(Recently discovered alternate lyrics for Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 song “Glory Days”)
Knew a guy who was a big bad C1;
He was just really cool!
He could motor that boat past you, boy
So fast you’d just wanna drool!
Saw Bob the other day, talking from afar.
Saw Kent and Ron, too, coming in and going out.
Then we all went in, sat down, had a few drinks
And all we kept talking aboooout …was…
Glory days! We’ll never let them die!
Glory days in the wink of Jon and Davey’s eye!
Glory days! Glory daaaaays!
Well, there’s a gal who lived up the block.
On the Feeder she could clean all the gates.
Sometimes I’d stop by to shoot the breeze
Maybe while she lifted some weights.
The medals are all there just gathering the dust.
Twenty years since she had her greatest clout.
But when she starts thinking and taking a break,
She starts laughing and joking and talking aboooout…
Glory days! They’ve never ever gone by!
Glory days in the wink of Cathy and Dana’s eyes!
Glory days! Glory daaaaays!
O yeah! [Musical interlude] Yoo!
We had K1s who could really clean your clock!
The fastest boats on the course.
Chris, and Norm and Rich ––my god
How they could generate some force!
One of them phoned me the other day with
stories concerning some old Kraut.
Then we settled down to really reminisce
And we started talking …..aboouut…
Glory days! Yeah, we’ll never let them die!
Glory days in the wink of a young EJ’s eye!
Glory days! Glory daaaaays!
I’m going down to the river tonight
When everything’s really still.
And I hope when I get old I can still hear that sound
That gave me such a thrill.
Just hearing the sound of all them C2s
As Steve, Mike, Jef and Paul, Fritz and Lecky shout,
It leaves me with the greatest memories… and
the stories we have to talk abooout…
Glory days! Don’t ever let them die!
Glory days in the wink of Scott and Joe’s eye!
Glory days! Glory daaaaays!
Oh yeah! Come on now! Wooo!
Don’t let them pass you by!
Glory days in the wink of a die-hard’s eye!
Glory days! Glory daaaays!
Ooo yeah! Alright! Come on now. Wooo! Keep it rockin’ now!
RIDE OF A LIFETIME
As I look back on it, I realize the experiences that we of “the old guard” had with canoeing and kayaking in the period 1969 – 2004 were so special and intense that they deserve to be captured as a part of the history of our club. So this essay covers the period when the club was called the Canoe Cruisers’ Association Slalom Division, and then the Bethesda Center of Excellence, before it became known as the Potomac Whitewater Racing Club.
Don’t forget us too soon
So, come with me now as we “return to those thrilling days of yesteryear” in the words of the intro to “the Lone Ranger” that I watched on TV in the 1950s!
To that end, I am hoping to start a process whereby I enunciate what I perceive to be “general principles” of what made this time so special, add an essay about my own personal take on it, and then invite all of the rest of the club from that period to do the same.
It’ll be open-ended so that new people can add their own stories onto mine.
Before I begin with my story, I want to thank Chapman Haller, wife of C2 Slalom World Cup Champion, World Champion, and Olympian, Lecky Haller, for suggesting something like this. Up to now, I had regarded these experiences as sort of private memories, only to be rehashed (and embellished!) when two or more of us got together. But she made me realize they had a larger significance than that and they deserved to be written down because they were indeed “the ride of a lifetime!” (Another ride of a lifetime for me was working in the White House, but even then, I thought about canoeing for at least a few seconds each day – and I still do now.)
As each of us finds our way on this voyage through space-time that we call life, my personal view is that a “great life” consists of doing some things for others, but also doing some things for yourself and it’s the latter category I want to address here.
In that category, although I didn’t articulate it consciously as a youth, I think in retrospect you’re looking for opportunities for self-expression, personal growth, new perspectives on life, improving physical well-being, comradeship, adventure – and above all, opportunities for just plain fun!
There are many ways to do this and ideally each person finds the way that is best suited to him or her. Unfortunately, though, I don’t think most people do find it. So, right off the bat, those who do are lucky.
But there is no one “right way,” as long as on the whole, you’re much better off because of the experience. And of course, now we get into very subjective judgments.
So, from my point of view, you can certainly have adventure, new perspectives and intense comradeship by, say, fighting in a war. But I think, the price you pay for this is too big, for you risk emerging physically and psychologically damaged, among other things. This is not to diminish the debt we have for our soldiers willing to put life and limb on the line to defend us, it’s just that I don’t think it’s the ideal way to have an adventure.
Another way is engaging in really high risk sports like base jumping or wing suit flying that have a high death rate even among the most accomplished of practitioners. But again, that’s too extreme. Now someone might put whitewater kayaking in that category –– the “calculated risk.” And as we will see in this essay, there were deaths in our sport. But I would only point out that they didn’t occur among slalom paddlers training in gates. They occurred in more extreme forms of whitewater running. But I agree, it’s a fine line.
