When Roger Payne first walked onto the University of Washington campus as a freshman, his thoughts where not on a career in rowing. Payne's sport of choice was soccer.
"I had gone there to play soccer because I had played in a state championship on my team in high school," Payne said. "I walked on, and very soon realized I was probably not going to play division one soccer. So my freshman dorm roommate said you should try rowing."
Saturday, more than 45 years later, Payne stood on the awards stage at the 2018 NCAA Women's Rowing Championship in Nathan Benderson Park, Sarasota, Florida where he was honored by Virginia head women's coach Kevin Sauer for serving as the boatman for the University of Virginia the past 14 years, and retiring from the career that begin at Washington as a failed walk-on soccer player.
"Roger is the man," Sauer told row2k a day before the awards ceremony at the regatta. "He is epic. I've known him for almost 40 years, and just having him as he boatman for the last 14 years has been awesome.
Payne on stage with Kevin Sauer
"He's been my partner in crime type of thing. This will be a big loss and hard to replace, but I'm glad he's able to move on. He's been a great addition to our staff and I'm going to miss him a lot."
Since his first year at Washington, Payne has been a staple in the world of rowing. After his roommate prodded him toward crew, Payne made the Washington lightweight team, and, as part of his initiation into the program, he was brought to George Pocock's legendary shell shop and introduced to the famous boat builder.
"This tells you how long I have been around," Payne said. "When I was a freshman at Washington, as part of orientation on spring break, when you became part of the team, they took you over to George Pocock's shell shop, and George would talk to the freshman. To me, he was such a remarkable person, I was hooked.
"I decided then that this was something I really liked and wanted to do," said Payne, 67. "They say rugby is a religion, that football is a pastime, but rowing is a disease. I caught the disease."
After rowing at Washington, Payne began his career in the sport, first working in Pocock's shop for seven years, and then as a coach and a boatman. He coached nine seasons at Oregon State University, spent 12-seasons as the boatman at the University of Wisconsin, and then joined Virginia where he has been for the last 14 years.
Early this season, Payne decided it was time to move on after his wife retired and is daughter told him a first grandchild was on the way. He also has a son and daughter-in-law that recently moved to Australia.
"I have done this, either building boats, coaching or being a boatman for 45 years, and I've got a grandkid coming. I have son and daughter-in-law that moved to Australia, my wife retired, I have a big garden, so I need to have some free time," Payne said while checking equipment on the Virginia trailer after the heats Friday.
"So, yes, I am retiring from being a full-time boat man for the University of Virginia. But I will be a boatman emeritus, which means when they need someone around, I'll be available. I'm going to still be in Charlottesville. I will be a volunteer assistant coach, and I'll stay involved with rowing one way or another.
"I'm not going to disappear, but I don't want to have to be at the boathouse every day either. My wife wouldn't like that."
One thing that Payne said will keep him coming back to the Virginia boathouse will be the student athletes.
"Being around young people that really strive to excel at something - whether they win at NCAAs or make it, or medal, or just work as hard as they can - getting to watch them grow up, come in as freshman and then four years later graduate as confident young men and women ready to do anything, I think that is the most fun."
The annual NCAA Boatman Wakamole Tournament was an iffy proposition this weekend because of the weather and the compacted schedule. But with the help of Payne, the tournament was organized and run on the course during the break between the morning and afternoon Saturday racing.
The game was completed in record time (like the race schedule, it was compacted) and was won by a Central Florida's Brad Woodrick and support dog Sam. The official results are posted here.