Rowing association gets new coach

Seasoned vet comes to the Peninsula

Tom Owston has represented the United States as part of the Junior National Rowing team, he has competed in Amsterdam and London, trained and rowed with Olympians. He has been around the sport of crew for more than four decades, and now has the chance to share his knowledge with rowers on the Kenai Peninsula.


The Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association hired Owston to be their coach this summer, giving Owston an opportunity to visit Alaska for the first time. He has been in town for about a week, and already can appreciate the scenery. Being from Philadelphia, Owston's eyes have been wide open since the beginning of his journey.

"It's just beautiful, it's amazing," he said. "Driving up here, I thought, ‘wow, that's it, I'm not going to see anything more beautiful than that.'

"Then within an hour or the next day I see something else ..."

Philadelphia is considered the mecca of rowing, much like the Peninsula is said to be the mecca for salmon fishing. Owston has coached at the high school level and will coach at Bryn Mawr College in the fall.

Owston's accolades made him a top candidate for the job, but accolades only go so far. The rest, Owston carries with his demeanor and his approach to coaching. After only being in town for a short time, he is already making an impact.

"He's been a joy and a godsend, a decent, good, mature, well-qualified individual," Judy Demers, a member of the association said. "He's very trusting in us, we have fun with him, he's very flexible. He can just put things together and make things work."

So far, it's been a great fit on both sides.

"The people here are real friendly, they're just so concerned for one another, they're just genuinely nice people," Owston said.

Demers has been rowing for 12 years. She said one of the hardest aspects of rowing is to row with square blades.

"He's got our brand new people rowing square blades, it's a masterful skill, his coaching attests to that," Demers said.

Pat Springer-Hann, another rowing veteran, just met Owston the other day and praised the impact he's making thus far.

"He came in to a situation where we had two non-rowers (first-time rowers) and he was able to very quickly break down the stroke and get them doing several strokes in a row," she said. "That was a very positive experience."

Rowing does not just test the body, it tests the brain constantly as well.

"It's such a great way to stay fit, you use all of your muscle groups, you have to use your brain because it's so technical." the 69-year-old Demers said.

Much like other sports, rowing can be used as an outlet, being out on the water on a beautiful day does not hurt either.

"Because of the technique, you have so much to think about. You're not real worried about other things, you're focused on the moment," said Skyview High School cross-country ski coach and music teacher Kent Peterson.

Peterson knows first-hand how much work goes in to rowing. He picked it up last year, but acknowledges his work is never done.

"You don't come out and perfect it in the first year," Peterson said. "You keep working on the same basic things year after year and it gets better and better. I still have a ton to learn."

The association offers multiple classes during the day, for inexperienced and experienced rowers alike. There are races throughout the season that take place at different locations in the state, which is what members of the association train for on a daily basis under Owston's tutelage.

"I've been around the sport for about 45 years, there's just a lot of things I know and take for granted that I can impart in these drills and different things, ways of training," Owston said.

Along with their daily classes, the association holds their Splash-n-Dash event, a chance for the public to come out and participate in the sport. It is being planned for later this summer.

Owston said a rower is never done learning, and it's a sport rowers can do for life.

"It's a life sport because you're sitting and going backwards as fast as you can," Owston said. "It's what we all do isn't it? On the water and off."

For more information on the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association, visit


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Author’s note: The Clarion first published this column on Aug. 11, 2006. It has been edited it for brevity. — LP

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