“Is There Any Reason Not To Be Proud Of These Athletes?”

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That’s what UW Director of Rowing Bob Ernst said after everyone at the athletes’ dinner for the 28th Windermere Cup heard what the Huskies and the British national teams do on and beyond the water.

By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

SEATTLE -- On the warmest May 1 in Seattle’s history, a most impressive lineup of students and athletes gathered at the annual athletes’ dinner for the 28th Windermere Cup.

The rowers representing Washington plus Great Britain’s men’s and women’s national teams are majoring or have degrees in physics, astronomy, mathematics, speech and language sciences, environmental sciences. They’ve graduated from Oxford and Cambridge. Two from the British women’s eight are finishing their Ph. D.s.

Nathaniel Reilly O’Donnell is a 26-year old with a law degree from University College London. He’s been rowing since he was 12 and was a world junior champion in a four-man boat in 2006. He was an alternate on Great Britain’s team that led the 2012 London Games by winning nine medals.

He will row again in the Windermere Cup on Saturday, plus at next month’s European championships and August’s world championships, through not one or two but four herniated disks in his back and neck.

"Is there any reason to not be proud of these athletes?" UW Director of Rowing Bob Ernst said Thursday, after temperatures soared to 85 degrees and made an already cordial night even warmer.

Ernst had just passed a microphone around the Conibear Shellhouse dining room, allowing each of rowers on the four teams that will race through the Montlake Cut Saturday morning to introduce themselves and their interests.

There was even a man knighted by British royalty present for the athletes’ dinner, which included a keynote speech by Judy Rantz Willman, the daughter of Joe Rantz, who rowed on the Huskies’ eight – “The Boys in the Boat” that stunned the world by winning gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in front of Adolph Hitler.

"Little did I know when I was given ‘The Boys in the Boat’ to read last year — I thought, ‘Oh, no, not another rowing book’ — that I would be so inspired by the history of this place," said Sir David Tanner, the performance director for British Rowing who has led Great Britain’s delegation to Seattle for Saturday’s races.

Willman is a neighbor in the Seattle suburb of Redmond to Daniel James Brown, the author of the wildly popular “The Boys in the Boat” about the 1936 Huskies rowing team. Willman told Brown her father’s story, and that of the kids from the Depression winning gold as college students, and Brown turned it into a book for which a movie is being planned.

After Willman described the rowers in “The Boys in the Boat,” she told the current Huskies and British team members in a sport where work ethic and harmony are paramount: “You are all made of the same stuff. You become a better person because you are always improving what you are. …These life lessons are a part of you, just as it was for ‘The Boys in the Boat’ in 1936.”

As they entered the dining room at Conibear the rowers passed what they will be racing for on Saturday.

In 1987 Kusak Cut Glass Works in Seattle sent this bowl to Bohemia Crystal Glass in Sazava, Czechoslovakia. Bohemia then hand blew and hand cut it into the Windermere Cup. The full lead crystal — “truly one of the finest pieces of crystal Kusak Cut Glass Works has produced in our 100-year history,” Anton C. “Chuck” Kusak III told me — is 13 inches high and 11 inches in diameter. It weighs 14 pounds and holds close to 2 3/4 gallons.  

Kusak, the chief and heir to Kusak Cut Glass Works, estimates the Windermere Cup is worth $12,000. The trophy is presented to the winners of the men’s and women’s finals on the first Saturday in May to open Northwest’s boating season; 21 of the last 23 years it’s gone to the UW men’s varsity eight. The trophy is then stored in its case above outside the dining room of Conibear Shellhouse year round.

Saturday’s racing at the Montlake Cut begins at 10 a.m. with youth-through-masters races. The women’s final will go off just after 11:30, with the men’s final immediately following that — and preceding the annual boat parade put on by the Seattle Yacht Club during the region’s largest free sporting spectacle.

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