Yet the core of that lightweight eight did just that on July 3, kicking off the afternoon finals of the six-day regatta with a stately paddle past a cheering crowd straight out of a 19th-century daguerreotype: gentlemen in loud ties and zany blazers, ladies in long dresses and fascinators.
The ceremonial “row past” of venerable athletes — punctuating races between some of the world’s best crews — is a ritual that could live nowhere else. Every year, the regatta selects veteran crews for the honor of rowing the storied racecourse to commemorate their achievements. Among other milestones, the old Lions were celebrating both their 50th anniversary here (a year late due to the pandemic) and the 100th anniversary of lightweight rowing at Columbia.
Returning from the 1971 lightweights were Dr. Paul Demartini ’72, PS’77; Paul Gruber SEAS’72, who organized the adventure; Al Medioli ’73, GSAPP’79; and John E. Mulligan III ’72. Stand-ins for the ’71 crewmates who could not appear were Philip Adkins ’80; Nobuhisa Ishizuka ’82, LAW’86; Charles Sherman JRN’69; Howard Strateman Jr. SEAS’73, BUS’76; and Air Marshal Andrew Turner, deputy commander of the Royal Air Force (R.A.F.), whose local club loaned the Columbians a boat for the row past.
The core ’71 crew dedicated their appearance to their coach, John Abele, a world-class rower and decorated Marine veteran of Vietnam, and to two late crewmates, John O’Connor ’73 and Peter Darrow ’72; Darrow had paved the way for the return to Henley by organizing a string of racing reunions at Boston’s Head of the Charles Regatta.
NOBUHISA ISHIZUKA ’82, LAW’86
Medioli, the stroke for the ’71 lightweights, felt a deep connection between that era — when the University was riven by strife over Vietnam and the civil rights struggle — and the present day.
COURTESY COLUMBIA ATHLETICS
Ishizuka, who is chair and president of the Board of Directors of USRowing, found a happy irony in the return to Henley. During the immigration waves of the late 19th and 20th centuries, he said, “Columbia was traditionally the school for promising children of immigrant families — students not considered ‘a fit’ by Harvard or Yale. When we come to Henley, so bound by the traditions of the ruling class, we wave that Columbia banner of true merit.”
“These were mostly guys who knew nothing about rowing,” recalled Sherman, who coached the ’71 crew as freshmen and coxed the anniversary row past. “They stuck with it through very difficult circumstances and became extraordinarily successful.”
The R.A.F.’s Turner arranged for a WWII-vintage Spitfire to fly over the regatta. The maneuver was meant for the crowd of tens of thousands. But to his temporary Columbia crewmates, it felt personal.
Henley was “a spectacular reminder of how great it is when a crew trains hard together and the boat just runs,” said Strateman.
Demartini summed up: “For me, the fellowship and tradition are everything. When we were kids lounging beside the Thames with our jackets off, men in bowlers told us, ‘Gentlemen, please put on your jackets!’ Yesterday when I loosened my tie, an attendant came up and said, ‘Sir, would you please button your collar?’
“Fifty years and nothing has changed.”
John E. Mulligan III ’72 was for 32 years Washington Bureau chief of the Providence (R.I.) Journal and spent nine years on the U.S. Senate Press Gallery staff. He lives, rows and writes in Rhode Island.
Check out video of the ceremonial “row past” on our Vimeo page!
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