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Peter Mallory's Blog

By pmallory - Posted on 20 June 2012

28 March 2012

During the last couple of weeks I have been getting a ton of requests for another Philip story. Philip’s reaction? “No more, Dad. Please.”

But I have one more tale of rowing parenthood that begs to be retold, and Philip plays only a minor role, a spear-carrier in the chorus if you will, so perhaps he won’t mind if we proceed. I’ll tell it quickly.

Back in the summer of 1988 I spent two long months away from home, away from Philip and his mother, while I was coaching first on the East Coast and then at two World Championships. I missed my family a lot, and since Philip was by then 3 and beginning to carry on meaningful conversations with his dad, when I got home I decided to stop coaching the children of others and begin to focus my time and energy on my own child.

But I also had unfinished business. I was 43 years old. I had coached more than 50 National Champion crews . . . but never won a National Championship for myself. Oh yes, four Silver Medals . . . but no Golds in three decades. It weighed on me. Even Philip’s mother, now rarely mentioned in my house for we were destined not to grow old together, Philip’s mother, my wife Susan, a woman who had never seen a shell or an oar before we met, even she had won the U.S. Masters A Singles title just the year before.

I desperately wanted a Gold Medal of my own, and so I asked Susan for one last shot, knowing she of all people would understand, and bless her heart, she did. Together we committed to one more year of me training for myself before I dedicated all my energies to supporting Philip through youth soccer and mountain bikes and climbing Half Dome and whatever else the future might bring.

Meanwhile, the masters program at San Diego Rowing Club was chock full of fine athletes, many of whom I had coached and developed during the 1970s, and they were winning national titles by the basket full. That fall I joined in as one more athlete, training twice a day, weights, ergs, jumpies, endless endurance miles in singles and pairs, with fours and quads on the weekends. By the following spring I would be in the best shape of my life and rowing in the best boat of my life, fast friends from bow to stern. After rowing and coaching for nearly 30 years, this was my chance! Life couldn’t get any better.

And then it did. Right before Christmas Susan informed me that we were expecting an addition to the family, unplanned, a complete surprise. Well, well, well . . .

Fast forward to the following summer, and nature was taking its course. We had decided to call our new arrival Katherine Jean, and it was becoming increasingly evident to all with eyes that Katie was well on her way. Etes-vous prêt?

The very day before I was to leave for the Masters Nationals my boss, Don Lang, hosted a late summer gathering on his sailboat. When in the course of polite conversation I mentioned that I was about to leave for a long weekend to go to the Nationals. Don’s wife Karen did a Three Stooges double take, took another look at Susan’s enormous abdomen and asked her when the baby was due.

“Yesterday . . . tomorrow . . . any second, basically,” replied Susan nonchalantly.

Karen turned to me. “And you’re leaving? To go row?”

Before I could even open my mouth Susan retorted, but oh-so-politely. “A child only takes nine months, Karen. As a family we committed to the Nationals way before we committed to this baby.”

Only a rower could have said those words. And Susan was a rower back then! Yessirree!

Karen Lang, definitely not a rower and always one to speak her mind, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I always knew you were an asshole, Peter. This just confirms it.”

At that moment, I must say that I prayed she wasn’t right . . . at least not this one time.

So . . .

. . . it was a great Nationals. Two Gold Medals! Memories to last a lifetime. Even wrote a book about that weekend. Awesome weekend.

But what about Katie and her a**hole dad? After all, Susan had been feeling the beginnings of birth contractions before I even left, for Heaven’s sake, and that was more than three days ago.

Well . . . when I returned home . . . our daughter still remained patiently content in Susan’s womb. Can you believe that? The stuff of myth, worthy of Homer, don’t you think?

Katie was born the day after her National Champion father returned from the National Championships. I was present for the event, weak-kneed and pretty much as useless as I had been during Philip’s arrival four years earlier . . . but much relieved, I can tell you.

Karen Lang soon divorced Don, and Susan divorced me. (It had nothing to do with rowing.) We all said, “Good riddance! Hooray!” and much to my surprise, life went on. Here is a happy photo of my family in 1994.

Today Katie is a fine young woman, and we have become more friends than family. She has grown up straight and true . . . but since she was 5 it was with her mother, now called by me Susan One to distinguish her from the Susan who has since brought balance and security and happiness into Philip’s life and mine.

Not often do Katie and I talk about the past anymore, it being just so much water under the bridge, but whenever we discuss her birth on August 22, 1989, she always reminds me, “I waited for you, Daddy.”

That’s my girl.