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Discovering a Lifetime of Experiences to Share through Rowing

by Ed Moran, ed@usrowing.org | Oct 29, 2015
When Peter Zandbergen came to rowing, he was looking for a way to strengthen his back after a high school football injury.
Zandbergen (3)When Peter Zandbergen came to rowing, he was looking for a way to strengthen his back after a high school football injury.

“I was a slow, obtuse linebacker and I had to do something to strengthen my back,” Zandbergen said. So he tried rowing. What he found in the sport was not just a way to gain physical strength and conditioning, but a way of life, and a link to a community of people who became family through shared experiences.

Those links and friends have lasted for more than 45 years and have led Zandbergen through what he calls a “broad spectrum” of involvement in rowing that began for him as a competitor, and wound through roles as a founding member of the University of Nebraska crew program, a co-founder and coach of Nebraska’s women’s team, team manager for the USRowing national team, president of the USRowing Board of Directors and over 40 years as a member of the national and international referee corps.

As a referee, Zandbergen has officiated at some of the largest and most prestigious regattas domestically and internationally including the NCAA Women’s Rowing Championships, IRA Championships, Pan American Games and the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, where he had the opportunity to work alongside his parents, Joan and Dutch Zandbergen, who were also referees.

In recognition for all of his contributions to rowing, Zandbergen was named the recipient of the 2015 Jack Franklin Award, which recognizes an individual for a lifetime of contributions to the sport. Zandbergen will be honored at the 2015 Golden Oars Awards Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 19, at the New York Athletic Club in New York City.

Zandbergen (2)“I am honored to have been considered for the Jack Franklin Award,” Zandbergen said. “I am proud to have been included with all past Jack Franklin Award recipients. We are fortunate to have so many fine, caring referees in our rowing referee corps, past and present. My mother, Joan Zandbergen, who received the 2001 Jack Franklin Award, and my father Dutch Zandbergen, were both active rowing referees. I appreciate the special opportunity to have worked alongside them for many years, especially with both of them at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.”

Like many people who discover rowing for the first time, Zandbergen took up an oar as a way to gain strength for anther sport and fell in love with the idea of being part of a group of people who worked together as a unified whole, moving towards a singular goal.

“The attributes of the sport brought out a lot in me,” Zandbergen said. “Just learning how to work successfully with other people drew me in. I found it to be a sport where people did not aspire to the spotlight or individual recognition. Those who most enjoyed the sport, and were the most successful, saw the dynamics and wonder of what a group of people can do together and that definitely attracted me.”

The draw for Zandbergen was so strong he worked to help form the Nebraska crew program, “a start-up program with little to no resources.” Zandbergen competed on the team throughout his undergraduate years and then helped start the university’s women’s program.

Zandbergen became a rowing official in 1975 and continues officiating today. He will, however, be retiring his FISA license soon. FISA requires its officials to retire at 65. But he will remain active in the U.S.

He’s made too many fond memories and friends to not remain involved, he said.

“I have seen so many wonderful things happen, whether it be the growth and emergence on the national and international level of women’s rowing, lightweight rowing and para-rowing. I just happened to have been fortunate to be in at the right time and, in some cases, places, to have been part of that experience and see a lot of people do great things with strong results for our federation and for rowing,” he said.

“I had opportunities to make great friends and share experiences. I’ve had friends in rowing for 45+ years and they are some of the best friends and people I’ve met. I’ve learned more than I could have hoped for and that translates to a lot of things, whether it is career or family. I just have always recognized that’s one of the real wonders of the sport, the family of it.”

Tickets for the Golden Oars Awards Dinner are on sale now. For ticket sales and full event information, click here.
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