row2k Features
Famous People Who Rowed - A Permanent Amusement
March 15, 2023
Ed Hewitt,

Elvis Presley performing at Henley

A fair number of celebrities spent some serious time in rowing shells before moving on to other activities - note we do not say bigger and better - here is a decent start to a list, which we will update if you make a good case that we should! Mention in the Comments below or send by email if you prefer.

We purposely did not list actors who performed in rowing movies, as the list would get too long, but if there are some who merit inclusion for having continued to row after the movie set was shut down, let us know.

Here is an entertaining if dated list of Rowing in the Movies from the Rabbit.

Timothy Berners-Lee
We couldn't post a feature about famous rowers on row2k without mentioning Berners-Lee, the creator of the Web browser, who rowed at Oxford while contemplating surfing the Web . Long before the advent of fake news, Berners-Lee is thought memorably to have said 'You affect the world by what you browse, so surely you should visit'

Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt the Stilt is said to have had a custom single made for his use; boatmakers, were any of you in on that? More here: Having a Ball Without the Basket.

Anderson Cooper
After trying to make the team as a rower, Cooper dropped 20-25 pounds to coxswain the Yale lightweights, graduating in 1989; at 5'10" that probably predicted his tenacity as an interviewer and newsperson.

Bradley Cooper
Cooper rowed at Georgetown, and has some rowing stories to go with it; per an email we received from Tony Johnson, the coach quoted but not named in the article was Dan Lyons.

Pierre de Coubertin
It is said that rowing was de Coubertin's favorite sport - in fact, he called it 'the most perfect sport in existence.' (We did notice he didn't call it 'Classic Rowing.')

Charles Eliot
Harvard president from 1869 to 1909 (and now best known to rowers as a bridge), Eliot allegedly said that rowing and tennis are the only clean sports, and was particularly against the deception involved in throwing a curveball.

Eliot, photo taken from the starboard side
Eliot, photo taken from the starboard side

Mo Farah
Mo Farah and family engage in a Rowing Challenge:

If you ask him what his 5k or 10k is, make sure you mention 'on a rowing machine' or be prepared to be gobsmacked and shamed.

Fred Gwynne (added 3/16)
I had seen hints that actor Fred Gwynne was a rower, and the rowing cartoon he did that we posted as a POTD definitely showed some awareness of rowing terms, but a reader confirmed that Gwynne rowed at Groton, where his name is on an old varsity boat lineup plaque at Groton, and for a bit at Harvard. At 6'5", Gwynne would be a Munster in the middle of a boat!

Kevin Hart
Kevin Hart feels the Hydrow high:

Stephen Hawking
Hawking is said to have joined the rowing team at Oxford because he was bored with his studies; apparently he was a daredevil coxswain, squeezing crews through tight spots resulting in damage to the shells - or maybe he was just a normal-ish Bumps coxswain...

Chris Hemsworth
The first of two Avenger rowing novices herein (see Captain Marvel Brie Larson below), Hemsworth of Thor and other fame enlisted the help of Aussie Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist Rowena Meredith to improve his rowing for his show Limitless; read about it here: Meet the Aussie Olympian who taught Chris Hemsworth how to row - and why it's one of the go-to workouts of 2023.

Check it out here, including a near-flip (I said 'flip,' not 'blip') - which is of course part of learning to scull!

It's not the first time Hemsworth has been seen rowing (or close to it):

Oliver Wendell Holmes
The sculler on the lower left in the sketch below is said to be Oliver Wendell Holmes; Holmes spoke at length about rowing, having professed he is 'very partial to this manly exercise' and asking 'Is life less than a boat race?'

Manly, yes, but Holmes and his contemporaries would have trouble pacing women's crews these days, guaranteed.

Hugh Jackman
Is pretty serious about rowing, with lots of mentions of its importance to his training in interviews - and even posts erg scores to the Internet, not bad for a non-rower.

Hugh Laurie
Laurie had a longer rowing career than most on this list, having rowed at Eton and then Cambridge, with a year on the British junior team rowing the coxed pair in 1977 in Tampere, Finland, where the crew placed fourth. He was a member of the Cambridge Boat Race crew in 1980, losing by five feet; he also placed second in the Goblets at Henley in 1980.

His father Ran also competed in the 1936 and 1948 Olympics, winning gold in the latter.

The opening credits of House MD include an aerial shot of crews rowing on Lake Carnegie.

Brie Larson
row2k first saw Larson getting after it on the erg in our Instagram highlights back in April 2023 when she asked for erg tips, but now she is getting really serious, rowing in eights at Long Beach. Commenters on the post wonder if she may be preparing for the role of Elizabeth Zott in a film adaptation of Lessons in Chemistry.

