Our story begins with the Husky Clipper, in which UW famously won the 1936 Olympic gold medal. This is the tale of an unlikely and heroic feat 50 years ago by a lesser-known program whose members showed similar fearlessness and perseverance.
Collegiate rowing has a history of making big headlines in Seattle, but this story is not about racing; there were no medals.
The only thing the Pacific Lutheran University oarsmen had when they got back to their dorm rooms that December 1967 night were fatigued bodies numbed by the cold, soaked by waves and blistered from seemingly endless hours of pulling on oars.
The newspaper story described the event as “a conquest of epic proportions” and recited the oarsmen’s dedication and perseverance, telling in detail how they rowed an eight-oared shell from Seattle’s Lake Union to Tacoma.
They started before dawn, rowing through the Ballard Locks, combating wave-crested Elliott Bay and — as twilight was coming on — making it to Tacoma’s Point Defiance, a distance of more than 40 miles. But why?
Some sort of stunt? Fraternity prank? A punishment exacted by a sadistic coach?
None of the above. It was a matter of absolute necessity. The PLU crew had to get the shell to American Lake, where they trained and raced. Unable to come up with the funds to move the boat on the road, they went by water.
They would row the boat to Tacoma. And they did.
This adventure of risk — and its rewards — will be remembered and celebrated June 20-22 when the Pacific Lutheran crew gathers for a 50th anniversary reunion of the Rowdown. The occasion will feature a return trip over the same route the PLU crew followed Dec. 16, 1967. But instead of rowing, the oarsmen will make the voyage aboard a 75-foot powerboat.
Joining the PLU veterans, most of them pushing age 70, for the yacht ride will be Judy Rantz Willman. She is the daughter…