Other people look to drugs, alcohol, or other mind-altering substances as the way. But not only are they risking their physical and mental health, they’re engaging in illusions. Much better to engage in the real thing!
Other people, like academics, have “mental adventures” by engaging in and maybe even making contributions to intellectually stimulating work. But it’s not physical. Better, but again, it’s not enough.
Against this framework, then, let each of us see how our experiences in canoeing and kayaking measure up.
Big picture themes
As I think back on what canoeing and kayaking have meant to me, I would cite the following:
* A very supportive wife. I want to say at the outset that I could not have had anywhere near the great experiences I had with this sport had I not had one of the most supportive wives in the world, Abbie! When I was an athlete and a coach, she not only took care of household chores, she edited, oversaw the printing of, and the marketing and selling of my books. She came on the foreign trips and was my personal manager. She saved me from making many bad decisions. She ran shuttles. She was asked to be the American Canoe Federation’s volunteer representative on the ICF Promotion and Information Committee, which guaranteed the U.S. a voice at the international table in the sport. She headed up an effort to get Slalom back into the Olympics. She even wrote and recorded the official Anthem for the ICF World Championships flag raising ceremonies. The list is endless. We got married at age 19 back in 1965 and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
* A new lease on athletic life! I was an ex-rower who saw a lot of his classmates go to the 1968 Olympics and decided he wanted to go, too. Canoeing and kayaking got me there. But as I discuss below, it turned out that the journey was more important than actually being at the Olympics.
For example, little did I know that because of canoeing and kayaking I’d get to visit 72 countries either because the sport took me directly there or because it put me in the neighborhood and I could easily nip over there.
To this day because of the internet, I have correspondents in the normal places like Australia, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, but also in more exotic places like China, Iran, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa, and Ukraine. I rate this as one of the most important things I’ve gotten out of sports because it’s given me so many new perspectives on life.
* A chance occurrence. Maybe the moral of this particular vignette is that you need to have a dream, but you also need to be able psychologically to modify the dream in the face of reality and grasp chance opportunities that come your way! After I was in flatwater kayaking for a year, in the fall of 1969, an Amherst College student, Brad Hager (now a professor at MIT) who had been in the 1969 C2 Whitewater World Championships, asked me to be his new partner. Since whitewater seemed more exciting than flatwater, and it had recently been announced Slalom would be in the 1972 Olympics, plus the fact I now had an experienced partner to coach me, I jumped at the chance.
* Brad and I were in the 1971 and 1973 Worlds in both Slalom and Wildwater and were the Alternates for the 1972 Olympic team. Again chance intervened in that the U.S. Olympic coach at the time, Jay Evans, asked me and Abbie to come with the team to help him with coaching duties. As I look back on it now, these years were my “apprenticeship” in the sport where I learned the basics and what was going on even at the Olympic level. I would learn much more in the years to come, both by teaching myself but also by having a number of other people teach me. Whereas going to the Olympics was the original goal, now just getting to keep doing this beautiful sport in some form or other became the goal.
Bill Endicott (left) and Brad Hager (right) in 1971 World Championships
* In the 20 years in between Olympics I enjoyed Wildwater as much as Slalom and to this day I deeply regret that Wildwater is treated as a second-class event because it isn’t in the Olympics. In my day, since the Slalom and Wildwater Worlds were always contested at the same location, a lot of people did both (and I always thought there should be a combined prize as there is in skiing). But when they separated the locations and it became impossible to do both, it was the beginning of a great loss.
* For a great deal of my career Slalom was not in the Olympics. And you know what? In retrospect that was good. Again, I had lucked out. It meant that the people who were doing the sport were doing it because they loved it, not just because it was in the Olympics. I have seen Slalom be in the Olympics (1972), then out of the Olympics (1973-1991), then in again (1992), then out again briefly (I was involved in getting it back in again for 1996), then out again (Richard Fox was involved in getting it back in again for 2000) and it’s stayed in ever since.
And I found when it was out, people did it because they loved it and all sorts of volunteers came out of the woodwork to help. The realization that “There’s nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer!” and getting to work with passionate volunteers has been one of the highlights of my life. But when Slalom was in the Olympics people became much more obsessed with Olympic status and money and the volunteers tended to be forced out by paid professionals. It was a big loss.
* I have come to feel that the World Championships (and the World Cup) are for the people in sport, whereas the Olympics are for the general public. The general public doesn’t follow your sport, it follows the Olympics. So the atmosphere is quite different at the Olympics and in the build-up to the Olympics. In a Worlds you’re dealing with folks you’ve known for years. But in an Olympics, you’re dealing with all these new people who are there because of the prestige of being at the Olympics, but they don’t know much about your sport. Also, the whole media focus is different, as I learned from working with NBC. In a nutshell, the media is concerned with producing “human interest stories” and not hearing about technically what makes one athlete more successful than another, which is what I’m interested in.
