For a group of women in their 70s, Seattle’s Opening Day boating festivities was a chance to reminisce about their own rowing histories.
A half-dozen women in their 70s sat on lawn chairs and watched from a slope above the Montlake Cut as yachts sailed by in the Opening Day boat parade. The vessels occasionally let out a hiss of steam and a whistle. Sometimes, the women gave a wave. Earlier, they’d cheered as University of Washington crew teams in the Windermere Cup races sped through the passage between Lake Union and Lake Washington.
“It’s fun to watch the yachts, but we came for the rowers,” said Margaret Laliberte.
They were also attending Opening Day — Saturday’s celebration marking the beginning of Seattle’s boating season — to reminisce.
“This is a nice reunion. It’s kind of fun to come back,” said Sue McKain, as decorated boats and the occasional costumed deckhand paraded past.
As some of the first female masters rowers (over age 27) in Seattle, the women had pulled their own oars through those waters many times. They trained together, raced together in the 1980s and 1990s and traveled to Europe together for competitions.
For practice three days a week, the women would rise before dawn, and then row until 7 a.m. before work.
“We were busy doing families and jobs, but we made time for that. Great friendships,” said Nancy Ringenburg.
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“Traveling brought us together,” Laliberte said. “And, now we’re aging together,” McKain said.
Part of the generation that attended college before Title IX, the women hadn’t had the same opportunities as today.
Then, in the early 1980s, University of Washington head rowing coach Dick Erickson recruited women for a new rowing course he organized outside the university.
“I became aware of it in 1985. There was an invitation to all the yacht clubs to show us how to row using university equipment,” McKain said. “Then, we competed against each other as yacht clubs on Opening Day.”
This year, the women took special notice of the Windermere Cup’s finale.
“The Husky women rowed the last race. It’s usually the men and this year, they switched it,” Laliberte said.
“That’s progress,” said Sherry Ladd.