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In Honor of Veterans Day: Greg Gillinger, the 2015 Fan’s Choice Masters Athlete of the Year

by Sarah Marshall, smarshall@usrowing.org | Nov 11, 2015
As Greg Gillinger and his fellow teammates were coming from with a bronze medal around his neck from the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Eastern Erg Sprints, little did he know that he would be getting the call of a lifetime.

When Greg Gillinger came home with a bronze medalGillinger_headshot_submitted around his neck from the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Eastern Erg Sprints, he didn't know that he would be getting the call of a lifetime.

“It was just a short time, really, before we got a phone call about getting a chance to compete in the masters Henley race this summer,” said Gillinger. “Couldn’t say no to that opportunity.”

Gillinger and four other former and active duty military members and former U.S. national team athletes raced to honor former Marine Corps Captain Ryan "Torgy" Torgerson, who passed away unexpectedly of natural causes in 2011 at the 2015 Masters Henley Regatta at Henley-on-Thames in Great Britain.

Assembled and coached by 2004 Olympian Garrett Klugh, the crew rowed to honor the memory of Torgerson, who served as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corp and to raise awareness for the "Remembering the 22 Challenge", a campaign launched to bring attention to the estimated twenty-two U.S. veterans who commit suicide every day.

While the boat eventually lost in the final by a narrow margin, Gillinger still understood that his first international boat race had a greater takeaway than just a medal.

"It was the opportunity of a lifetime to race and represent our nation's veterans as well as the memory of Ryan Torgerson. Truly unforgettable," said Gillinger.

Gillinger didn’t have time to dwell on the loss when he came back to the states, as he had less than a month to prepare for the 2015 USRowing Masters National Championships in Camden, N.J., the largest USRowing event ever with over 2,000 competitors. 

With six races in two days and 10 trips down the race course over a 36 hour time period, Gillinger took the top spot in each of his races helping the Potomac Boat Club win the overall men’s points trophy over San Diego Boat Club by almost 100 points and finished third in the overall points race.

“Masters was a lot of fun but by the end of it, my summer had kind of worn me out.”

His successful year didn’t stop there as Gillinger and his teammates would go on to take fourth place in the masters four at the 2015 Head of the Charles Regatta, his best finish ever.

While Gillinger was creating a small stock pile of rowing medals and accolades, he was also transitioning to his new job as Vice Commander, 70th Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance Wing. Stationed at Fort Meade, Md., Gillinger operates with facilities all over the world.

“We moved, I started my new job and then all of a sudden it was masters nationals,” said Gillinger. “There truly is no way I could have done this without the help from my coworkers and bosses and of course my family and my kids. I couldn’t of done any of this without them.”

To Gillinger, the similarities between rowing and his career as a high-authority figure in D.C. are too many to count.

“The team work aspect, the dedication aspect that competitiveness that comes from this sport and getting to row with such a great group of guys who all have pretty demanding career paths as well – to have an hour and a half each morning to just set that time aside and dedicate it to a single purpose - It is a great lesson in dedication and focus and also serves as a release to some of us with stressful jobs.”

I think the ‘being in shape factor’ of it is important to me of course but also getting to be apart of something other than myself is the real part that translates over to the military quite well. It is about the team, working towards the common goal and overcoming obstacles together to achieve your objectives."

Today is Veterans Days, USRowing would like to thank all those who have served and are currently serving.

USRowing’s Fan’s Choice Awards embodies excellence in rowing by showcasing top performances over the current year. Dean and his fellow six winners were nominated by and voted for based on their contributions to the sport and achievements on the water. All will be honored at the fifth-annual Golden Oars Awards Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 19 at the New York Athletic Club in New York City.

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