Another problem, as I see it, is that artificial courses have become the standard because of the Olympics. But I preferred natural rivers – even though they’re much harder to deal with logistically. There was the whole camping out in the boondocks, setting a course of slalom gates out there, and racing there that made the sport special. I don’t know; maybe it was more interesting simply because it was a more complicated puzzle to solve in those days, and if you solved it, the result was even more satisfying.
In sum, my view is that while it’s nice for a sport to be in the Olympics, there is a price to pay for it. I count myself extremely lucky that I had the best of both worlds and did not have to pay that price. My greatest recollections are about the “journey” of several decades and all the characters (more about them in a minute) I dealt with, mostly independent of the Olympics. But as far as the general public goes, the main thing that gets said about me is that “he was a gold medal winning Olympic coach,” not that “he loved the journey!”
* Athletes in general. As one of my athletes, Carl Gutschick put it, “Everybody wants to be World Champion but not everybody is willing to put in the work to be World Champion!” But I found out that when athletes actually think they can win, that’s when they start training hard enough to win. And then as a coach you have to hold them back, not push them to do more, because unfortunately, often the only way many of them find out where the boundaries are between training too much and training too little is to exceed those boundaries on occasion.
* Little countries, big ideas. One of the lasting impressions I have from my sports involvement is that sometimes little countries are where the action is. Not all the best ideas come from America or are even in the English language! I saw that in East Germany in terms of Slalom (and Sprint). Because I could speak German, I interviewed many East Germans and learned a lot about their training methods, some of which we incorporated into ours (minus the steroids). Another little country that was great at Sprint in those days was New Zealand and I got to go there, see what they were doing, and learn from that. It helped a lot in coaching Norman Bellingham to win the Olympics in Sprint in 1988. But it’s also true that I learned a lot from big countries like Britain, France and West Germany, as well.
* “Man is not disturbed by events, but by his opinion of the events!” Whenever something went wrong, I used to think of this quote by the Greek philosopher Epictetus. It reminded me to focus on the positive, what to do about the situation, and not just to wallow in the negative.
In essence, I saw my job as helping athletes any way I could, the way I would have wanted a coach to help me when I was an athlete. But it was all within the context of winning or at least trying to win. If not all athletes could win, they would at least all know they were in a group effort dedicated towards winning. In a nutshell, this meant learning exactly what it would take to win and then just doing it.
This meant a few things. First, I saw it as my job needing to devise hard but fun workouts that were as specific to Slalom racing as possible. That boiled down to my timing and scoring (keeping track of penalties) a lot of workouts on whitewater gates, and writing down the scores in “The Book of Times” so we could track progress over the weeks and years. I still have the multi-volume Book of Times.
The second thing it meant was my aggressively researching how our foreign opponents were training and getting ideas from that. We got a lot from the Germans, the French, the Czechs and the British. I’d interview these people and write papers summarizing the findings, disseminate them to the athletes, and we’d meet in a group to discuss them.
I had been trained as an interrogator in the Marine Corps and knew that a fundamental tenet of questioning people is simply to get “the sources” to give you as precise a chronological account of what they had seen or experienced as possible.
The source will want to skip around and just give you an interpretation of events, but you have to keep forcing the discussion back to the chronology. That’s because the source often doesn’t realize the importance of how the chain of events are linked.
Once you get the chronology down in great detail you can then discuss interpretation with the source and you will be in a good position to ask questions about why the source did such and such when the chronology would have logically indicated doing something different.
My third coaching principle was to work myself out of a job, that is, teach athletes enough so that some day they didn’t need me anymore and could be their own best coach.
I didn’t see myself as trying to dominate athletes by simply ordering them around as I see some coaches, even successful ones, do. My method was more of a Socratic dialogue, where I would ask the athletes questions and they would give me their input. “What does it take to win? Are you doing it now? Do you want to do it? How can I help you do it?”
Overall, I was wary of people trying to take advantage of athletes, such as administrators trying to do it for nationalistic propaganda or just convenience, sponsors trying to do it for money, the media trying to do it to create controversies, or just individuals trying to do it for whatever personal reason. I figured as the coach I should intercede and fend off such individuals.
There are a million things I could say about the characters I met through our sport, but a) it’s probably diplomatic not to say some of it in writing, and b) it’s probably better to let the characters say the rest of it themselves! But here are a few pages of vignettes.
The first of the legends
You could say that the Glory Days for the CCA began with Jamie McEwen (1952-2014) who raced for it. I knew Jamie for 44 years. I knew him before he became a legend, I knew him while he became a legend, and I knew him after he became a legend.
It started back in 1970 when I met him and his brother Tom at races that spring and then later at summer races in Europe. Wherever I went, the McEwans were the first ones on the water and the last ones off it.
