‘I found your bio on a UCSD web page. Do you also play viola for the San Diego Symphony?”
“No,” a woman laughs.
I’m talking to Pattie Pinkerton, women’s crew head coach for UCSD. Here is a portion of her stats: studied journalism at San Diego State, graduated 1978, was rowing coordinator for the San Diego Rowing Club, competed in the USA National Championships from 1975 to 1984, competed for the USA Sculling Squad 1980–’82, international competitor at the Master’s Championships and World Games 1985–’97, won 16 international titles and seven national titles. From 1982 to ’84 she was president of the USA National Women’s Rowing Association and named Woman of the Year by aforementioned organization.
Did a stint in Australia coaching men’s and women’s “talent identification squads” to 17 national rowing titles from 1990–’98. Then, as head coach at Gonzaga University, she won the West Coast Conference championship in 1999 and was named WCC Coach of the Year. Then to UCSD. In the past three years her teams finished 5th, 2nd, and 2nd. That’s not a conference finish; that’s a national Division II finish.
Hence my question about the viola. I say, “People who have non-mainstream sports jobs — like the one you have — not only have to be qualified, they have to be super, super, super qualified. Is that true for rowing?”
“Yeah,” Pinkerton says. “When I lived in Australia there were only three women who had full-time rowing coaching jobs. And two of them were living with their head coaches.”
Pinkerton returned to the States and accepted a head coaching position at Gonzaga University. I ask, “How did you work your way back to San Diego?”
“UC San Diego had a Division III program. They were upgrading to Division II and moving all their coaching jobs to full-time. The guy who had been coach was a good friend of mine. He couldn’t go full-time in coaching because he’s a full-time history teacher. He would have to take a huge cut in pay. I liked Gonzaga and I liked Spokane, but there wasn’t a whole lot there for Charlie, my husband.”
I mention that the San Diego Crew Classic (an annual weekend of racing on Mission Bay; Harvard, Washington, Notre Dame, Yale — 4000 athletes, teams, and clubs from pretty much everywhere will be there) is on this weekend and wonder if UCSD has teams in the field.
“My novices and two boats of alumnae are racing. But my varsity is going up to Portland for a Division II regatta [Northwest Collegiate Rowing Championships], we have to compete in order to keep our NCAA dreams alive.”
“What is the San Diego Crew Classic to you? Is it a big deal? Not a big deal?”
“It is,” Pinkerton thinks for several seconds, “one of the great regattas in the world. Like the Head of the Charles Regatta, it’s an event.”
“Tell me about your Crew Classic teams.”
Pinkerton says, “Rowing has taken off in college. Title IX was finally interpreted to say, ‘You have to count football too.’ They have something like a 160-man roster on football. So [after women’s sports were awarded more money], rowing and soccer and softball really benefited. Rowing sprung up in places like Alabama and Kansas and Iowa.
“But, there are still not enough people who row as juniors. We have a lot of walk-ons. Probably, 90 percent of people who row started in college. There’s a collegiate category called ‘novice rowing.’ Novice rowing is your first year of collegiate rowing. So, you could start rowing as a junior and still be a college novice. We have a collegiate novice boat in the Classic and then a second novice 8, I think they call it Collegiate B.”
“Is that JV?”
“It would be athletes 9 through 16 on the novice team.”
“So, the second string?”
“We don’t call it that, they do.”
“What do you want your athletes to get out of this weekend on Mission Bay?”
“What you want to do with your novices is teach them the way of crew, inspire them to stick with rowing. When we’re training, we’re out there on our own. On campus you’re unique in a crazy kind of way. You row — you’re the people who get up early.
“When you go to the Crew Classic and see that there are 5000 or 8000 athletes ranging from 13 years old to their early 80s, you see that you’re part of a worldwide cult. It’s a great thing for them to see how much history and passion there is around the sport and that they’re not alone.”