Ric helps an unidentified camper launch during the Reagan era.
Associate Director Ric Ricci has coached rowing for 36 years, including 27 at Craftsbury. For our November coach profile, I spoke with Ric about rowing, the old days at Craftsbury, and other topics. Ric's currently the head men's coach at Connecticut College in New London, CT, where he lives with his wife Fawn. His full bio can be read here.
CSC: You rowed at Trinity, but was that your first exposure to rowing?
No. I remember my first exposure to rowing of any sort was with my dad at a movie. I was probably in 2nd or 3rd grade, and in those days, they'd have newsreel footage before the film. That day, there were some clips of the IRA regatta. It totally caught my attention; long boats that looked kind of like a galley ship. I remember thinking "Wow, that's really cool." When my family subsequently moved to Poughkeepsie, NY, and I found out that there was a rowing team at the high school, I knew I was going to join when I got the chance.
An interesting related story was that at the time, football and rowing were seen as complementary sports. My rowing coach was also my freshman football coach. His first day of coaching rowing was my first day of rowing. He was a very inspirational coach, and we sort of grew together, but in retrospect, he didn't know much about rowing.
CSC: You rowed for Norm at Trinity, right?
CSC: Having known Norm only in his role as director, can you tell us a little about rowing for Norm in his "salad days" so to speak?
Norm was very much like he is now: the same level of intensity, passion, drive, attention to administrative detail, his willingness to take a stand - very much a passionate leader.
He was very very motivational as a coach. He really led by example, with the manner of a general. You certainly wouldn't talk back to him - though I did a couple of times. He was and is a father figure and a great role model for me and countless others who rowed under him.
CSC: What was Craftsbury like in the early 80s when you started?
Craftsbury was really funky - like super granola crunchy. Very very relaxed, comfortable, rustic.
The physical plant was obviously very different. The current offices were essentially a house. At that point, the marketing director lived in his office/bedroom with his girlfriend, while Russell Sr. lived upstairs. What is currently the front office was a barn, sort of a cow stall. One summer, some staff sold ice cream out the window of the barn that eventually became the front office.
The food and dining hall was more funky and informal. Sometimes people talk about home-cooking at the Center now, but that was really home-cooking. There were some good cooks to be sure, but others were much more hit or miss. One new cook overdid the jalapenos in the cornbread and nearly killed everyone it was so hot. Another cook didn't know which end was up and we just didn't have any food for a night or two during his brief tenure.
The dorms were pretty crude as well. Really as I think of Craftsbury there was no formality at all. Campers and staff just kind of hung out and sculled, with a lot more field trips. We'd go dancing at night in Morrisville at the Charlmont or to bars in Hardwick. This was all back in 1982.
It wasn't just Craftsbury though, Vermont itself was a lot more funky then. It was really cool, kind of a tough-hayseed-farmer-hippie environment.
Through all of this though, there was a real family feeling at Craftsbury. Russell Sr. provided a home for people - he provided a home for me when I really needed it. He's done that for a lot of people, a lot of staff, and in spite of the funky surroundings or what have you, that generosity really inspired a lot of loyalty, a real family feeling. Family and that loyalty needs to be remembered and honored, and I hope that's never lost at the Center.
CSC: What's the best change you've seen during your time at Craftsbury and what do you miss most from the early years?
The best change is easy - the improved equipment. The shells, the launches, the video - it all is outstanding, it all works exceptionally well. I was once out in the launch with our boatman at the time, and honest to God, I had to be restrained from throwing the malfunctioning engine overboard, it was just so frustrating.
Another day, the batteries on the old video camera weren't working. So we ran an extension cord down the hill from the dining hall to the dock. I stood on the dock and videotaped from there as scullers went by. So our equipment now is a dream. The food is consistently better as well.
The biggest change is that Craftsbury's success has led to higher and higher levels of expectation. We're "too corporate" now - of course that can be said of the whole world. The world's gotten more sanitized and standardized - on the whole for the better. But whenever you gain something there's a loss as well - that can't be escaped. I sort of miss the feeling of being off the grid, figuratively at least, where we were in the old days.
CSC: I always think of you as having a really cerebral, broad reaching analysis of the sculling stroke - where does this multi-disciplinary approach come from or how has it evolved?
It's come from a couple places. I have a natural tendency toward abstraction - I was a philosophy major at Trinity. I have always been one to ask questions, to ponder why or how things work. That provided the foundation for my explorations.
Secondly, working at a small school, I'm in a situation where I need to do my best to make a lot out of a little. I am driven to find ways to be more efficient, innovative and creative, and I've been fortunate enough to have a lot of latitude in my approach to coaching. The program came into being when I arrived here, so there were not years and years of history that can create resistance to experimentation or change.
I've also learned a lot about sculling and rowing by coaching at the Center. I feel that a coach should learn as much from the student as the student learns from the coach, and that's certainly been true during my time in Vermont. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people who've come, and will come, through the Center and have given me this great opportunity to learn so much from coaching them.
CSC: What event, result or row to this point has had the most meaning for you as a competitor? As a coach?
I have a lot of memorable moments. All the highs and lows - all have pushed and impacted me in one way or another. Sort of the yin and yang of it: the good times help me, the bad times help me. You can always gain from both. I approach this sport philosophically and come from the school of thought that if something doesn't kill you it makes you stronger.
I've enjoyed a lot of competitive success: winning the IRA by 15 lengths in the pair in '72, the '72 Olympic Trials, repeating the championship in 1973 with my inspirational pair partner - Dave Brown, Racing at Henley in '71 under Norm, winning the Dad Vail my freshman year, winning two New England championships. Losing in high school really drove me to get better and was just as valuable as the triumphs.
Sculling on Hosmer pond has provided a lot of great epiphanies as well.
CSC: In addition to the single, you've spent a lot of time in and around pairs. If forced to choose, single or the pair?
I really can't choose - each in their own way are fundamental to me. The boats are really linked in my mind - the single could be thought of as a squashed together pair.
The literal sense of having a partner (in the pair), is part of life - no man is an island after all, and you need partners in the boat, in life, whatever. My relationship to my pair partner, Dave Brown, plays a seminal role in my life.
But the single develops you as an individual and you need that growth to be a complete person as well. There's really no way to choose between the two as they're so linked.
CSC: What's the most common mistake you see campers making and how do you recommend correcting it?
Gripping the handles. When you put your hands on the oar handles - it is fundamental to the way you scull. The way your fingers rest on the handles will guide where you go in the sport.
My favorite drill that comes close to explaining this without direct instruction is sculling with the knuckle of the index finger and thumb only. Sculling with just those parts of your hand is the closest way to describe the proper approach to sculling without me sitting in the launch watching you.
CSC: You still do some racing of your own, right?
Yes, I still race the single a couple of times a year in head races. I injured my shoulder this past summer, which limited my racing and training, so I'm hoping to get back into it next year
Between family, coaching in Vermont and so forth, there's just not as much time to race as I may like - though I have the most patient wife and family in the world. They're very patient with my absence through large parts of the summer. Craftsbury is another home for me, and my family is very generous to support me in spending as much time as I do in Vermont.
Home body of water- Thames River
Favorite workout in single - 20' row, getting progressively faster every 5'.
Piece of gear you can't live without - polypro base layers. A good winter hat, and polypro long underwear - I have to stay warm.
Winter training: erg or tank - Tanks. Connecticut College has sculling tanks so we're really lucky there. Erg only on slides, but always with lots of cross training.