But what they did during that time was different. Jamie would practice slalom moves — moving in and out of the eddies, and running slalom gates if there were any on the course. But Tom would go find the biggest hole on the course and just sit in it and do enders all day long. For two years, Jamie McEwan was just another member of the U.S. teams that I was on. But then came 1972 and the U.S. Olympic team.
I was an Alternate, or spare, for that team and I ended up helping the U.S. coach, Jay Evans, run practice sessions on the Augsburg Eiskanal, the world’s first artificial slalom course. I was in charge of taking times and Jamie started having times that were so fast they kept checking my watch to make sure I had timed him right.
Later, after he won the Olympic bronze medal, I was standing right next to him as he was about to go out to the awards podium to accept his medal. I asked him, “Jamie, what are you feeling right now?” He looked at me as if in a trance, and said “I thought I was going to win.”
That was a transformational moment for me and later became key in my coaching career. I saw that before you could get anybody to believe in you, you had to believe in yourself. And to believe in yourself, you had to feel that you had done all the work to be prepared. I resolved henceforth to do all the work to be prepared.
In the evening of the day Jamie won the bronze medal, he was whisked off to Munich for TV interviews. Abbie, and I were able to arrange for his mother, Mae, to be seated in front of a TV in the Eiskanal restaurant so she could see her son becoming a legend. I had a big 5-ring Olympic pin that I treasured, but I realized at that moment that I should give it to Mae, the mother of the legend-in-the-making, so I did.
And so not only for me, but for the next generation of U.S. slalom racers, Jamie McEwan became a legend. Subsequently, I encountered many U.S. legends in the sport, but he, being the first, was always special. He was the first to show us it was possible for an American to do great things in this sport. He showed us the light, he showed us the path, and we resolved to follow it.
Twenty years later at the 1992 Olympics, when I was coaching the U.S. team, Jamie was still an athlete on the team — legendary stuff in its own right!
In between he had switched from C1 to C2. He was hesitant to do it, bugged by the ancient Olympic thesis that “glory cannot be shared with partners.” But I said to him, “where does it stop? If you win in C1, they’ll say, ah but you didn’t do it in K1. Then, if you win in K1 they’ll say, ah but you didn’t do it in the 100 meter dash. And if you win that, they’ll say, ah, but you didn’t win the heavyweight boxing championship of the world. So, where it stops is where you have the best chance to win right now. Just embrace that and go for it!”
Bill Endicott (left) yelling times on the Feeder Canal with Jamie McEwan (right)
He then teamed with Leck Haller and had his highest finishes ever, winning a silver medal in the 1987 World Championships and winning the 1988 World Cup outright. They also got 4th in the 1992 Olympics, only one place lower than Jamie got 20 years before!
Jamie McEwan was an Olympic athlete of the “old school,” that is, someone who did the sport just for its own sake and not with the expectation of money or fame. But he did it with astounding dedication over a lifetime, a lot longer than most athletes do.
Part of this was his modesty and always being a gentleman, making it appear, in effect, that his accomplishments had been made with the effortlessness of gods. With his good looks, black hair, and speaking out of the corner of his mouth with an easy laugh, he was great fun to be around.
He once told me that today’s kids are much more interested in acting because then they can pretend to be cool, rather than just being cool. Jamie McEwan was cool.
Just the other day I saw a video he did, calling himself the “accidental Olympian,” in which he said that he had very little athletic talent when he was young — but leaving out that he had been a top wrestler at Bethesda’s Landon School and even captain of the Yale wrestling team.
He also made it seem as though it was by chance that he had gotten to the Olympics in canoeing. But he left out that his parents had run the Valley Mill canoe camp where he had learned the sport at a young age and had his brother, Tom, as a training partner.
So, underneath the modesty, lurked the dedication of a fanatic, a friendly fanatic, yes, but a fanatic nonetheless — in other words, my kind of guy!
He was also a great philosopher and we had many talks about government and politics, which is what I worked in. Jamie was a libertarian and I was an FDR progressive. So, we’d often argue about what was wrong with the world and how to fix it. For some reason, I remember one of those discussions on a bus on the way to the 1977 Worlds in Spittal, Austria. I remember another one in 1992 as we were sitting on the bus from La Seu d’Urgell on the way to the opening ceremonies for the Barcelona Olympics. A helicopter flew by us at eye level because it was in a valley below us.
I never do well writing things like this about an old friend who has died because it forces me to admit that he’s really gone. So, now that this section is over, I will do with Jamie McEwan what I always do in these cases: I’ll think of him as still being out there, just someone I haven’t seen for a while.
Great talent to work with
I once did a study of all the great coaches in all sports around the world. And I found that they all were either great recruiters themselves or they had someone who did it for them. You can’t be a great coach unless you have great talent to work with. And again, I lucked out; I had a lot of it just dumped into my lap through the Valley Mill Camp – Cathy Hearn, Norm Bellingham, Joe Jacobi, etc. It’s hard to screw up when you get gifts like that.
