of women rowers, we are able to witness the change within our sport. Cultural, sexual and political changes are happening and it's up to us to share them and learn from them because somewhere there is next Tricia, Sandi, Ursula or Emma who is about ready to pick up the oars for the first time in her life.

JUDY GEER

Judy graduated with a bachelor's degree in Ecology from Dartmouth College in 1975. She was a member of the US Olympic Rowing teams in '76, '80 and '84. Later on, she finished a master's degree in Engineering, also from Dartmouth College. After graduation she joined Concept2 where she's part of the marketing and communications teams. Judy runs the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, non-profit organization for endurance activities. She currently serves on the boards of the New England Nordic Ski Association and Vermont Natural Resources Council.

I was ready to launch my single in the early morning for a quick row before bre-akfast. Summer 2005 was my first coaching summer at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center when I heard some rhythmical sounds on the lake. There was a thick morning fog that covered the lake making it difficult to see anything. My eyes strained through the fog as I followed the sound, knowing the rhythm was the rowing shell. As the shell emerged from the wisps of the fog, I saw Judy for the first time. She was completely focused in her own world as she was peacefully gliding across the lake. I learned later that she and her husband Dick have a cabin on the other side of the lake. When they are there morning rows are their routine.

I returned to Craftsbury for the winter that year and I started to coach young kids cross country skiing. It was actually through skiing that I got to know Judy better. We went around New England to some races and that's where I realized that skiing is a big part of their lives as well, more than I expected.I have had some interesting adventures over the years with Judy and Dick. We met in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic for the Biathlon World Championships, we met in Brest, Belarus for the U23 World rowing Championships and we also ro-wed together in the downtown of Prague. I realized that Judy is my secret female role model for her approach to sustainability, gender equality, and full support of amateur athletes.I was in the United States over Christmas. Judy was able to find time to talk despite her busy schedule, of course, the ski season was on. We met in her office at Concept2 headquarters in Morrisville, Vermont where Dreissigacker Concept2 oars are still made from scratch.

When you were a little girl what were some of your career choices?
At one point, I wanted to be an ornithologist, to study birds.

Why was that?
I was into watching birds around the house. Another time, I wanted to be an archeologist, because I was fascinated with ancient history of humans and all that stuff. Then I got into science. I was clearly inclined to science and math and I en-ded studying both of those at college. Interestingly, nobody suggested studying these because I was a woman.

What do you mean?
No one suggested that engineering might be a good thing to do if you were into science. It took me a long time to figure out what I actually wanted to do after I graduated. I spent five years training and competing. Then I went back and got into an engineering school. I also remember playing in the woods. My dad was a track and field athlete and had won Brooklyn county championships in hurdles. We used sticks to set up like hurdles in the front yard, and play. I think there was some banter about being a good athlete as well.

How did you find rowing?
When I got to Smith college, they had a women's rowing program. It was non-competitive program, I would call it "proper rowing for young ladies." It was rowing to look good and not to go fast. We had intramural house competitions at the little pond on campus. You got points for your form as well as for how fast you went. But l learned to row and in retrospect, it was without a doubt a great thing. They had rowing for women at that time.

I didn't know you went to Smith college.
Well, I transferred to Dartmouth college in 1973. They just started a rowing pro-gram there. When I got to Dartmouth in fall they were welcoming all women to come row and since I knew how to row I was able to jump right in. I ended up st-roking the eight that fall for Dartmouth at the Head of the Charles. It was just terrific!

How was your athletic experience prior to Title IX?
It was a crazy time. I was so thrilled to be at Dartmouth since nobody at Smith wanted to do anything. I mean it was very much a women's school. I have always been a swimmer and wanted to so competitively. Unfortunately, all they had at Smith was synchronized swimming. I did it. I did synchronized swimming for two years! It was interesting. It requires a lot of things that you don't think about and good breath control, too.

THE BEGINNINGS OF TITLE IX

I was aware of Title IX when I was studying at Washington State University. I didn't know that it started back in 1972. Can you give me some of the background when it started?
Have you seen the movie Hero for Daisy? You should absolutely watch it. It was about Yale women rowers who marched half naked into the Athletic director's office and were demanding equal locker rooms. It was huge back then! Dartmouth was calm compared to that. We were happy that they were being welcoming to us, "women." We were thrilled that we could row even though we got used boats and oars. It felt welcoming, however, it took quite a while to be all equal.

Why did you continue to row after graduating?
I truly enjoyed rowing at Dartmouth. I think it was after my graduation when I realized I wasn't going to stop this. I love it. It's great, why would I stop rowing right now? I'm not going to just graduate, and go get a job, that's silly. I kept rowing, trained with Dartmouth for a bit longer. That was when my coach said to me that I should go down to Boston and try out for the Olympic team. I was like: "Really?" I kind of laughed at it first but then I started to think about it.

When was that?
I moved to Boston in February 1976, and started to train with Harry Parker. He was the one holding the selection camp until May or June. I trained in Boston, got to know everybody, survived the camp, the weeks of seat racing and made the Olympic team for the Games in Montreal. That was in a nutshell the story of how I made my first Olympic team.

