(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!”