Davey Hearn didn’t come from Valley Mill but he was inspired by his sister Cathy, who worked at Valley Mill one summer and learned from Jamie McEwan and Angus Morrison and others there. Davey trained with the CCA Training Squad, (CCATS) at Nantahala and the Yough around the time that his sister was at Valley Mill.
Jon Lugbill didn’t come from Valley Mill but he was captain of his high school football team. In fact in the 1978-79 period he would come to canoe practice all banged up after having done a football practice that day! And when Jon came to our group, he brought his brother, Ron, with him, plus neighbor Bob Robison. Jon and Bob both became World Champions in Team, and Bob got an individual Bronze in 1979.
“Some people want to appear to be the best; others really want to be the best.” That’s what Jon once told me when I asked him why he kept going when he’d already been individual World Champ 3 times. (He went on to be the C1 individual World Champ five times, plus seven time World Champ in team.)
Wow, that said it all! So many of us are just content to pretend to others we’re better than we really are. But a few people are unwilling to stop until they’ve proven it to themselves.
My canoeing association with Jon began in 1975 and lasted through 1992, and here are some of the things I recollect about him:
“Fascination for the process”
This was the most important thing because it led to everything else. Let me explain:
In my life I’ve worked with “top performers” in several fields – I was an assistant to U.S. politicians, including a U.S. President; an aide to a Marine Corps General, coach of World and Olympic champions, and my son was a rock star (Sam Endicott, gold and platinum record winning singer/songwriter for “The Bravery”). From this, I believe that top performers share something in common that most of us don’t pay enough attention to, and that’s what I call “fascination for the process.”
They are so fascinated by all the little details of what they do that they inevitably do them more than anyone else and in so doing, they reach levels of understanding about their activity that most of us don’t even realize exist. If they have great natural talent on top of this, the sky’s the limit for what they can accomplish. And they can motivate others to achieve great things, too.
Jon was like that and he stimulated others, including me, to be like that. A number of my other athletes were like that, too: Davey Hearn, Fritz and Lecky Haller; Cathy Hearn, Dana Chladek, Norm Bellingham.
Davey had the temperament of an engineer, always weighing things carefully and wanting to see objective evidence behind conclusions. Jon might come up with an idea for equipment, but Davey would be good for technically figuring out how to make it. He was also a great endurance athlete whereas Jon was more of a power athlete. Two different approaches to Slalom and they pushed each other to be the best C1s for an incredible 11 years.
The best summary I can give of their relationship is this. One day I was running a session, and one of them – I forget which one – was in the workout but the other one wasn’t. The workout was almost over and the one who was there was not bettering his times any more. Then, the other one arrived at the workout, late – and the times for both of them started going down by a couple of seconds!
All our athletes had great confidence. They were cocky, young enough that they didn’t know fear, always optimistic about what they could do. I wrote about this in my book “The Ultimate Run,” when I used the term “canoe macho,” the attitude that Jon, Davey, Bob, Ron, and Kent Ford and other canoeists had that they were unstoppable. They had crossed that boundary into believing they could win. And I had crossed it with them. Thinking about that 30 years later still sends a chill down my neck and makes the hair on my neck stand up.
Our enthusiasms fed off each other. Someone once said our fascination for the process was a form of insanity that caused us to “put into it more than it was worth.” Jef Huey once told me it was like being in a cult. Others said it was like enlisting in a crusade. Someone else said, “don’t tell us the cost now; just send us the bill when it’s over!” Well, maybe those things were all true. I can only speak for myself, but for me it was more than worth it; it was beyond measure.
The importance of this is something I learned from the East Germans (who also taught me: “As much as possible, time in zuh boat!”) Our athletes were part of a group that trained together and pushed each other pretty much all year round, for years. The others in his C1 group were: brother Ron Lugbill; neighbor Bob Robison; Davey Hearn, and Kent Ford. All of them were great characters in their own right.
In other classes there were K1Ws Cathy Hearn and Dana Chladek; C2s Steve and Mike Garvis, Fritz and Lecky Haller, Joe Jacobi and Scott Strausbaugh, and Jef Huey and Paul Grabow, and Richie Weiss in K1. And there was Norm Bellingham in Sprint. All were eventually World medalists and/or Olympic medalists.
You can’t imagine how much fun it was to be the coach of a group like this. It was like being King Arthur with the Knights of the Round Table. (Or in the case of the women, should it be “Dames of the Round Table?”) We had extraordinary can-do team spirit, which included all the parents and volunteers.
The Garvis brothers, whom we called “The Garvi,” were fraternal twins. Mike had been a wrestler, which I always thought was great background for a Slalom paddler ever since it had been Jamie McEwan’s background. (I had also been a high school wrestler.) The Garvi hardly spoke – I always thought it was because they understood each other so well they didn’t need to! (Brothers often make good C2s for this reason.) And when they did speak it was in very soft tones. When they got 4th in the 1977 Worlds, I thought, “My god, these guys could win the Worlds,” which they did in 1981, and they got third in 1983.
