Thursday, October 23, 2008

Alumni Weekend

I went to college at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida from 1982 - 1986. Melbourne is on the east coast about 15 miles south of Cape Canaveral. It was quite a change for an 18 year old girl who had lived her life in Germany, Chicago and Columbus, Ohio. When I arrived at the campus, I was quickly recruited as a coxswain for the Crew Team. What can I say, I was small and mouthy!! The coxswain sits in the back of the boat and tells everyone what to do. FIT's Crew Team, which was ranked high nationally, soon became the focal point of my life. The team had about 150 or so members, mostly guys but a large group of women too. Since we practiced 6 days a week together all year long, I pretty much only associated with other crew team members. They were my roommates, my friends, my boyfriends, my entire social circle.

I graduated from college in 1986. I hadn't been back down to FIT, which now calls itself the horrible name of Florida Tech (sounds like a junior college to me), since the early 1990s. Last week, I went back to FIT. The weekend showed how tight all of us rowing alumni had become during those formative years we spent so much time together, strove to be our best together, sweat together, laughed together, won together, lost together.

The alumni event was the school's 50th anniversary. So, returning alumni were not just from one particular class. Prior to the event, several very ambitious alumni took charge and organized several days of rowing functions. It was a jam packed agenda! Almost 100 former rowers and coxswains came back, ranging from graduating classes in the late 1960's to recent grads. The mid 80's, my era, was the best represented group.

I flew in on Thursday evening and picked up another rower from a couple years behind me, Carol Marcinkiewicz, who flew in at about he same time. We headed straight for Bunky's Raw Bar. There, I was faced with the bizarreness of seeing people I had last seen when we were just shy of being kids. After almost 25 years, some of them looked exactly the same and some of them, not so much. Most of the women looked fabulous, some even more fit than back in school. It was especially hard to place the guys who had lost their hair. Although the guys certainly looked better than the national average mid-40s and up American man, some of them had gained a fair bit of weight. Thank god for name tags! We reminisced, laughed and got caught up until after 1:00 am. Tired and a little bit more than tipsy, I headed over to the hotel I was sharing with 7 women from right around my class.

Yes - I said seven women in two adjoining hotel rooms on the beach. It was quite the slumber party! The next morning we got up at 7:00 am (ugh - 5:00 am Mountain Time!) and had breakfast before heading over to the boat house for more rowing festivities. I spent quite a lot of my college life at the boat house and the place looked pretty much the same. This is kinda sad, since the school should have a new fancy facility for rowing by now.

On the list first for Friday morning was a Pike House run. The Pike House (pi kappa alpha fraternity house) was a couple miles up the road from the boat house. We used to do Pike House runs as part of crew practice. Not all the coxswains participated in the training back in school, but I did, so I was very familiar with the Pike House run (I was also familiar with several parties at the Pike House, but that's another story). On this fine, muggy Friday morning, about 15 alumni toed up to the starting line - three of us women. Intellectually, I knew the run would seem short, since I now mostly do endurance length running, but I was shocked at how soon I got to the Pike House, where coxswain Tim Edsell ('85 or so) was waiting with an open beer to swig. I took a large gulp, but headed back out ASAP to retain my lead among the women and to try to catch a guy or two in front of me. I was running at a pretty good pace considering the late night and excessive beer from the night before! I passed one guy, finishing 4th overall and 1st among the women. Apparently, I found out later that several alumni men behind me were giving it their all to try to catch me. Ya!

After the run, we ditched HEALTHY and moved on to a Melbourne Beach restaurant/bar. To be truthful, I was pretty tame that afternoon, eating sushi and having only one drink, the freebie I won for taking first in the female category at the Pike House run. I needed to pace myself if I was going to survive the weekend. Several alumni I knew well had come over from Orlando on motor cycles. John Shaffer, now a rocket scientist who graduated from about my year, was also on a motorcycle (his wife's bike!), so I hopped on for a ride down the coast to check out the bar we were having the party at on Saturday. Yup - still the same stinky dive bar.

Barb's husband Mark/Mike, Barb, Steve and Salem on their big bikes

Me and John on his wife's not-as-big bike

After the motorcycle ride, it was time to get all gussied up for the Sports Hall of Fame Banquet. Most of the rowing alumni attended, except the Scumbags. (I have since been informed that 2 scumbags attended - Clay Tappan and John Mattson - sorry guys!)

Everyone looked so nice! It was a fancy event in the new athletic facility on a campus that looked so completely different from when I went to school. Bruce Jenner gave the keynote address (somewhat spastic speaker, but at least entertaining) and two National Championship men's boats were inducted into the Hall of Fame. I sat with Elaine Martin (now Stark), who was one of my best friends and roommate all through school. It was really wonderful to spend time with her again and I am hopeful that we will stay in touch better in the future.

