They’re the ones whose voices are hoarse for days from yelling “Let’s Go Blue” as loud as they can. They’re the ones who are there after a tough race, grilling burgers and making fruit salad to make sure everyone’s energy is high. They’re the ones that travel hundreds of miles to Bloomington and Columbus just to lend their support in any way possible. They’re the members of the Open Water Club, which consist of current and past parents of rowers on the Michigan women’s rowing team.
The club — which got its name from the idea that a crew always wants to have open water on its opponents — has been growing ever since rowing became a varsity sport at Michigan in 1996. During races, the club sells refreshments and Michigan rowing gear to help raise money for the team. Its ultimate goal is to help the team purchase an indoor water tank. The tank would allow the rowers to practice on the water during the winter months and keep up with their warm-weather opponents.
“The kids just have a great attitude and a great coach, and they just have so much spirit for everybody else,” Open Water Club President Jan Godek said as she sorted through a pile of Michigan crew T-shirts, searching for the right size for an eager supporter. “We just all love doing it. I just love it. While my daughter (fifth-year senior Elizabeth Godek) is graduating this year, I’m from Ann Arbor, and I’ll still be involved.”
In the club’s latest attempt to raise money for the team, it has created a cookbook entitled “Crew’d Foods.” This is a collaboration of the families’ favorite dishes. Ranging from easy strawberry cream pie to crab Florentine casserole, the 94-recipe book is the product of two years of work on the part of dedicated parents.
Even though the clear-cut description of the club is simply a booster group that is helping to financially support the team, the true purpose of the Open Water Club is far less tangible and stems from the undying support and encouragement it has for the team year round.
“(The Open Water Club) gives us the opportunity to develop a relationship with these parents, so it makes us feel like we have a place away from it all to go when racing gets really heated,” senior Sarah Towbridge said. “These parents give us their homes and are always there for us, and it makes me feel as though my parents are watching me. If we have a bad race it’s nice to have these caring parents around that aren’t just there for their own kids but are there for the entire team.
The night before last weekend’s race against Iowa and No. 14 Wisconsin, the rowers had a team dinner at the house of former Open Water Club presidents Pam and Jack Ceo. The Ceo’s — whose daughter Christina graduated in 2003 — brought the Open Water Club back to life and built it into what it is today during their tenure from 2001-03. Their goal was to build a community where all the parents could stay informed of the team’s progress and remain involved if they were unable to attend the races. More importantly, the Ceo’s created an environment where the rowers felt comfortable and gave them a loving family away from home.
“My parents have never been to a race,” said senior Cristin McCary, who is from Saskatchewan, Canada. “There are definitely a lot of other parents here that live closer. I see them probably 10 times as much as I see my parents. It’s almost as though they have become my parents. They are there supporting me just as much as my own would.”
In forming the Open Water Club, the parents have created their own network of friends, one that is constantly continuing to grow as the team becomes more and more successful.
“We just love it,” Pam Ceo said. “We have made so many great friends through this. We have deemed Oakridge, Tenn. — which is where regionals are — the site of the parent alumni reunion. We are going to get as many parents there as possible. We just love the people we work with and the coaches as well.”
One of the club’s first members was John Moskwa. His daughter Alyson graduated in 1997 — just one year after the team went varsity. Moscow can still be spotted at every rowing meet with two sets of binoculars around his neck and blue Michigan rowing gear from head to toe. In addition to helping post the scores for the parents to see, Moskwa constantly patrols the boathouse deck looking out onto the water through his binoculars to check the Wolverines’ progress.
“So many of the girls live so far away that their parents can’t be here to watch them, so all of us that live in Michigan or close by that are able to come and support them do,” Moskwa said.
The No. 2 Wolverines are overly appreciative of the Open Water Club’s efforts for giving them a positive environment to compete in, as well as a home away from home and surrogate parents to support them through their collegiate years.
“The Open Water Club has been phenomenal,” senior Tara Medina said. “They are great supporters of us. A lot of the parents come to all of the races and especially for our home races, and, in particular, our last home race. It’s great to have them here. You’re not just racing for yourself, or racing for Michigan, but you’re racing for your parents and showing off for them in a way. You have someone you care about working hard for you.”