I remember one time I noticed that Mike and Steve’s paddles did not go into the water or come out at the same time, which I thought was bad. Mike said to me: “That may be true, but the power comes on at the same time and that’s all that counts!” I realized he was right.
Paul Grabow and a lesson
We also took 3rd in C2 in 1981 in an upset by Paul Grabow and Jef Huey and I learned a great lesson from that. A while later I was running a workout on the Feeder Canal and Grabow was standing there watching. When it was over he said to me: “It’s only now that I realize I won a medal in the World Championships. Up to now it was just another run on the Feeder Canal.”
What that pointed up to me was the advantage of training as specifically to race conditions as possible, that is, racing against top competition in practice. Doing that prepares you psychologically to go out on autopilot and just do that one more time in the big event.
It meant that psychologically the proper frame of mind was not worrying about how the other guys were going to do in the race because you had no control over that. It meant that all you had to do was concentrate on paddling up to your level of ability in the big race, just like you had done a thousand times before “on a good day in practice.” That was something you could control.
Do that and you were the “winner,” no matter what the outcome of the race was because no one could ask you for more than that. Do that – just paddle up to your level of ability, no more, no less––and you’d probably do really well in the race because most of your opponents wouldn’t paddle up to their level of ability.
After Grabow said that, I realized my job as a coach was two-fold. First, it was to make sure these athletes had many “good days in practice” so they knew that their level of ability was high, and they knew they could just go on autopilot and reproduce it on demand. And secondly, I knew that my job at the big race was to create as much as possible the atmosphere of “a good day in practice” back home for them, in other words, keep them in a bit of a bubble and to the extent possible, keep outsiders from coming in and bursting the bubble.
One last word about the C2s: the Haller brothers, Fritz and Leck. Fritz always responded well to my motivational quips, like citing Beethoven’s quote “You must seize destiny by the throat!” or Thomas Carlisle’s quote “Every noble work is at first seen to be impossible!” He’d reply: “Bill you say that stuff and it makes me feel I can go through walls.”
Leck, his brother, had been an All-American Lacrosse player and even today when I hug him, he feels like he’s made of steel. Leck is the only one, other than my own brother, who could make me laugh so hard I’d start to cry. I don’t know what it is… some kind of slapstick humor, accompanied by mock intense expressions, antics, and uproarious laughter that gets me every time. He knows how it works on me and he builds it up so that by the end we’re both just howling!
Anyway, the Hallers trained with the Garvi and Huey and Grabow. So no wonder they all got so good! There’s a great story about the Hallers training for the ’83 Worlds, learning from videos of Huey and Grabow who had been medalists in ’81.
Bill Endicott in winter coaching wearing his overcoat Fritz Haller called “big blue” and the orange coxswain’s megaphone Dana Chladek gave him to save his voice. The French called him “Toucan” after that.
From watching those videos, the Hallers developed a very fast paddling stroke rate they called “warp speed.” But years later it was discovered that the videos had been playing at higher than normal speed; the Hallers had been copying something that never existed!
Fritz Haller was one of my assistant coaches at the 1992 Olympics, in charge of the C2s. His charges Joe Jacobi and Scott Strausbaugh won the magical gold. So, there had been a chain: our C1s had stimulated the Garvi and Grabow and Huey. They in turn had stimulated the Hallers. And one of the Hallers had helped produce an Olympic champion C2 team.
Another character in our group was Norm Bellingham. He was one more “young fanatic” who had fascination for the process. I remember around 1980-81 when Tom McEwan from Valley Mill introduced me to Norm at the Feeder Canal and told me the following story. He said Norm had been pestering him to go on the final whitewater trip for the senior kids at Valley Mill. Tom told him it was dangerous and really for kids who were older and more experienced than he was. Norm is alleged to have said: “Is there a 50:50 chance I’d live through it?” To which Tom replied, “Maybe.” And then Bellingham said, “Then I want to go!”
50:50 chance and this kid wanted to do it? Aha, here was an intensity and confidence I knew I could work with! So he started out as a Slalom K1, then grew very tall, shifted to sprint racing and won the Olympics in 1988 in K2 with Greg Barton. I coached Norm in sprint, while coaching the others in Slalom. He carried over to Sprint the same sense of fascination for the process that he had when he was a Slalom paddler. I also felt that the pulling muscles he developed in Slalom helped tremendously to make the transition to sprint.
Another one of our K1s was an astounding athlete and character, Eric Jackson who later became World Freestyle Champion many times. EJ would run Great Falls without a paddle. Jon Lugbill once said, “he owns that place!” which, coming from him, was about the biggest compliment possible.
In those days EJ was constantly experiencing the “perils of Pauline”, usually some kind of financial crisis. I remember one morning at 6:30 as we were paddling up the gates we had on the Potomac’s Maryland chute, EJ mentioned to me the repo man had already been to his house that morning and repossessed his car. I said, “Gee, have you thought about declaring bankruptcy?” He said he’d look into it.
