When you’re a 90-pound high school freshman, your seat in the boat is the ninth. And if you take on the challenge of learning the coxing ropes as a teenager, you can go on commanding crews for the rest of your days. That’s what Tom Boedeker has done. After more than 16 years steering boats for Lake Union Crew, the 50-year-old recently moved south to California, bringing along his favorite race calls, and his adorable tuxedo cat named Shyla.
Current rowing club affiliation + number of seasons there:
San Diego Rowing Club, now in my second season with them. Previously 16+ years with Lake Union Crew in Seattle, WA. I moved to San Diego for work in March 2016 and I am having the time of my life here! One of my best rowing friends in Seattle told me about SDRC, and it has been a great fit for me ever since – so many great people here!
When/where did you get involved with rowing?
Spring 1983 as a freshman at Simsbury High School, the only public school in Connecticut that had crew at the time. I barely weighed 90 pounds and could eat a 32oz. steak and still lose weight because the chewing action burned more calories than existed in the steak! So becoming a coxswain was a natural for me. I never had him as a coach, but the Simsbury High School head crew coach at the time was also my gym teacher in elementary school, so I always knew that crew was a big sport in my home town.
How has coxing changed you?
I was very withdrawn as a young kid. Coxing opened my personality because I had a talent to be a coxswain which people actually liked. It took several years, but I finally became more social and comfortable in larger groups of people.
Do you prefer sprints or head races? Why?
For the most part I prefer head racing. I realized years ago that my god given talent in life is to steer boats within a couple of inches of the buoy line along the big turn at the Head of the Charles! I have to make so many instantaneous tactical and strategic decisions during head races. Threading the needle is a favorite challenge that I will always take up!
However, with sprint races there is a very calm moment before the start of the race when all the boats are lined up that I like.
What is your most memorable race as a coxswain?
Head of the Charles 2006 (maybe 2007). I had already won HOCR three times with Lake Union Crew women’s master’s eights – which are all memorable! – and an upcoming LUC masters women’s 8+ was working hard to guarantee the club another first place finish. I was expecting to cox that boat, however, my coach came up to me in early September and told me that our club had just received an entry for HOCR’s women’s Championship 4+ event and would I like to cox this boat instead of the eight? We would get to compete against Division 1 schools and the USA national team.
I reminded myself: it is all about the racing opportunities. I would never again experience a chance to race in the Championship category as a master at the Charles with a group of women who were willing to pay the price of training required by this event. I got to cox at my highest levels for all the practices and the race. While we did not qualify the boat for the next year, we did pass a boat during the race and our teammates cheered us on. Damn we were fast. It was so much fun to be with these four women!
Of course, taking first place in nine of 12 races at 2006 USRowing Master’s Nationals in Seattle is high up on the list!
Do you have a favorite practice or race call?
I came up with the call for a power ten to “walk the talk.” I make this call when my boat begins to make a move on another boat during a race. To take advantage of the move that we are making, I emphasize the “walk” through the finish and then call out the seats which my boat has taken. “One, walk!” “Two, wallllk!” “…another seat taken!” It is a devastating call against the other boat and extremely motivating for my crew!
I first used this call about three years ago when I was with Lake Union Crew and my WE8+ was down by two lengths with 400 meters to go at NW regionals. We ended up winning the race by one full boat length! I continue to use this call with the San Diego Rowing Club to the same devastating effects against the competition! Just a couple of weeks ago during SW Regionals on Lake Merritt my SDRC women’s boat took seats on that call and continued to move!
When it comes to practice during the early morning, I like being the first boat out to create a wake on flat water. Exactly the same feeling as a little kid stomping in puddles, just a more adult version of the same activity. Despite being a coxswain for 33+ years, I still forget about everything else as soon as I enter the early morning boathouse boat bays and assume my role of being a coxswain. I still have no idea how this change happens all these years later. I just appreciate that it still happens without thought.
What’s the best piece of coxing advice you ever received?
Keep the fleet together. Despite how competitive practice becomes, this means helping team boats without coxswains sight buoys during early morning dark practices or that a large wake is about to arrive. It helps to make sure that my entire team succeeds with the practice of the morning.
Who/what inspires you?
The group of women who I have coxed for a long time at Lake Union Crew and now the San Diego Rowing Club. They are the last generation of women before Title IX was implemented. They never experienced the chance of varsity rowing during their university years, but these women have lived very active family and career years since then. A couple of these women never touched an oar until they were almost 60, but with commitment and training they were winning in the big races such as Head of the Charles and the San Diego Crew Classic!
I’m also inspired by rowers who are only a half-step away from really understanding what crew is all about; from a physical, attitude, training and psychological point of view. However, they never had a good coxswain dedicated to them. Coxing these rowers as they accept the challenge of becoming accomplished rowers is always an exhilarating experience, especially when I realize that I now have a boat who can challenge the established order. The empowering effect that I see on their attitude is extremely inspiring!
When not coxing, what’s your favorite thing to do?
Cooking. It is a relaxing activity for me. I am still a recent convert to So Cal, so weekend road trips to explore my new home remain a favorite even if it is only to find a new beach hangout.
Tell us something about you that we don’t already know.
I can cox in Swedish. I show up at all work meetings two minutes before they start. I also have the superhero coxswain ability to make my rowers to go to the bathroom when I say “Hands On!” just before a race or practice. Yes, I have incorporated this factoid into my pre-race warm up strategies!