No one who was there that day will ever forget the trowel incident. More than a decade later, members of the Trinity College men’s rowing team have never made anyone angrier than they did their coach on that sweltering fall afternoon in 2008.
Larry Gluckman always kept the boathouse freezer stocked with half a dozen flavors of brand name popsicles. It was partly about physiology – the post-exercise glycogen window was open and I wanted them to ingest sugar quickly. It was also about humanity: everyone wants a cool gift after a hard workout. On this day, athletes were supposed to complete their post-route cross training, then light boat maintenance, before indulging. A couple of rowers, unable to wait, broke into the freezer early.
When Gluckman saw the attackers, he criticized them and then the rest of the team. He generally scolded people in private. Not on this day. No bad performance in the water or on the ergometer could have bothered him the way this little slip did. Because for Gluckman it was not a small slip.
“It wasn’t about the popsicles,” says Colin Touhey, who rowed under him from 2006 until Gluckman retired in ’09. “It was about the fact that you don’t get the reward unless you do the work. The world doesn’t reward you for not doing the job. “
Gluckman died last week at age 72, after suffering a stroke while battling leukemia. He first took up a rowing as a college freshman, then became an Olympic rower, Olympic coach, and the leading figure who ran the men’s programs at Northeastern, Columbia, Princeton, Dartmouth, and little Trinity, turning most of them. in champions. To this day, rowers across the country complete Gluckers, an excruciating series of interval workouts (one minute: 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off) in which he pioneered. He finished his career training small boats in the elite rowing program that began in Craftsbury, Vermont. In February, his latest student, John Graves, won the United States Olympic Trials in men’s individual scull.
I was a helmsman on the Trinity women’s rowing team during Gluckman’s last collegiate act. He was never my coach, although he hired and coached my coach. But we shared a boathouse with the men, and the culture Gluckman created permeated every inch of the place. Trinity is a small school in Hartford, Connecticut (in 2010, the year after his retirement, the undergraduate enrollment was 2,312) and, although men’s rowing is older and therefore not overseen by the NCAA, essentially competes at a Division III level. But he told his rowers in a letter he wrote after being hired in 2003, “My expectations are as high for this team as they were for anyone who has ever trained.”
He didn’t really mean in the water, although he also led them to success there. I wanted to say in life.
Much of college sports these days is indefensible. This year alone, amid a raging pandemic, schools like UNC, Notre Dame, and UCLA declared the campus unsafe for students, but continued to hold soccer practice; Minnesota increased its soccer coach’s salary to $ 4.6 million and cut men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis, and men’s indoor athletics; and the NCAA paid for men’s basketball teams in their championship tournament to undergo the most reliable form of testing for COVID-19 while using a cheaper test for women. These people behave as if their mandate is to create wealth for the movers.
Gluckman believed that his job was to create good adults. He was successful; many of the best people I know rowed for him. So I asked several of his athletes what they had learned.
Very little of what they said was about rowing. “Larry never said anything to me that would surprise me, technically,” says Henry Palmer, who rowed under him from 2003 to 2006. “He built a system.”
Gluckman had three rules: nothing will work unless we do it. Do more than expected. Leave things better than you found them.
Rowing was, in many ways, the ideal sport for him. Hardly any other company offers such a simple deal: effort inward, results outward. Especially at the lower levels, the will to work will exceed natural ability most days. But there is no more authentic team sport either. It is seldom possible to identify the most valuable member of a crew; in fact, one person who does noticeably more than the others can ruin the flow of the boat. The Division III rowing also forced a level of perspective that appealed to him. Participants are true college athletes, with no benefits not available to oboists and yearbook publishers. When a projected member of his superior ship nervously confessed that he would like to study abroad, Gluckman smiled. “Sounds like an incredible opportunity!” he said. The boat might get worse, but the person would get better. Rowing, and specifically Division III rowing, provided the perfect classroom for Gluckman’s lessons.
Wes Ng, who would become my coach and later lead Penn’s women’s team, was interviewed to be Gluckman’s assistant in the summer of 2004. A five-minute walk around campus took twice as long, because Gluckman stopped to chat with all the workers I saw: Omar at the front desk, Janice in the office, Karen in the sports department. And as they walked, Gluckman quietly picked up the trash and threw it away.
He generally stayed away from metaphor, but Gluckman’s favorite story was about his father, who had owned a newsstand in Queens, New York, but closed it during the Depression. He applied for a job in a factory, which brought so much hope that the manager was sending people. When he turned to leave, he noticed a broom on the floor, picked it up, and leaned it against the wall. They hired him on the spot.
