Bob Emmet

Bob EmmetWhat makes rowing so special? It’s the bonding, and that derives from the nature of the sport itself: If all of you aren’t in perfect sync, your boat won’t move as fast.

“First, it’s about work,” says George Schuster, who rowed for our varsity heavyweight crew in the 5 seat. “You have to be enslaved to do it, as a galley oar. You can play a game of baseball, or football, or basketball, or hockey, or tennis; but no one ever played a game of rowing.

“Second, it’s the ultimate team sport. You do all that work for your teammates with the confidence they are doing the same for you. There are at least three times in each race when you literally run out of gas. As you are gasping for oxygen, what enables you to carry on is the confidence that the rest of the crew are doing the same for you.

“Third, there are no superstars. If there is in fact a ‘standout’ in rowing – someone doing something markedly different from the others – that individual is doing something wrong.”

Narelle Kirkland, the stroke, sitting in the 8 seat, adds, “When you are out there in the shell, you and your teammates are all alone on the water. You don’t have blockers, or kickers, or any substitutes throughout the race. That’s why crew members bond so thoroughly.”

So it should be no surprise that when a teammate dies – as Bob Emmet, who sat in the bow, did last September 29, succumbing to a heart attack in the middle of a Masters race – it hit each one of them like a body blow, and it still hurts.

“I spent three years at Yale as Bob’s roommate,” says Alec Kerr, who was in the 3 seat. “Much of that time was spent in a shell together, rowing on the Housatonic, the Thames, and other rowing venues. Bob was a consummate oarsman. He loved everything about rowing: the physical strength, the mental challenge, the necessary endurance, the teamwork, the camaraderie and the competition.

“Rowing was the center of his life at Yale, culminating in his becoming a superb Captain of the Yale Crew his senior year. While he later served with distinction in the Marines, found his wonderful wife Gail, helped to raise a wonderful family, and pursued a successful career as financial officer at Cleveland-Cliffs, an American steel manufacturer, he never lost his passion for rowing. He took it up again in later life, both as an oarsman and as a coach.”

John Born, who rowed in the 4 seat, adds, “Bob was one of my closest friends during our four years at Yale. We shared our wins and losses on the college waters of New England. He was an inspirational captain of the heavyweight crew in our senior year, always with a sense of focus as well as humor. Besides daily 30-minute bus trips to and from the boathouse in Derby, CT – and remember, there were no cell phones then, so we talked to each other – he and I spent long hours in the close quarters of a small car crisscrossing the country with just sleeping bags during the summer of 1965. I got to know him as a solid person that I could always count on.”

Narelle adds, “I always treasured Bob dearly as a steadfast seven man because he had the most difficult task. The seventh position is the hardest in the shell to row. The other guys were far enough behind my position to see the blade of my oar and tell what’s going on. All Bob could see was my neck, shoulder and back, but he still had to follow me precisely.”

In retirement, Bob served on the board of the Western Reserve Rowing Association and rowed competitively in the Masters group. But his favorite thing was coaching the boys on the St. Ignatius Wildcat Navy Crew. “He was so proud of being Coach Bob,” said his family.

“I last saw him in Philadelphia when he came to a 50th reunion of our undefeated freshman crew,” adds Alec. “We reminisced about practices, races, coaches and teammates, and the years fell away immediately. We were all back in a shell together, straining at our oars, a perfect team. Somehow, although way too soon, it seems fitting that Bob died in a crew race, hands on his oar. We miss him terribly.”