Me, Nancy, Edie, Ann, Sue, Megan, Carlo and Kathy heading into the banquet

In our cocktail dresses and suits, we headed over to a nasty stinky bar, Lou's Blues. Florida still does not have a smoking ban - yuck! I had one beer and hung around outside where it was still smokey, but at least quite enough to have a conversation. The evening ended for me around midnight, although many crew alumni stayed out much later. The next morning was dedicated to the alumni races and I didn't want to be tired and hung over sitting in a rocking boat in the hot sun! Been there, done that - NO FUN!

Up again at 7:00 am and at the boathouse again at 9:00. The alumni races pit the current rowers against the various years from the past. With 100 rowing alumni present, the races took all morning. My boat was made up of women who graduated a year or two after me (essentially the women I was sharing the hotel rooms with). They rowed amazingly well, especially considering that most had not been in a boat for decades! We tied for the win with the alumni boat of women who graduated around the mid to early 1980's. It was super fun and most importantly for me, I didn't ram the boat into a bridge or the docks. Yes - I can still steer a 63 foot boat!

Crowded docks as alumni get ready to race!

We relaxed at the beach afterward and then got sort of gussied up for the highlight of the weekend. The premiere event. The "not-at-the-boat-house" party that we weren't allowed to have at the boat house itself. Back in school, we had a massive party at the conclusion of each of our two racing seasons - one in the fall after the "head races" and the other in the spring after the "sprint races." The drinking age when I attended college was 18, so drinking on campus was fair game. The boat house parties were crazy, with DJ Andy playing then-current 80's music, lots of alcohol and dancing, dancing, dancing!

Total insanity on the dance floor!

Since we couldn't have the alumni party at the boat house, we reserved a portion of a dive bar many rowers frequented, Sebastian Beach Inn. A generous alumnus paid for a shuttle service. Drinks, including endless free Scorpions, were paid for by another thoughtful alumnus. DJ Andy was located living in Orlando and another kind alumnus paid for him to spin those same 80's tunes. I cannot describe how fun that party was. We all slid back into the mindset of happy college students, clueless about any of the problems in the real world. The camaraderie was indescribable. After a refresher session, we all performed the Crewbie Crunch, a line dance some crazy rowers created back in the 80's, danced to "Sharp Dressed Man" by ZZ Topp. Imagine fifty inebriated 40 and 50 year olds dancing in concert with wild abandon. It was priceless! After the Crewbie Crunch, the dancing got even crazier. I was on the dance floor almost non-stop from 9:00 pm to 2:00 am.

Me shredding the dance floor!

By the time the shuttle got me back to the hotel room, it was 3:30 am and I was a tad drunk and exhausted from all that dancing. I was able to sleep through the party some of the other girls were having in the adjoining hotel room with a bunch of the guys.

I'm SO happy I was able to make it back to last weekend's events. It brought back so many fond memories and reinforced to me how important those college years were and how influential my experience with the crew team was. I'm thrilled to be back in touch with all my old roommates and rowing friends. I can't wait for the next BIG Crew function - the Dad Vail National Championships in Philly in 2013!

Here are more pictures from the weekend (I'll add to these as I get more from other alumni):

I followed up my four days of collegiate fun with a visit on the other coast of Florida with my High School friends Doug and Michelle Tupps. Stay tuned for a follow up blog post on that aspect of the trip.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Slacking on the Posts

I've been slacking on the blog posts. I know it. I've simply been busy and have been traveling a lot. This summer, I took on a new job. I am now working part time for a large engineering firm - Tetra Tech. The part time part is approaching full time, but that's OK. I also kept my consulting clients, so I'm pretty busy. However, I'm bringing in more money and that means Jesper and I are getting that much closer to buying a condo in the mountains.

For my Tetra Tech gig, I work from home, which is super nice. However, I have to travel, frequently, mostly back east where my current projects are. The nice part about traveling back to Ohio is that I can sometimes squeeze in a visit with my family, most of whom still live in the Columbus area. I got to see my sisters and Dad the day before his 76th birthday. Very nice. I also got to go to Chicago last week and was able to visit my brother and his family, who live in a northern suburb. Seeing my 15 year old nephew play high school football was a highlight of the trip, even though they got spanked. Extra family time is good.

But, all this traveling and extra work is keeping me from blogging as frequently as I had been. I'm heading off tomorrow for my college Homecoming and 50th anniversary celebration. I hope to have time to download some pictures of me getting silly with friends I haven't seen in two decades and write a blog post or two.