George Mallory and Sandy Irvine
Mountaineers George Mallory and Sandy Irvine were both rowers; Irvine was a member of the winning 1923 Oxford Blue Boat, and the alumni boat club of Magdelene Boat Club at Cambridge is named for Mallory.

We are pretty sure that when asked why he decided to go down to the boathouse, Mallory famously responded 'Because it's there.'

Joel McHale, the guy from Community
The Community actor was a rowing recruit at Washington, then left the team to walk on to the football team; he's not a real fan of rowing, as you can read here.

Edward Norton
Apparently rowed at Yale before a back injury ended his participation. He doesn't say much about it at the link, as it might be that the first rule of rowing only your frosh year is never to talk about rowing your frosh year.

Beto O'Rourke
There are a lot of rowers who went into politics, and I had made an informal decision not to include everyone who did; former Columbia rowing captain O'Rourke did run for president, but the decision to add him was tipped by the fact that his punk band once opened for Fitz of Depression.

Vincent Price
Apparently rowed frosh at Yale; gives new meaning to 'And rot inside a corpse's shell.'

Robert Reich
Reich joined the rowing team at Dartmouth because he had his eyes on a Rhodes Scholarship, which requires athletic participation. He was definitely a coxswain; Reich is just under five feet tall.

Teddy Roosevelt
The Bull Moose rowed at Harvard, and counted it among his favorite activities; in his autobiography, he wrote "at Oyster Bay our great and permanent amusements were rowing and sailing; I do not care for the latter, and am fond of the former."

We rowing lifers and masters rowers know a lot about our sport as a 'permanent amusement.'

Theodore Roosevelt at Harvard, in sculling gear. Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University.

Capt. Alan B. Shepard, Jr.
Shepard, the first American to reach outer space, ranks winning the Eastern Sprints while sitting in the bow seat for Navy as his greatest thrill.

Spare the coxswain who accused Shepard of skying.

NASA photo
NASA photo

Dr. Benjamin Spock
The world's most famous pediatrician reached the absolute pinnacle of the sport, winning a gold medal in the men's eight in the 1924 Paris Olympics - which they won by 16 seconds.

Spock was the last man to make the 1924 Yale crew that rowed in Paris, after T.F. Davis Haines fell and 'bruised his ass' - !!!

More on the doctor's rowing career:

Dr. Benjamin Spock, The Baby Doctor and Olympic Champion

Dr. Benjamin Spock was Olympic rower at Yale long before he was 'the baby doc'.

Bram Stoker
The author of Dracula coxed in Ireland, according to Bill Miller's Rowing History site. We don't want to imagine the calls Stoker made from the stern.

Neil deGrasse Tyson
Neil deGrasse Tyson rowed at Texas; he did a StarTalk with Arshay Cooper here:

Of the sport of rowing, deGrasse Tyson said 'We live on this speck called Earth - think about what you might do, today or tomorrow - and make the most of it.'

Patrick Warburton
Warburton, who appeared in Seinfeld (as Puddy), Family Guy, and Cronk, rowed at Orange Coast; here he is in a Photo of the Day sent by Steve Morris at a Coast Crew reunion row in 2024.

Emma Watson
While attending Brown, Emma Watson was asked to join the rowing team as a coxswain; it was ultimately unsuccessful but still makes a good story.

For more, see Bill Miller's list of Famous Rowers here.

Eliot missed out on being among three rowers in this historic photo
Eliot missed out on being among three rowers in this historic photo

3 medals for distinguished service awarded annually by Roosevelt Memorial Assoc. were presented at White House June 2 by Pres. Coolidge. Front row, Left to right: Elihu Root, Pres. Coolidge, and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Directly back of Mr. Root is Asst. Secy. of Navy Roosevelt and directly behind the Pres. is Jerome D. Greene of NY who represented Chas. W. Eliot, Pres. Emiritus of Harvard Univ. the 3rd recipient, Mr. Root and Justice Holmes being the other 2

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Log in to comment
03/15/2023  6:07:17 PM
Don't forget Apsley Cherry-Gerrard, a member of Robert Falcon Scott's South Pole expedition, who perished down there with Scott and earlier spent six weeks in the dead of winter gathering emporer penguin eggs at 60 below (The Worst Journey in the World is his book) who won the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley in around 1906....

03/15/2023  3:28:42 PM
1 people like this
Supreme court justice Neil Gorsuch was in the varsity 8 at Columbia and still has his name carved into the boathouse wall

03/15/2023  1:42:43 PM
1 people like this
Greory Peck rowed at Cal. Theodore Roosevelt may have sculled at Harvard, but no record of him on the crew. Salut!

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