A note from FRC student Don Spero, 1966 World Champion in the Men's Single Sculls event in Bled, Yugoslavia:
"Nancy and I want to thank you for the wonderful time we spent last February at the Florida Rowing Center. It exceeded expectations so much that we stayed for a full five days rowing there rather than the two we had planned.
Gordon Hamilton is a gifted teacher of sculling for beginners through elite rowers. He has developed a unique vocabulary for communicating the essentials of sculling craft clearly and effectively. Harvey Rubenstein (a teammate of mine from the '60's) and Bob Van Twyver, with whom we also worked, do a great job. The proof of their effectiveness was evident when we returned and went out on the Potomac. Previously Nancy had lacked confidence in the single, so we more often rowed a double when she came out. On the first row, months after FRC, she launched tentatively in the single. Within a mile, she settled in comfortably, declaring that Gordon's mantra, "Forget about the water. Ride the riggers and the boat will balance itself. It's a boat." She thoroughly enjoyed that row, and those that followed, even in choppy conditions. I must also confess that my own sculling had become sloppy. The excellent coaching videos and Gordon's gentle comments were a welcome wake-up call and improved my rowing.
Speaking of conditions, they are always good and often perfect at FRC. The equipment is first rate and well maintained. And the weather, well, it's Florida in the winter - splendid!
Again, sincere thanks,
I keep a rowing journal, and the entry I wrote after the second day of this year's session began like this:
"The best day of rowing in my life. Everything clicked - stability, elbows out at the release, feathering, feeling the run of the boat, and so on. I was just ecstatic."
Even better - it wasn't a fluke. I had another "best" on the next day and another on the day after that. So I wasn't just lucky. Instead I'd learned something that I could repeat at will. This gave me a marvelous sense of accomplishment. I feel so strongly now that I have turned a corner in learning to row, and that it won't be all uphill from now on.
I struggled with my technique last summer, and even though I got on the water regularly in July, August, and September, more often than not the sessions were an exercise in frustration. For example:
"Another terrifying day on the water! I took out a Peinert 26, but it felt tippy the entire time. I got in a few good strokes, but mostly it was arms-only and trying to get relaxed."
Or, "I really had fun today - for a few minutes anyway."
It's a wonder I didn't go back to cycling full time. Believe me, I thought about it.
So how can we explain such a marked difference? It seems so simple really, but the key for me was learning on the first day of my session how to correctly keep my elbows out at the Release, and how to apply pressure to the pins, hinging from my elbows, instead of pressing from my HANDS. After that, the rest was gravy.
These minor adjustments to my stroke enabled me not just to feel stable and secure in the boat, but also to BE stable and secure. I felt "inside" the boat (one with it) rather than perched on top. Once I felt stable, I relaxed. Then I got in some good strokes because I could focus on my technique instead spending time trying to balance, and from that came confidence and more relaxation and more good strokes.
Certainly the Peinert Zephyr, which I really came to love, provided the ideal platform for my breakthrough. It's wonderfully stable, but a delight to row, too. One of my goals for this year was to transition to a narrow boat, but now I'm not so sure that's important. I had such fun and success in the Zephyr that I could easily see myself spending all season, or even longer in it.
If and when I do try a narrower boat, I'm absolutely certain the transition will be easier and faster because I know how to become a "Fortress of Stability."
The coaching presentation was improved by splitting it into smaller segments. Aside from being easier to assimilate, each day could then have a particular theme and focus. I wasn't trying to "learn everything at once." Another added benefit was being able to learn the King of the Mountain, Skimming, and Joy of Backing drills at the dock. These drills are so useful that it was worth spending the extra time learning to do them correctly. I'm sure with a large group of students the logistics might be challenging, but it worked out well for my small group.
Gordon's interactive presentations, complete with "spoon" oars, were wonderful as well. The first session was the one in which I really understood how to press against the pins with my upper arms and body and core.
On my last day, Harvey shot some video with my camera, and I mounted another, smaller unit on the stern of my boat. I'm really glad I have the movies to review. I've watched them a dozen times by now and I see some things to work on, but nothing really major.
Thanks once again for everything,