Coach's Eye

Hello Anteater friends, family, and alumni,

The rowing “season” has finally come to an end. As we look back in reflection, it's safe to say that this is by far the strangest season in all my seven years. However, I’m not here to write about our hardships and woes mostly because of Greg Springer, class of ’83. If you know Springer's personality, “Zdarkprince” himself called me and asked: “AJ do you have a bad attitude? Your last newsletter didn’t seem like yourself.” He was completely right. I too let the lack of normality and pandemic burnout get to me, but with a splash of cold water and a quick shake of the face I’m back to being glass-half-full from here on out.

In reflection of this past season I’m going to lean in on the words leadership & growth.

The Sullivan Effect

First and foremost we are happy to welcome back Michael "Sul" "Sully" Sullivan to the team (cue in round of applause please). 


Leadership: From anyone who knows Sully, or has spent 5 minutes with the guy, you know he is a true student of the sport and loves to teach rowing. He is selfless in his nature and approach to rowing, and never backs down from a technical challenge. I've known Mike for many years now, but this past year I've been fortunate enough to work alongside him and watch his leadership with the Irvine team. Over the years Sul has collected a fleet of older singles and has now generously made them available for the team to row out of Newport Aquatic Center.

Growth: Sullivan is a fantastic teacher. He's patient, thorough, and direct. In a year with no outer squad racing, Mike directed the North Star metric to be complete oarsmen, teaching everyone the fundamentals and how to race in singles. We both believe there is huge value in knowing how to safely operate and move a small boat with poise. The investment will pay off dividends in our return to team boats.

Film by: Anand Lijo '20
The Resilient Ones

I've reflected on this piece for some time now wanting to highlight individuals on their leadership and growth, especially our captains and presidents (Dalhia Ordaz '21, and Tyler Williams '21). These student leaders have invested more emotional and physical energy than you can fathom. However this goes out to the entire team of women and men. Everyone managed the pandemic differently and this team was no different. Vince Mestre '71 wrote to me, "I am impressed and glad you have kept things alive at a time when it would have been so easy to just let it die to be revived later. Great job." Vince is completely right. It would have been easy to turn the shop sign to closed. However, that's not Irvine Rowing. Through Irvine Rowing's history what hasn't killed it has made it stronger and this is just one more of those moments. The true praise to keeping the program alive and thriving are the student-athletes. This past season was fogged with doubt and uncertainty and we had a group that were committed to the greater hope of spring racing. But, December rolled around and things were not looking promising to compete. Cameron Rakshani, one of our graduating seniors started to become distant, which led to the coach's wondering: "Is he ok?" In typical Cameron fashion, I then received a call apologizing for his absence and an explanation that with everything going on he had started to doubt whether it was worth it to continue. Before I could speak a word, he then asked if he could come back out on the water and finish the season. I stayed silent and began to smile. At that moment I knew how strong our culture is at Irvine; that whatever happens, we will be just fine. Luckily, we will be getting Cameron back next season for a 5th year to lead and help echo our culture onto the next generation. Cameron and the rest of the squad couldn't be more ready to compete.

One Louder!


Austin Brooks
Head Coach

Huge Congratulations to our Senior Graduates!
Thank you to our graduating seniors. We owe the future to you!

Fourth Years
Tyler Williams - Captain / President
Dahlia Ordaz - Captain / President
Denver Cohen
Liz Garcia
Valerie Chin
Anabelle Cheng

Third Years
Lillie Kuhn
Emily Huang

Second Years
Alexandra Huff (returning as a graduate student)
Cole Bohlen
Andreas Bager (rowing as a graduate student at UCSD)
Connor Contreras
Isaiah Deal
The Man with the Golden Heart: Roger James
Written by Michael Thompson '71
Fall of 1967

I first met Roger in the fall of 1967. We were a group of freshmen who were attracted to rowing by the posters all over the UCI campus. They were looking for tall people and we fit that category, so why not. I grew up in Newport Beach and had always been intrigued by the crew teams practicing in the harbor.  And, I basically knew how to operate an oar since I had a little rowboat. Or, so I thought.