Think about it: 44 years later we're finally going to have gender balanced Olympics. That started with Title IX and march of Yale rowers. That's crazy. When your coach suggested to you to move to Boston, what was the support back then?
I had no support, none at all. I just had to go and find a place to live, I was totally on my own. Once I made the team I was supported. There may have been housing provided at the camp and they must have fed us but I don't remember that. We were only supported when we were on the Olympic team. After the Games, you were again on your own throughout the year. Maybe you got some amount of support if you made the team next summer. It wasn't well supported at all. I don't remember the details, though.

Sandi Kirby and Tricia Smith shared their experience from their home per-spective. How was the Olympic experience for you?
It was the first time women were at the Olympics in rowing. It was amazing! It was great to be there! It was undeniably exciting to be around all those athletes from all the different sports, when in the cafeteria you can see the famous Russian gymnast Nikolai Andrianov and all the other incredible athletes. Everybody living together in the same place was remarkably cool. To be honest, it made it a little harder to focus on your own performance.

How come?
The weird part was the security, because of what happened in Munich, 1972* The guards were everywhere. That was kind of freaky. I also remember being sort of struck by the fact that we had to take a femininity test. You would go in and they scraped some cells from inside of our cheeks for testing. They were testing if we were undoubtedly women. That was somehow a little bit insulting.
*Members of the Palestinian terrorist group took nine Israeli athletes hostage. Two athletes died together with a German officer.

WONDERFUL FORM OF DIPLOMACY

That was your first Olympics. Then was the Boycott in 1980 and you contin-ued till Los Angeles 1984. What's your view on politics and sport?
My view is that sport can be a truly wonderful form of diplomacy. It's pretty special to be there competing at a high level with all these people from very different cultures, countries, and languages. You end up with this common bond. We are all going through the same thing, same kind of training. That's a special thing so when we couldn't go to the 1980 Olympics it was awfully upsetting. There was the feeling that we've been training hard for it and suddenly it was taken away from us. It felt like a wasted diplomatic opportunity to not go and compete.

What about current scandals like blood doping in cycling or biathlon?
With all the drugs now, sport is totally embroiled in that stuff and you could see that we are part of the political scene. We "Olympics, athletes" bring value and status to the host nation. I want a level playing field. I want it to be just sport, pure sport, and nothing else. That's what I want. Unfortunately, it's not always the case.

We're sitting at Concept2 headquarters in Vermont where Judy has been part of the Concept2 family almost from the beginnings.

What was your first job at Concept2?
I just finished my masters in engineering and my first job was the programming of our first erg computer interface. I also helped in the shop with either oar manu-facturing or erg manufacturing.

The performance monitor?
That was before the monitor. We had speedometers and were using pretty old computers called Commodore 64, very early personal computers. We were using them to interface the rowing machine to create a racing experience or just entertaining experience - something you would look at on the screen. Our first indoor races that were computerized were done using Commodore 64. We had cables and wires everywhere, all over the floor.

That was for the model A rowing machine?
No. When I started to work at Concept2, they already had the model B which came out in 1981-82. The first C.R.A.S.H. B's were in 1982. I finished my degree in January 1983 so I moved to Vermont right after graduation. It took about a year to actually run a race.

How did you find out about this position at Concept2?
I was already connected with Dick Dreissigacker.* Dick was the boatman for the 1981 team when we first met. Basically, at that time, we were the only two rowers from the state of Vermont, I mean really. We began doing some things together in 1981-82 so by the time I finished my degree I had a place to live and a job at Concept2. I did apply for some other jobs in the Hanover area. I ended up moving in with Dick. We lived in a converted silo that we were renovating and gradually made it five stories high.
*Co-founder of Concept2.

When was that?
In 1983. I was still competing and training for the Olympics. I worked in the shop even after we moved into the new building (where we are now doing an interview). I was also doing customer service, answering questions, coaching questions or whatever else was needed. Then we got married in 1985, Hannah was born a year later so I got less and less reliable in the shop. I ended up moving into the marketing communications department.

THE ENGINEERING WAY OF THINKING

Do you miss the engineering part?
I still test oars of course, on the water. I still am part of a lot of conversations obviously whether it's around the dinner table or here at Concept2. Also the marketing relies on the engineering meetings. Every Monday I'm at the engineering meeting, trying to keep in touch with what's going on. Then there's still a fair amount of the writing we do. We write all the technical procedures for our products. I also do and enjoy helping customers when they have specific training questions or issues.

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Comments

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expeditionrower
12/22/2020  8:57:58 AM
I too have been publishing the stories of women in rowing - https://rowingstory.com/ covers GB women internationals from 1951 to 2000 (it's a work in progerss). It's published as a website rather than a book so it's widely accessible and free.


drpkappes
12/16/2020  9:22:53 AM
Well done, Daniela, keep on reinventing yourself.



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