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Rowing in Memory of One of Their Own Special Team

by Story and Photographs by Ed Moran, ed@usrowing.org | Oct 16, 2015
BOSTON, Mass. – Any group of athletes that share the experience of going through the process of being selected to an Olympic team form a bound that lasts a lifetime. They stay injoan1 contact, share life’s big moments and suffer together when tragedy strikes.
BOSTON, Mass. – Any group of athletes that share the experience of going through the process of being selected to an Olympic team form a bound that lasts a lifetime. They stay injoan1 contact, share life’s big moments and suffer together when tragedy strikes.

The truth of that commitment will be on display for the world to see on the Charles River in Boston Saturday when 41 members of the 1980 Olympic rowing team take to the waters at the 2015 Head of the Charles Regatta and row in pink racing shirts in memory of Joan Lind Van Blom.

Van Blom, 62, the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic medal in the women’s single sculls, lost her battle with brain cancer and passed away this summer. The international rowing world is a small, tightly bound community, and Van Blom was a big name within it, especially among the men and women who were selected to row in the 1980 Moscow Olympics but were prevented from competing because of the U.S. boycott.

“We wanted to do something in her memory and honor her and because so many of us row here at the Head of the Charles, it was the perfect opportunity,” said Tom Hull, who will row in one of two men’s masters eights Saturday. “We wanted to do something symbolic that means something to us and to (Van Blom’s husband) John. We all think so highly of Joan.”

Van Blom won a silver medal in the women ‘s single in 1976, was a member of the 1980 team that missed the Olympics because of the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games, but won her second silver in the coxed quadruple sculls in 1984. During her career in rowing, Van Blom was a member of 11 U.S. teams, including two times as a coach.

And right up until last year, Van Blom was a fixture at the Head of the Charles. While battling the cancer that ended her life, Van Blom won a gold medal at the event last year in the women’s masters eight.

While Van Blom cannot be in a boat this year, she will be there in the hearts and memories of that 1980 team. Of all the Olympic rowing teams that have been through the curling process of an Olympic selection camp, the 1980 team feels that they share an even more special bond because they were not allowed to compete.

“I think for the 1980 team in particular there is a unique bond because of the boycott,” said Hull. “It has caused us to think hard about what matters in life, and we have all realized that this sport, and our relationship with one another, is more important than the Games would have been.

“Over the years we have stayed closer to one another than many other teams have,” he said. “We make a special effort to get together and race the Head of the Charles, and other events too, and we always have a great time.”

Hull said John and Joan Van Blom were among that special group and had competed together in the 1980 boats at the head of the Charles many times.

joan2The idea to race in the special pink shirts with “For Joan” printed on the backs came from Holly Hatton, a member of the 1980 women’s eight lineup, according to Carol Brown another member of the team. Brown said Hatton handled the design and got the email chain going, and the members jumped right in.

“We all looked up to Joan,” Brown said. “She was a pioneer in our sport and while we might not have all said it to her, we all feel that she was a big part of where we were in women’s rowing. She was a very special person and we wanted to do something in her honor.”

In all, there are two men’s master’s eights, two women’s masters eights and a men’s four with coxswain scheduled to race Saturday.

“John and Joan, to most people in the sport, have been like the Kennedys of rowing. They are the first couple of rowing. They have distinguished themselves not just as athletes, but also by being these tremendous human beings.

“We all face challenges in life, and the lesson for all of us is it’s what you do with the challenge, and how you deal with adversity,” Hull said. “The 1980 team had a choice. We could spend the rest of our lives regretting what had happened, or do something useful, to find some meaning in the friendships. And John and Joan were a big part of that.”
 
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