Competitive rowing in racing shells has been a part of America's athletic scene for over 100 years. Harvard and Yale carry on their rowing battles every June on the Thames or the Charles Rivers, high schools and colleges boat their best oarsmen and oarswomen in fall and spring to vie for their respective championships, and independent rowing clubs challenge each other to rowing duels as often as an occasion can be conjured up.
In 1970, Yale Rowing coach, Tony Johnson, had a problem. During the academic year he worked with many qualified oarsmen, but, when classes stopped he had no formal program to continue their training. He wanted to build a program wherein the better collegiate rowers and selected post-collegiate rowers could train throughout the summer. Only an intense schedule of rigorous racing workouts and technical sessions could prepare these rowers for U.S. National and Olympic Rowing Team tryouts.
Being an ingenious fellow, he founded the New Haven Rowing Club. As a club, he could carry on organized practices and races all year long. His problem was solved. His crews competed in the 1970 and 1971 National Team trials and in the Olympic Team trials of 1972. Since then, New Haven Rowing Club teams have won many national and international honors.
There was an interesting by-product of Johnson's scheme. The rules governing races during the school year allow one boat per college or club to compete in any one race. This prevented the "second varsity boat", for instance, from racing, because the "first boat" had priority. However, under New Haven's colors he could enter another boat in the same racing categories as he could under Yale's banner. Two Yale boats were soon competing in most races. Twice the number of young competitors were able to experience the thrill of the victory or the anguish of defeat. From Yale's standpoint, it was a great strategy .
At that time, 1970, there were several ex-college oarsmen who were longing to get back into the fray. They had begun their work lives and said good-bye to the carefree college fun. They wanted to rejuvenate their athletic prowess. They wanted, once again, to strain and sweat, to dig deep into themselves and give just that little bit more. They wanted to participate! When these men heard what Tony Johnson had done they decided to make a good thing better. The Yale under-classmen who rowed as the New Haven Rowing Club competed in the "open" and "elite" events only. That left the "masters" events un-subscribed. In rowing, "masters" are those people 27 years old and older. These ex-college men were in their 30's and prime candidates for Masters competition.
Late in 1970, several of the "old-timers" began to show up at the Yale boathouse in Derby, and thus began the Masters program of the New Haven Rowing Club.
The Club has grown to its present size of about 90 members. Over the years many races have been rowed, and many medals have been won.
Several hundred hardy individuals, women and men ranging in age from siblings and children of 9-10 to septuagenarians have "sweated and strained" to keep fit and to participate in rowing.
In 1981 the first of the FISA trips began. Each year, in a different city, usually in Europe, FISA, the international rowing organization has a Masters Regatta. Some of the places the New Haven Rowing Club has traveled to are Amsterdam, Cologne, Ghent, Heidelburg, London, Prague, Toronto, Vienna, Denmark, France, Sweden, Budapest, Sydney and the Italian Riviera. Members and their "significant others" alight on foreign shores, soak up the local culture, participate in the FISA races, leave the restaurateurs smiling and stuff new treasures in already overstuffed suitcases for the return home.
The NHRC is well known throughout the United States rowing community. The Club has participated in most major regattas and has won its share of prizes. The New Haven Rowing Club is known for its intensity of training and its jocularity of demeanor. From March until November, training is held at six AM most mornings. The Housatonic River is the "proving ground". Another racing shell is an adversary that must be beaten; the "wire" across the river at both ends of a three-mile stretch is the "goal". Today, an anaerobic workout, tomorrow, an aerobic workout. Nobody gets an 'easy row'. But, it's fun! Ask a rower and he or she will tell you that rowing is the best thing you can do for your mind and body. It's a way of life.
For twenty years, the New Haven Rowing Club and Yale University shared facilities and Yale was an admirable host. By 1991, however, Yale needed more boathouse space, and the New Haven Rowing Club needed to increase its size and scope. So, starting in 1992, four miles north of the Yale boathouse, just over the Oxford Town line, on the Housatonic River, the New Haven Rowing Club acquired property and constructed its own facility. It is a two-bay, three-story, beautifully designed and pridefully built, worldclass boathouse. Members donated their time and resources to make this a shrine to rowing, a monument to the sport and the people who participate.