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After traveling around the world and claiming countless rowing titles, John Laundon decided to give back to the crew community in a big way.
Starting as crew coach at Old Lyme 12 years ago, the 20-time U.S. Rowing champion heard news of growing interest for a club team at Valley Regional. Using the aid of parents, while borrowing Old Lyme's equipment, the two schools became a co-op six years ago before finally earning their varsity letter in the third season. For the Essex resident, he was inspired to reciprocate to crew via words of a former mentor.
"A former coach of mine and Olympic rower, Jim Dietz, wrote an article about rowers whom did not get back into the sport after winning titles" says John, who coached his girls' quad team to a state crown last season. "I read that and did not want to become one of those people, so it pushed me into coaching. It has been great to bring this to Valley; the parents love to see their kids involved in this team that they really wanted."
Speaking to the uniqueness of his craft, John draws his coaching doctrine for the young athletes. He feels if there is one sport that expresses the value of group commitment, it is crew-a sport with no room for substitutions.
"The most important thing to me is teaching them the value of teamwork," says John, who has competed in races held in both North America and Europe. "This is the ultimate team sport as, if you take one person out, you cannot row. You sit five to nine people in a boat and that is it; you cannot make substitutions, unlike other sports. It takes a commitment in everyone showing up on a regular basis, but it's also about having fun."
While the six-time World Champion has docked up in many sites-including the Henley Royal Regatta across the pond in England-he has gained perspective of what makes the sport so enjoyable. Crew demands more than knowledge of the waters, it requires physical conditioning as well.
"It's all about the effort you put into it," remarks John, who has won three Head of the Charles races, the largest two-day rowing event, while medaling 25 times for the race. "It also requires a year-long commitment, because you have to be very physically fit, which entails grueling 60-to-90-minute workouts. It's a tough sport from a conditioning standpoint, as you need a good aerobic base. It requires a certain tough mentality as well."
Old Lyme Athletic Director Rob Roache is another among many who see firsthand how attached John is not only to the sport, but also the program and the kids within it.
"John goes way beyond his contractual obligation with the school for this program," says Roache. "He is a very dedicated rower who also runs the conditioning programs for the kids in the winter. He uses every ounce of energy to promote this sport, and is open to any person with a passion for crew. He's a great guy and has done a wonderful job with the Valley/Old Lyme team."
Rowing at the Masters' level since age 21, the multiple title-holder and now-coach grows more aware of the human side of crew. Similar to the pleasures he captures from the sport itself, he gains reward from watching his rowers mature into citizens, while heading into Valley/Old Lyme's fourth varsity season out on the waters.
"Watching these kids develop from freshman to senior year, it is great to see," says John, who thanks Dietz. "The progress they make in those four years is incredible. But it also equally great to watch them become citizens and commit to things, like this team. To see them become members of the team, become better, and establish goals, it is very rewarding to me. We average about 10 rowers per year on the team, but I am hopeful heading into this year."