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Peter Mallory's Blog

By pmallory - Posted on 23 May 2013

17 May 2013

My knees hurt. I went for a long bike ride the other day, and my 67-year-old knees still hurt. The season is over, and it is time to turn some of my energy and attention to other things, like getting back into better shape. I should ride again today, but I feel the need to write this blog. An erg will have to do. The bike can wait until tomorrow.

After the end of a competitive rowing season is a time of feeling unbalanced for me, losing my anchor, missing the sense of purpose that dominated my days and nights for months, now actually sleeping through the night, sleeping a little later and feeling guilty about it. I ask you! Just how am I going to make the world a better place today without being surrounded by my team?

In the last two weeks I have experienced waves of nostalgia, looking back months and often decades. I am back working on restoring my vintage Ayling oars, studying old newspaper articles and regatta programs from 1966, the year of the two historic races I am commemorating, carefully examining old photos, varnishing, painting the blades, ordering decals, arranging for the period-correct leather sleeves to be trimmed, shaped and attached to the shafts, roughing up the wooden handles with a saw just the way I did nearly half a century ago.

Yes, my vintage oars are coming together. Maybe another month. The results so far are very satisfying.

But it’s not coaching! Oh, no, it's marking time until I can begin again in the fall.

There’s something special about coaching any sport, I suppose, but for me crew most of all. And there’s something special about the coaches who do it well.

It’s funny. During my adult life I have taught hundreds and hundreds of people to roll up on time and make a proper entry. Periodically I run into people I once coached, and I can’t remember a single one ever telling me, “You know, Peter, that skill of placing the oar in the water? Well, that has paid dividends to me every day of my life since. Thank you SO much.” But I am one of a whole host of rowing coaches who have had people come up to them and say, “You know, maybe I didn’t realize it at the time, but the things I learned with you, sometimes in spite of myself, made me a better student, a better friend, a better partner, a better parent, a better person! You taught me what I had to do to be successful in life.”

Wow! No wonder I missed coaching the minute it was over this spring!

A couple of months ago I took a passing interest in a fellow rowing coach in Southern California named Jan Mazgajski. Jan had rowed 5-seat in the tenth-place Polish Men’s Eight at the 1971 World Championships on the Bagsværd. A native of Warsaw, Mazgajski earned his masters degree in physical education from the Akademia Wychowania Fizycznego Józefa Piłsudskiego before emigrating from Poland to the United States. During the last ten years or so he was a familiar face around the Long Beach boathouse. You couldn’t miss him. He looked like Santa Claus! I think I nodded and said hello to him in passing once or twice.

Then a good friend of mine suggested that I seriously consider Jan for the position as my assistant at LMU next year. When I inquired, I was told he was in Alaska, so I dropped the matter and forgot about it. The next thing I hear, Jan has passed away. It turns out that he had coached the LMU men off and on from the 1980s to the end of the century and beyond, leaving his mark on several generations of Lion rowers. Alumnus Joseph Kennedy ’97 recalls, “To say he was a character would be an understatement as he was probably the most athletic, jolly and creative individual I have ever known. His sense of humor, kindness, tough love and friendship were a great part of why I was a four-year rower at LMU. Jan was an inspiration to me, and I shall miss him greatly.”

A fitting tribute . . . but like most of us rowing coaches, Jan was a complicated guy.

Long-time Loyola Marymount Athletics Director Bill Husak: “Jan was our coach when I took over at LMU. A month into my tenure, Lane Bove called me one morning and asked me to come down to the Marina and watch the boathouse sink. By the time I got there, it was submerged along with all it contained. Jan disappeared for two weeks, which at the time I thought was an abandonment of his responsibilities. When he reappeared, I realized that the boathouse and the program was such a big part of his life that the loss was more than he could bear. At that point, I had decided to suspend the program for a year while we rebuilt and renewed. When I informed him of that and that his position would be suspended for the year with no guarantee that he would be our coach in the future, he stood up, hugged me and thanked me. At the time, I thought it was an odd response. I soon realized that he was thankful that we were intending to keep the program and to have the burden of rebuilding off his shoulders. Rowing was a huge part of his life, and during that period so was LMU.”

Indeed, an odd response . . .

Yes, we coaches can be counted on for the periodic odd response. R.I.P. Jan Mazgajski! I will try not to disappoint as I attempt to fill your shoes.