Well, we all showed up at the boathouse on the designated morning at zero dark thirty to see what it was all about. Duvall Hecht was the head coach and Kent Flemming was going to be our freshman coach. I believe none of us had much experience in athletics prior to this, so we had no idea what we were in for.  The roster ended up being Roger James, Mark Gantner, Dave Mauer, Roger Claypool, Dave Taylor, Ken Lewis, myself, and Dennis Sweeny as coxswain. Roger was a tough guy and showed up for every practice, rain or shine.

Spring of 1968 Racing Season
We did not have a lot of success during our Freshmen year. After winning our first race against San Diego State, it was all downhill from there. The bottom line: our little group of freshmen, including Roger, became good friends and all looked forward to coming back the next year.

Fall of 1968
Our sophomore year was very interesting. After training all fall and winter, Duvall decided that some of the sophomores were really tough and dedicated to his rowing style and chose to elevate us to the varsity boat for the coming racing season. The chosen ones were Roger James, Ken Lewis, and me. Roger was a strong guy and was tough in seat races, as we all were. Bob Ernst was the JV coach that year and he really pushed his guys to whip us whenever we raced in practice.  The lineup Duvall selected prevailed most of the time and that lineup stood: Roger rowed #3, Ken Lewis #2 and I was bow. The rest were Mike Kemp at stroke, Barney Voorhees #7, Wyn Hack #6, Paul Ryan #5, Dave Coulter #4 and Dave Redfield as cox. Roger and the rest of the sophomores were proud of the honor bestowed upon us.

Spring Racing of 1969

That season was a big success with victories over most of our competition, including UCIs first victory over CAL Berkeley in a photo finish at Newport and a victory over Stanford. The sophomores, including Roger James, had proven themselves worthy of Duvall’s confidence. The JV boat had a great season, as they should have, with all the seasoned oarsmen that Ernie was coaching.

Roger was a big part of this success. He was big and strong, had the reach and form and was probably the best of our little gang of underclassmen who had made the varsity boat that year. We all had different majors and different class schedules so we didn’t pal around that much during the day, but at zero dark thirty in the morning we were all there, ready to go.


Fall of 1969

Duvall had retired and Ernie became our new head coach. We had lost the core of the previous year’s team to graduation, such as Mike Kemp at stroke, Barney Voorhees, Paul Ryan and cox Dave Redfield. However, we still had seniors Wyn Hack and Dave Coulter and some of our original freshman class including Dave Taylor, Dave Mauer and Mark Gantner, who rowed in the very successful JV boat the previous year.

Ernie was the evil taskmaster of conditioning. Lots of running, and running, and more running. Roger was right there at the head of the pack whether it was a distance run around the upper bay or timed running straight up our favorite motorcycle track, which was absolute torture. We all were in the best condition of our lives when the season started, especially Roger.

Roger had a girlfriend at this time named Merrill.

Spring Racing of 1970

We had another successful season topped off by victories over CAL at Berkeley and a win over UCLA, who went on to win the Western Sprints that year. Ernie decided to take a 4+ to the IRA to finish the racing season, but Roger was not coming. We had a great time back there and after a dismal start in our first heat went on to qualify for and win the Petite Final.

Fall of 1970

We had a real shocker over the summer as Ken Lewis, of the original frosh 3, committed suicide. Very sad! A gut punch, it was not to be our only blow. I had been working on fishing boats all summer and had little contact with any of the guys. We had several guys from the 1970 varsity back and were ready to go to work. It was obvious from the start that something was up with Roger. He just did not have the drive or stamina for some reason. We gave him the encouragement he deserved, but he just was not performing.  He was still the same good friend and we all had a great time prepping for the racing season. Ernie had no comment.

Spring Racing 1971

We had a lackluster season, which culminated in a silver medal in the 4+ at the Western Sprints.  Unfortunately, Roger was not part of the varsity boat and rowed in the JV boat for the season. The rumor was he had knee troubles. The season ended with a lot of consternation.