But a few days later when I asked him about it, he said he couldn’t do it because declaring bankruptcy cost too much! Nevertheless, he always seemed to land on his feet somehow and now he owns a couple of successful kayak businesses and is known all over the world.
Richie Weiss, another K1, had been a wrestler in a previous life like Steve Garvis. He got a late start with serious Slalom training and I think that meant it took him a bit longer to reach his peak, which he did in 1993 when he won a Silver Medal at the Worlds.
The thing I remember most about Richie was that he usually had bad equipment, a paddle that looked like beavers had been chewing on the ends, a boat that was too heavy, a beat-up life jacket that was ripped, and so on.
We kept suggesting that he upgrade, but he wouldn’t do it. He just never blamed his tools, even though he was a scientist with a fine eye for detail. He was also a very hard trainer.
It was a terrible shock when Richie was killed in 1997 running a waterfall on the White Salmon River in Washington State. When the press asked me my reaction, here is what they said I said:
“Husband, expectant father, PhD, world silver medalist, two-time Olympian, he was, in short, the best we had to give,” Endicott said. “I will never get over his loss, but I hope in time I can learn to live with it.”
A bunch of us from the BCE went to the funeral and one of the other K1s on the team, Doug Gordon, who raced for another club, was there. When my wife, Abbie, a professional singer and voice teacher, sang Bette Midler’s song “The Rose” we all cracked up. I remember seeing Doug crying with the rest of us. Just a year later, in 1998, he, too, was killed running a big rapids on the Tsangpo River in Tibet and his body was never found. It was too much; there were definitely limits to this whitewater business.
Our astounding women
Then there were the women, Cathy Hearn, Dana Chladek, Yuri Kusuda, Boo Hayman, Kara Weld, and Kirsten Brown. In the beginning, I’d never been involved with women in sports before, so I wasn’t sure how to proceed other than just throw them in with men and see what happened. They all became World medalists.
It was like that then: any woman who was willing to put up with the vagaries of whitewater and the teasing from the men had what it took to be a medalist. If they didn’t, they just left the group.
I found it was better for the women to train with the men rather than with other women. I found the top women could do the same tough workouts the men could do, although they’d do about three quarters of the yearly volume the top men would do – they just needed a little more recovery time than the men. From this I realized that a top trained woman could be just as good a soldier as most men.
In fact, in 2002, Rebecca Giddens, who was World Champ and became 2004 Olympic Silver medalist, was the only woman in a group of eight out of 60 Olympic-caliber athletes who successfully completed the US Navy Seal Obstacle Course. I never coached her, but as team leader of the 2004 Olympic Slalom Team that she was on, I “held her coat” at those Olympics.
Helping each other
Not only did all these folks beat each others’ brains out in training, we’d sit around watching videos of the workouts later and they would actually help each other by making constructive suggestions. The idea was that by helping the others, you’d help them push you more, so you’d get better. Everybody got better. I got better. I’d ask them how I was doing as a coach and they’d tell me the truth, painful as it was sometimes. They pushed me to constantly come up with new workouts, new training information (which led me to write articles and even books about it), or just to run more efficient workouts.
It was a coach’s dream.
Innovative time in the sport
The C1 group was particularly inventive back then. They developed the “pivot turn” and invented the series of Max boats (Max, SuperMax, BatMax, etc.) that capitalized on the pivot turn. The C1s designed those boats and then actually built the molds for them. That stimulated our C2s and kayaks to do the same thing. Can you imagine paddlers designing, molding, building their own boats like that today?
They wanted to cut weight wherever they could, so they scrutinized everything – boat, clothes, paddle, helmet, spray skirt – everything. This resulted in things like inventing the “domer” helmet. It had no air vents in it, so water couldn’t get in and sit on your head and add weight.
It led to spray jackets made part of the spray skirt so there would be no overlapping fabrics to add weight.
Sometime after seeing the 1979 Worlds on TV a company by the name of Force Engineering called me and said: “How would you like to have an 8-pound kayak that’s so strong you can stand on it?” I said I’d love it – and we entered into a relationship with the company that made us these super light boats at a time when there was no weight limit on boats. Eventually, though, the Poles complained saying rightfully there was no way they could get boats like that, so the International Canoe Federation (ICF) added a weight restriction to the rules.
Another invention was the “kneeliak” that Ron Lugbill cooked up. He kneeled in a kayak the way he did in a canoe, and quickly proved that the extra leverage he got by sitting up taller made for a faster boat. But the ICF banned it.
