Yesterday's 2023 Schuylkill Navy Run (better known as the Turkey Trot) was dedicated to Kevin Saint Clair, who was killed in a bicycle accident on Monday, November 6 while riding home from his son's house in Philadelphia.
Kevin won the event seven times between 1976 and 1983, and after he switched to bicycling as his main sport, Kevin still ran in the event, often pushing a baby stroller containing his sons Jack and Wyatt when they were toddlers.
A tribute to Kevin from his friends follows; in the mainstream media, Kevin's life was celebrated in multiple television and newspaper articles after his passing. Here are a few links:
The boys running the 2023 Turkey Trot in Kevin's honor, and wife Ellen's contribution of a coffee machine as a prize (the event gives prizes of all kinds to participants). A 20-second silence was observed in Kevin's memory before the run.
Kevin was a teacher, a dean, a rower, rowing coach at Villanova and Bachelor's, a track coach, a cross-country coach, a very fast runner, a bicycle and cyclocross racer (he raced 25 in 2023 alone), and a pretty serious family man, having become grandparents with his wife Ellen to Max, age 3, and Fulton, 19 months. Kevin and Ellen have been together for 37 years and married for 32.
We learned at the service for Kevin that, while we knew him as a rower and coach as Mark O'Connor notes below, Kevin had three huge Philadelphia communities of which he was a part - the rowing folks, a very large group of bicycling and cyclocross friends (who came out at strength on Friday evening, creating lines around the corner to get into the church), and his students and colleagues at the Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School, where he was a sixth-grade teacher as well as a dean.
A gathering at Vesper after Kevin's service had to be limited to the rowing folks - it was already standing room only, and Kevin's wife Ellen had to make the difficult decision to keep it to rowers, but shared that the bicycling and school folks had separate gatherings for Kevin; it was an amazing send-off to a man with countless friends.
Here are some comments from the service - or at least the comments as originally written or later recalled, as Kevin's older brother Jack made sure to keep everyone to a couple minutes or so at the microphone, so some of the comments ended up edited out on the spot.
If you asked me to describe Kevin, I would have said - he's a rower. The powerful media coverage after his tragic passing told something different. Kev was a teacher. That realization changed how I will remember him.
Now I know that Kevin correcting my technique in the boat (that I found infuriating at the time) was just Kev being a teacher. Trying to make me better and the boat faster.
Listening to friends and family speak of him and reading about him in the media stories, I think even now Kevin is giving one more lesson - Keep it simple.
Whatever you do, do it well.
Don't miss the journey by being too focused on the destination.
Saint Catherine of Siena said - All the way to Heaven is Heaven. I think Kevin lived that way. Thanks for the last lesson, my friend. You will be sorely missed.
The first time I saw Kevin, he never saw me - it was at the Turkey Trot, where Kevin rarely saw anyone, except Mike Teti. It was 1983, and Kevin overtook Mike in the final 100 yards for his seventh win. I couldn't congratulate him at the time, though, because I was running under another person's name (once a Turkey Trot tradition, with apologies to the Schuylkill Navy), but the next year I joined the Vesper lightweight horde and rowed with Kevin every day.
Kevin was a weight-maker. Weight-makers are valuable people in a boat, partly because they're strong for their weight but also because they make room for heavier-than-average people (like me) - somethingÂ Kevin loved to remind us of. He also relished any opportunity to torture us with details of his sumptuous dinners the night before a race as we sat miserably in a car with the heat blazing, in trash bags and wetsuits, craving just one low-salt wheat thin before bedtime.
For all of his bravado there was one story that Kevin rarely told - rarely enough that no one person seems to know the whole story...but it's true and it is pure Kevin. One day while coaching, Kevin rescued a man who was drowning in the Schuylkill by the Girard Bridge. Kevin leapt into action, jumping from his launch into the river to save him. It turns out the man was a postal worker, and in gratitude US Postal Service service honored Kevin by commissioning a heroic portrait that hung in the post office for a time before presenting it to him. As Ellen recalled, Kevin in turn presented the painting to his older brother Jack, with the note: "To the man who HAS everything, from the man who IS everything."
Perhaps what I will appreciate most about Kevin was his habit of saying "I love you" when saying goodbye, as he did with all his friends and family. It took some getting used to, way back when, but eventually it caught on with many of us. I'll be forever grateful for that. The last time I saw Kevin, at the end of the summer, those were the last words he said to me.
Kevin Saint Clair might be the most competitive person I ever met. A number of people at his memorial referenced this obvious trait, but to truly appreciate what that means, you have to understand that he was the most competitive in a group of fiercely competitive lightweight athletes: he would race you taking the oars down to the dock before practice and to the showers after practice, and never let you forget who won.
I'm pretty sure Kevin remembered every piece he ever did. He remembered where everyone sat in each boat, what the stroke rate was in every boat, and what the margins were at the end. And he used those variables, along with windspeed and direction and the currents in each lane to do some sophisticated math, all to determine that his boat always won.