Gluckman told that story only a few times, and only when he felt what he called drift: a gradual relaxation on the part of the banner rowers. All that mattered to him was the standard. They were never surprised when he reprimanded them. They always knew how to meet the standard and when they had fallen short.
“What mattered was that we did things the right way,” says Hal Ebbott, who rowed for him from 2007 to 2009. “And that wasn’t because we were rowing. We were just paddling, and it still mattered that we did things the right way. And I think that’s where it becomes something that you can take forward. It is by no means exclusive to rowing; if anything, the point is that rowing was arbitrary, and you could have been gardening or doing embroidery or baking. Everything he was talking about and defending would still apply. And I think that’s something that a lot of coaches don’t necessarily believe in, and even those who do don’t necessarily communicate that well. “
One story he often told was about when he was a coach at Princeton, which in 1983 beat Harvard in his double annual career for the first time in 25 years. Princeton was such an underdog that Harvard hadn’t bothered to bring the Compton Cup. Gluckman never forgot the snub.
“It was so disrespectful,” Touhey says. “It was never about winning or losing. Winning was a by-product of being a good person and putting in your time, and if you did the right thing, the gain would take care of itself. “
He gave his show the unofficial motto of “participation with excellence,” and the order of the words was important to him. “He treated the worst guy in 4V the same way he treated the best guy in 1V,” Graves says.
In the spring of 2007, a flash flood nearly destroyed the pier. Gluckman asked for volunteers to drive up to the boathouse and help clean up the damage. All team members introduced themselves. After the work was done, he called the rowers together. Code Sternal, who rowed for him from ’05 to ’08, chokes when he remembers Gluckman’s words: “Guys, I don’t care if you don’t win a single race this season. The way you came here and worked together to do this, I am extremely proud of each of you. “
They won many races. Trinity was a perennial national power during his tenure; its crews won three gold medals at the Head Of The Charles Regatta, two ECAC National Invitational crowns, and the Temple Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta. But despite all the work he did preparing them for competitions, sometimes he didn’t even watch the races. By the time his crews took off, he had done what he could. “The race is a celebration of your preparation,” he told them. The result, always, was secondary to the process.
His rowers struggled to accept that mentality. “I think the idea that when you’re a young amateur athlete that the result doesn’t matter is unacceptable to you, and it sounds like something a serious competitor doesn’t say,” says Ebbott. “The sound of, like, if you try your best, you can’t care what happened sounds like an incredibly low standard. And I think what I didn’t realize is that that’s actually the highest standard you can imagine, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever achieve it in your life. “
They always knew that Gluckman loved them, sometimes because he told them and sometimes because he showed them. A few times a year he assigned athletes to run the three miles from campus to his house, where they would arrive and find him making pancakes for them. He crafted a grueling strength combination for the rowers to complete upon their return to campus each fall, and included a soccer pitch as one of the exercises. Midway through a set of Gluckers, he might see feathers, turn to a team, and yell, in the same baritone tone in which he urged them to train to exhaustion: “Guys! Eagle!”
Peter Graves, John’s older brother who rowed for him at Trinity from ’04 to ’07 and then again as a member of the national team, recalls docking after a heartbreaking second place in college. Gluckman was waiting. Peter collapsed, sobbing, in her arms.
A decade later, when the pandemic broke out, Gluckman bought a Dodge Caravan and drove himself from Vermont to Florida, to watch John Graves compete in the United States Olympic Trials. Gluckman raced down the towpath on his bike, yelling, “Yes, Johnnyyy!” He congratulated John on the victory, helped him disarm his boat, and then returned to Vermont. A few weeks later, in his final minutes, he asked his daughters to make sure John was ready for the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta in Switzerland in May.
John will compete there without Gluckman. All his rowers will be forced to advance without him. In some ways, this will be a formidable challenge. He remained involved in their lives after graduation, traveling to see them compete internationally and attending their weddings. He saw art exhibitions with Ebbott and Touhey. He taught Ed Slater, who rowed under him from ’03 to ’06 and then worked as a volunteer assistant coach for him for a year, how to clean a cast iron skillet. (No soap, just water and salt). He sent emails, texts and called. At various times during the pandemic, he participated in the Zooms group.
But in other respects, this is exactly what I was preparing them for. Your crews have been launched. He has done what he could. And because their philosophy was always so clear, they can always turn to it.
“All my memories of Larry are this, like the sun inside me that is burning and keeping me in my own orbit,” says Slater.
They know what the standard is, they know how to meet it, and they know when they have fallen short. They know how to be good adults. Gluckman taught them.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.