Power workouts in the boat
In those days, when most people considered Slalom essentially an aerobic event, we considered it a series of anaerobic sprints. If you just did continuous loop training in gates, we reckoned, you’d never build up the power to do a really fast pivot turn in an upstream gate, or sprint hard between gates (in those days on natural rivers, there were more places to do these sprints than on today’s artificial courses with continuous whitewater). So all year round, even when we were concentrating on building aerobic endurance, we did short courses 2-3 times a week. One such workout was the “5 on 5” that I picked up from the East Germans. It was 5 timed – and scored – we always counted penalties – runs on 5 different short slalom courses, preferably on real whitewater gates.
There were several other things that contributed to our boaters’ success. A very big one was the Potomac River, which has some really good whitewater on it. We had several places on the river where we’d hang gates. It was often very difficult to hang these gates, but athletes would do it with me. I had a bamboo forest within walking distance of my house and I’d cut the trees into gates, bundle them up, and with the group, float them down the river to Little Falls, with wire in our boats. We’d get out on the shore and hang the gates. Often it would take days to set the course.
I remember one time when we first hung gates on the Potomac. It was in the area just downstream of the Fish Ladder. Mike Garvis fell from the cliff above the river – but emerged unhurt and unfazed.
Another time years later, I remember racing up to Great Falls for a summer workout on Potomac Gates after work. There wasn’t time to change out of my office clothes and I didn’t have anything to change into anyway. So, I just jumped on the back deck of Yuri Kusuda’s kayak and she paddled me over to the island where the gates were and I got out and ran the workout. I got wet but it was a warm day and we had a great workout. If the athletes were committed, I was committed.
Another factor was the David Taylor Model Basin. It was an indoor 750 meter-long US Navy towing tank for testing the hydrodynamic properties of new ship designs, submarine designs, and torpedo designs. It was a 10-minute drive from where most of us lived – very convenient! The Navy would let us train in there between 7 pm and 7 am. We’d usually go at night but sometimes at 5 am. The Basin was flat water and we’d hang gates in there or do distance paddling or longer sprints there, sometimes as relay races. So, when it was freezing out, the athletes could be so warm in the Basin they could paddle in just bathing suits. It was dark in the Basin (to keep algae from growing) and Angus Phillips of the Washington Post called it “A great place for a murder.” The Garvi called it “Club Fed” because it was owned by the Federal Government.
Then, there was Dickerson, about 45 minutes from the Feeder Canal. It was a canal that a power plant (then Pepco) used to divert water from the Potomac River to cool its generators and then shoot the warmed water through a channel back into the river.
In the 1980s in dead of the winter, we’d sometimes go to Dickerson to do slalom gates hung just below where the artificial course ends today or just do offset gates hung on the main channel, then with no obstacles in it.
I remember one time standing there with Jon Lugbill and saying to each other wouldn’t it be great to have obstacles in that canal so we could have a real course. Then we just looked at each other and laughed because we thought it could never happen.
Well, it did happen. Towards the end of my coaching career, about a year before the 1992 Olympics, two young fanatics from the BCE, John Anderson and Scott Wilkinson, were able to get permission from the Pepco CEO to put obstacles in the canal.
The Garvi, now long since retired from paddling, built a scale model of the course that John and Scott used for planning the course. One day it was set up in the Model Basin for a special press event when the course idea was announced to the world. The result was more or less the course you see today.
It was terrific; it was like a giant Jacuzzi – great for winter paddling! The last workout I ever had with Jon Lugbill was a 5 on 5 on that course.
After the Olympics, I asked the CEO why his lawyers ever permitted us to make that course. He said: “Simple. I never told the lawyers about it!” Turns out he had a son trying to make the Olympic team in another sport, so he had sympathized with us. The lawyers weighed in later, though, and implemented a number of restrictions!
Volunteer Jennifer Hearn, Davey’s wife, organized a fund-raising drive to get money to do the job on that course. A concrete company donated the concrete. Man, how I loved those volunteers!
These athletes were an important part of my life because I learned many things from the adventures we had together. In those days just about anything seemed possible.
Perhaps the relationship was best summed up when Angus Phillips interviewed me and I commented “I go to practice every day because I know Jon Lugbill will be there.” Later I heard Jon told Angus “I go to practice every day because I know Bill Endicott will be there.”
More than anything it was the intensity, the excitement, the accomplishing of goals –– and the laughs, oh the laughs!
I look forward to seeing what others remember about the Glory Days!
(Bill Endicott was an athlete on the U.S. team from 1970-1973; Manager of the U.S .team in 1975 and 2004; and coach of the U.S. team from 1977-1993, when he coached athletes who won 57 medals in World Cup, World Championship, and Olympic competition, 27 of them gold. He was also the NBC Color Commentator for the 1996 Olympics in both Slalom and Sprint. He was a co-founder and the first president of the Canoe Slalom World Cup from 1988-1992. He authored 8 books on canoeing and kayaking and many articles, some of which have been translated into Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Japanese, Polish, and Spanish. He was also a coach and/or consultant in 8 foreign countries.)
OTHER PERSONAL REMINISCENCES
[To be slotted in alphabetically by last name]