I don't think Kevin knew my name the first year I rowed at Vesper - because he didn't consider me a threat. I was just one of "the Rutgers guys." But I came to appreciate that was a kind of unspoken compliment, because he was "a Temple guy," and he recognized kindred spirits: gritty dark horses with big chips on their shoulders. The Ivy League guys never questioned whether they belonged. The state school guys felt they had to prove it every day, and that was a big part of what drove him.
It wasn't until I got to know Kevin that I realized the same guy who would do anything to get ahead of you on the water was one of the kindest, gentlest people as soon as practice was over. My twenty-something brain couldn't reconcile that dichotomy. But as we saw each other over the years, I came to understand that those two sides were always ever-present, and they defined who he was. And his humility and humanity - his gentleness - only grew when he became a father.
I'm not a religious person, but I have always felt especially blessed to have crossed paths with all of the guys I rowed with over the years, and I carry them with me every day. I feel particularly blessed to have known Kevin. I will think about his competitiveness when I go into the red-zone during workouts. And I will think about his gentleness when I look into the eyes of my own children.
Kevin was a lightweight rower at Vesper. A world class rower. 5 national teams. Several titles: San Diego Crew Classic, Head of the Charles, Canadian Henley, many national championships. It’s a list any rower would envy.
His most prestigious Vesper win? The turkey trot. Fastest ever. Paul Teti I know Mike might disagree..
I arrived at Vesper in 86. It was a wonderful, run down, competitive place where champions were made and everyone had a chip on their shoulder. There was an old guard at Vesper - many of them now gone: Quinny, O’Gorman, now Goose. Many of them are in this room: Fred, Larry, Mark, Paul, Eric.
But one of the most old guard was Kevin. I am not old guard: maybe he is claimed by Bachelors, or Fairmount - no disrespect - but I knew him as Vesperan.
I got to row with Kevin for 3 years - thousands of hours - we won many races with guys in this room, and he raced with me at the World Championships in Milan with Ron Birnbaum and Mike Morrison.
We crushed it in the US. We had a move at the 1000 no one could match. We got crushed in Milan.
A few months ago Kevin went to my home town of Tucson to race in a huge masters bike race, and I introduced him to my brother (who is also very good).
I told my brother - I’d trust him with my life, but don’t be fooled - he will try to kick your ass in the race.
I first met Kevin Saint Clair in June of 1989 when I knocked on the door of Bachelor's Barge and asked him if could join his summer rowing program. I was a mediocre college rower and drove across country after graduating from Oregon State University. I wanted to see if I could hold my own with East Coast rowers. At the time the plan was to row in Philly for three months and then take a job on the West Coast. Kevin coached me that summer and we won a gold medal at Club Nationals. At the end of the summer Kevin said I should consider staying out East and continue rowing, maybe even try out for the National Team. That conversation changed the course of my life.
I rowed for Kevin for the next several years, even competed with him in a pair in his program at Bachelors. At that the time few of us had any idea how far off we were from making the National Team, although he continued to work with us for little or no pay. By the mid '90's several of us made the team and those who did not were very close.
Eventually in 1993 I made the U.S. National Team and stayed on the team for four years. I never truly appreciated everything he did for me until it was over. Without Kevin I would have never made the US team; he literally changed the course of my life with that conversation in 1989. I will never be able to repay Kevin for what he did for me and I will never forget it.
One of his former students now works for me, and she tells me that, in her sixth grade class, Kevin got a flat tire while riding his bike to school. Instead of the scheduled lessons for the day, Kevin spent the morning teaching her class how to change a tire. That is typical of Kevin's style. Kevin was truly one of a kind and will be missed.
Similar to skipping a rock across water, the ripple effect of Kevin's life continues to spread outward. As my rowing coach and mentor, Kevin instilled a fighting spirit to push a bit further when every muscle fiber told me to stop, and that same seed has been planted in my three children. In that sense, Kevin's ripple continues to spread.
Jack St. Clair
Kevin and his older brother Jack, the oldest of the 12 siblings, were fast friends and also deeply competitive in the way only kids from a big family (and Philadelphia rowing family) can be. Jack shared many stories of their time together, but asked row2k to share one in which Jack had agreed to row a lightweight double with Kevin, on the condition that Jack weighed in at max, no exceptions.
It should be no problem, as Kevin was a well-known weight-maker in his crews, coming in around 149-150 with truly no effort.
The night before one of their races, Kevin sat across from Jack with a beer and jar of cashews, savoring each sip and bite with a smile and a flourish intended to taunt his hungry older brother. Come weigh-in time the next morning, Jack got on the scale at the 159.8 max, and Kevin followed - some 2.5 pounds over his target weight.
'Sorry little brother, looks like you have to go run,' Jack said. 'A deal's a deal.'
Kevin hit the running path and dropped the weight - but according to his other rowing mates, still liked to 'share' his pre-race meals, noting to one that he could not decide what to have for dessert, an ice cream sundae or some cheesecake -'so I had both.'