We graduated and I went to work in the fishing business. That next winter I found out Roger had died of Leukemia. He had rowed his final year with only he and Ernie knowing the situation. They’d probably known going back to the IRA’s the year before. Roger wanted to finish what he had started with his freshmen teammates. I cannot imagine how he did it. Most of us would probably have taken a different path.   

Roger was a great friend to all of us during our four years rowing at UCI. He was a hard worker in the weight room, while running drills and in the boat. His unexpected passing was heartbreaking. We have no details on the funeral and I assume it was a quiet family affair.


Summer of 1971

A brand new Italian Donoratico racing shell was purchased by Ernie and Stuart Gibson for the team.  The new boat was named ROGER JAMES to commemorate Roger’s courage and desire to be the best oarsman he could be. The new boat was used sparingly for the first few seasons as it was very difficult to balance according to Ernie. But then in 1974 the UCI varsity, rowing the Roger James, narrowly missed winning the Varsity finals in the Western Sprints at Burnaly Lake, British Columbia. The Huskies defeated the Irvine 8 by just .08 of a second and the oarsmen were proud of their performance in the Roger James. 

John Davis, who rowed #7 in that varsity 8 in the 1974 Western Sprints final, was instrumental in pushing for the new boat to be named ROGER JAMES.  John said: 

“I remember Roger as the man whose place I took in the Varsity eight in 1971, my first year of rowing. I was far from a match for his prowess. I recall that he was kind and tolerant toward my cluelessness and how respected he was by his peers. He was pretty weak by the end of the season. I envy those who got to know him so well through the crew. This is a wonderful thing to do in memory of one of the greats of those days. It’s an honor to have been a part of that era of UCI Crew.” 

Then on April 8th,  2007 there was a dedication ceremony at the boathouse for the christening of another new varsity shell. The name of the new boat would, once again, be the ROGER JAMES. This event was attended by many of Roger's friends and family including Wyn Hack, Dave Mauer, Dave Coulter, Vince Mestre, Merrill, Roger’s mother, myself and many others.

For the 4 years that I knew and rowed with Roger all I can say is he was a tough SOB and a great guy. Nothing more needs to be said. Special thanks to Vince Mestre, Bob Ernst, Dave Taylor, John Davis and our old scrap books for details.

Mike Thompson '71
FoUCIR Stuart at Large

Leadership Academy 

During the COVID19 crisis, the team formalized leadership and academic and professional growth aspects rowers engage in outside the shell, creating the UCI Crew Leadership Academy.  The effort includes helping to develop club strategy, team comradery and development, academic achievement in the face of the crisis, and working with a growing cadre of UCI former rowers and friends as mentors. 

The UCI Rowing Leadership Academy really boils down to the coalitions between rowing and life and how we as coaches, alumni, and mentors can help facilitate the bridge between University life and beyond. 

Khalid Elassaad, a 6'8, 220lb walk-on oarsman, four year oarsman, captain of the crew, president of the crew, honors computer science student, Team 100 member, who graduated in 2018 recently called me and we had a lovely phone conversation.

After graduation, Khalid accepted a software engineering job at Tableau Software and after two short years found himself missing the leadership aspect in his life with which he excelled during his tenure at UCI Rowing. Khalid applied for a Product Manager role at Tableau and (this shouldn't come as a shocker) was offered the role. Khalid told me his knowledge of Product Management was minimal from an academic standpoint but attests his knowledge of leadership and management back to the crew. He describes his role as Product Manager as the person everyone looks at to represent the team when $&3T hits the fan, much like being down 5-6 seats at the 1000 meter mark and your coxswain is calling for more from you. You don't have time to twiddle your thumbs and look around. You have to act and act now. With a big breath, you stay calm, cool, and collected, refine your catches, stay long, and dig deep. Khalid looks at the pain-points, assesses the data, and makes an educated decision.

