Palmetto veterinarian on rowing crew vying at nationals

vmannix@bradenton.comAugust 14, 2013 

OSPREY -- What a beautiful Tuesday morning it was to go rowing for the men in "Carpe Diem," their sleek, white 60-foot shell.

Sunlight sparkled on glass smooth Blackburn Bay.

Egrets perched regally on lush mangroves.

A dolphin resurfaced gracefully nearby.

Tranquility reigned all around the swift crew.

Until Dennis Kamrad grabbed his megaphone.

The momentary quiet was shattered by the loud, raspy voice of the respected rowing coach shouting instructions from the trailing boat during the hour practice.

"WEIGHT ON! WEIGHT ON! WEIGHT OFF!"

"GET IT ABOVE THE MIRTH AND GIRTH!"

"SUSPEND, BLEND AND SEND!"

The men were used to it. Amused even.

All successful professionals and still physically fit in their late 50s and early 60s, they'd heard Kamrad when they rowed for Rollins College 40 years ago and he was a volunteer coach.

Reunited for the U.S. Rowing Masters Nationals Thursday through Sunday at Benderson Park, it was deja vu for the close-knit crew.

Take it from Jack Beal.

"It brings back memories," the 59-year-old Palmetto veterinarian said. "But Coach didn't yell at me much today."

So what, Beal's old Rollins rowing teammates joked.

"It's 93 degrees, we're working out butts off and getting yelled at instead of enjoying the flora and fauna," said P.C. Ward, 61, of Charlotte, N.C.

"This is our vacation," said David Kidd, 61, of Thousand Oaks, Calif. "Does that tell you how crazy we are?"

Yes, but it's a good thing.

This reunion is just the latest for a bunch of guys who remained in touch after all these years and continue to row. Some have rowed together for a big meet at least once a year.

Credit Jim Lyden, their head coach at Rollins, for instilling a love of the sport they still share.

"It's a bonding," the 73-year-old said after Tuesday's practice. "We're a band of brothers."

In fact, it was Lyden's use of the iconic line from Shakespeare's "Henry V" at the Battle of Agincourt -- "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers" -- that has stayed with his proteges.

Like 60-year-old Stephen Hall.

He's one of nine men on this team who competed for the Rollins masters crew at England's prestigious Henley Regatta in 2003.

"It's remarkable," Hall said. "When we get in the boat it's like the hands of time go back 40 years. We're busting on each other, ribbing on each other, making fun of each other. We're like college kids again."

"That's why our wives are not here," Ward said. "They can't stand us when we get together."

It's more than fun and games, of course.

This national meet is the reason they're here.

Kamrad e-mailed workouts to each crew member beginning last March, and they followed up.

If Beal didn't have time to work out at Fort Hamer, he cranked up his rowing machine at home.

So when the old Rollins Tars hit the water for the first time Monday evening, it was like riding a bike.

Almost.

"The level we're at is the upper level of rowing, so it comes back really fast and having experienced guys helps a lot," Beal said. "Synchronizing takes a little while because you have to spend time in the boat with them. It's all muscle memory."

If they forgot, Kamrad loudly reminded them on his megaphone.

No big deal.

"We're obnoxious," Ward said. "We just yell right back at him."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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