In 1987 Kevin and I rowed with Scooter in the '87 world championships. Kevin was the oldest in our boat and there were a few young'uns who were still in college... Goose took it upon himself to give the kids unsolicited fatherly advice. A kid from Harvard (who everyone called 'Boomer' said "dayum, you sound juss like my grand-pappy." So for the rest of training camp and at the world championships Kevin was called "Pappy." I think he didn't like it at first but he was a good sport.
I enjoyed knowing Kevin, he was fun to be around, he was an excellent training partner and we had lots of good races together. RIP Goose.
Earlier this week, Ed Grose told me how Kevin found him out on Boathouse Row, invited him in to train at Bachelor's, and set Ed on the track to making the US team, and that he would not have stayed in rowing and been on four teams without him. I was not completely aware of Kevin's time coaching national team hopefuls, and learned Kevin was like a Pied Piper for the next generation of lightweight rowers after us. Those guys were a formidable bunch, with a lot of Worlds medals and a few world champions spread over several years.
Kevin was a stalwart of peak 1980s Vesper, which required athleticism, strength of personality, a gift of gab, and intensity, all of which Kevin had in abundance.
You have to remember that in the mid-80s, the Vesper lightweights were lightweight rowing - they were The Show. We know them now as a bunch of good dudes, but at the time they were intimidating and fierce - those pairs with Michini at stroke looking unflappable and Morrison all wide-eyed behind him, just hauling on it - holy smokes, just terrifying.
When I joined the group in 1987, Kevin eased me in just like he later did for Ed and others, busting my chops just like he did everyone else, giving me a way to become part of this really tight team.
If I can stop for a moment and mention the way these guys show up for any of us when we need a hand, including Mike (Hard), Eric (Hamilton), and especially Mark (O'Connor), who is nearly always the go-to person in the most difficult circumstances - it is impressive and inspiring.
Now, during intense selection it is a lot easier to get to know the guys who row on the other side of the boat, so there's that - but it drew me into all this and ultimately to row with and become friends with so many of you, which is one of the treasures of my life.
At the church, one of the siblings - bless your Mom by the way (there are 12 Saint Clair kids)- saw the photo of Kevin and I in the stern pair in 1987, and asked if Kevin was always talking at me in the boat. He did to some extent, though I was lucky enough to have him mostly chirping at Mike O'Gorman over my shoulder.
But the real truth is that if Kevin thought I should be doing something differently, he just did it, and stroked the boat from the seven seat. It sounds like I am making a joke, but it is a fact; after a practice in Princeton, coaches Curtis Jordan and Gary Kilpatrick pulled me aside and said 'You know, Kevin is stroking the boat from the seven seat.'
I said 'What can I do about that?!?' Ultimately the solution was along the lines of 'Well , get better,' which I got to work doing - and we became a pretty solid partnership, and it became really fun. I loved it.
Kevin knew what I was trying to do, I knew what he was trying to do, and we put that to work one day to really fun effect. You have to remember that we were training alongside the eventual World Champion heavy men's eight every single day, which was serious work. We could hold our own, but toward the end of the summer, we were doing a Korzo workout of one-minute on one-minute off at high ratings, and we wanted finally to take a piece for ourselves.
With about 15 seconds left in the rest period, I started to wind, and heard Kevin say - 'Do it.' By the time they said go, we were at 40 strokes per minute, full Vesper lightweight style, blasted out to the lead, went up from there, and stole the piece. After the piece I was flopping around, completely whipped, but I turned my head to look at Kevin, and you all know that sly smile that he had on his face.
So I didn't get chirped at too much, but Kevin wasn't going to be quiet all day, and it happened that after every morning practice, Kevin, Scooter (Scott Petry), and I had a practice of getting a cup of coffee, finding a good place to hang, and talking to everyone who came by. Kevin called it the coffee club, I think Scooter called it Coffee Achievers, and it was a big part of that summer for me.
Curtis gave us a furlough at some point, and I went back to NYC, bolted downtown to a store on St Marks Place that I knew, and got three of these shirts. They were black market shirts, so this is the last and maybe only one left. We definitely wore the shirts out on the course in Copenhagen at some practices, and kept the Achievers going right up until race day.
I was lucky to stay in touch with Kevin mostly thanks to Ellen's continued racing - she is definitely currently the best rower of any of us, posting wins just last week at the Head of the Schuylkill - with Kevin cycling along the bank coaching and rooting for her. It has been great to see and stay in touch with all of them while on my regatta rounds; last night at the church, Ellen gave me this photo of me hanging Jack from his feet at a regatta at the Cooper River, cementing a fond memory for me.
So I would like you to have this last Coffee Achievers shirt; if you have enough damn rowing shirts, maybe we take a photo together and you just slip this back into my jacket pocket when I'm not looking - the shirt is a little bit worn, but for me the memories of hanging with Kevin that summer will never fade. We love you Kevin!
We love you Kevin!