During Khalid's time at Tableau, the company was purchased by Salesforce. Recently, with the acquisition finalized and the pandemic coming to an end, the job market has started back up in force and many ranking people have left the company for other opportunities. In other words, some seats have opened up in the varsity boat. Khalid's supervisors have acknowledged the training and work he has accomplished thus far and are looking to seat race him into the varsity boat. Unknowing of Khalid's true background, they were hesitant on Khalid burning out or, worse yet, quitting due to failure.


Khalid assured them that he embraces challenges and even failure. This is what helps him grow. If you never extend yourself to your maximum, you will never know where the ceiling lies. Khalid saw this challenge as his shot at seat racing for the top eight. If he wins he gets his promotion. If he doesn't, he is right back to learning in the JV. That is the hard-won perspective of a successful rower.


Khalid is just one of the many examples of our program's lessons extending far beyond the scope of racing boats on the water.


The Friends of UCI Rowing (FoUCIR) works hard behind the scenes to ensure that the rowing tradition continues at Irvine. As coach Brooks mentioned, our on and off campus culture is strong, and we hope that these stories resonate with you. When you give to FoUCIR you are ensuring these young athletes can continue to create stories of their own. Stories of leadership, hardships, triumphant victories, and bitter defeats all tell a tale and create everlasting friendships. 


We have two near term action items we would like to complete

First is our push to round out Team 100 with 100 members. We have 43 so far, and our goal seems tantalizingly close! The contribution to qualify for Team 100 is $1500 annually (or $125 per month). If we reach our goal, we can fully cover the crew’s principal operating costs, including Head Coach AJ Brooks’ well-deserved compensation. Many of you may not realize the incredible value that AJ brings to this program and how instrumental he has been to develop fast boats and enrich the very culture we all hold so dear as UCI Rowing Alumni.


Our second near-term action item is to fund our COVID relief scholarships. We have two exemplary student-athletes currently on the docket and Coach Brooks sums up the need nicely: "Alex and Connor are about to be 6th year oarsmen (as grad students) in the program with a year of eligibility left on their clock. I have complete and utter trust in them to not only carry on the culture to the next generation but to continue our pursuit toward a National Championship. If I have coached you in the past 7 seasons I'm personally asking you for your help."


Thanks All!  On behalf of FoUCIR, the team, and the coaching staff we want to thank all of our donors big or small for your contributions throughout the 2020/21 season!


August 1st 2020 - June 15th 2021 / 70 Donors / $82,065.00 Raised


Brian Atwood, Brian Frank, Bruce Ibbetson, Budge Collins, Christer Fiege-Kollmann, Christina Basile, Christopher Romberg, Craig Sandberg, Dan Angress, David Graham, David Heimerl, David Lebel, Deborah Sigalos, Don Burns, Facebook, Frank Jameson, George Basile, George Stone, Gregory Rose, Guy Gottschalk, James Wickenhaeuser, Jay Collins, Jeff Brown, Jeff Emdee, Jeff Draper, Jeffery Kiser, John Davis, John Segui, John Sutton, Justin Hart, Katherine Basile-Fero, Khalid Elassaad, Kim Reynolds, Kristen Stephen, Golden Gate Foundation, Mark Massman, Mark Oemcke, Michael Aguiar, Michael Eastwood, Michael Lebrun, Michael Maxwell, Christine Lee Maxwell, Michael Thompson, Mike Beanan, Peter Kobrak, Richard Bradburne, Richard Heimerl, Rick Peterson, Rob Walker, Robert Newman, Robert Gibson, Rod Cohen, Ronald Lind, Roy Beven, Stephen Zotovich, Stuart Gibson, SalesForce, Ted Weyand, Theodore Khachaturian, Thomas Kirksey, Timothy Watenpaugh, Todd Canfield, Tom Wohlstadter, Travis Boaz, Vince Mestre, Warren Payne, Wesley Hein, William Grant, William McGovern

Keep in mind that if you work for a company that matches donations please take advantage, everything helps!


Thank you,

David Heimerl '01



Next steps coming soon but in the meantime: One Louder
Copyright © 2021 Friends of UCI Rowing, All rights reserved.

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