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Remembering Larry Gluckman

BY ED MORAN
PHOTOS BY PETER SPURRIER, COURTESY OF JOHN GRAVES

John Graves wasn’t focused on rowing when he was still a high school athlete. He intended to follow his two older brothers into Trinity College, but he wanted to play soccer — until the cold day that he first met Larry Gluckman while on a visit to the college as a 15-year-old high school student.

Gluckman invited Graves to come out on the launch for a practice. Both of his brothers, Peter and Tom, were in the varsity eight that Gluckman was taking out, and because it was 28-degrees, he suggested that the young Graves put on a survival suit for his time on the water.

“After all, it was 28 degrees,” John Graves recalled. “I declined and decided just to wear a fleece jacket. When he noticed I was shivering, Larry turned to me with a smirk and said, ‘John, I tell the boys, there is no such thing as bad weather, just poor choice of clothing.’

“That summer Larry and my two older brothers won the 2005 Temple Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta. At the time, I was an aspiring soccer player, but this achievement made a lasting impact on me — one that still very much affects me today. It was a masterclass from Larry on programmatic alchemy — a lesson on how to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.”

“That summer Larry and my two older brothers won the 2005 Temple Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta. At the time, I was an aspiring soccer player, but this achievement made a lasting impact on me — one that still very much affects me today. It was a masterclass from Larry on programmatic alchemy — a lesson on how to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.”

-John Graves

Yesterday afternoon, Graves found it difficult to tell that story.

Gluckman fell ill, and Tuesday morning the 74-year-old who dedicated his entire adult life to coaching, from when he was an undergraduate student-athlete at Northeastern University to Graves’ last campaign, died surrounded by family.

The details of what happened remain unclear, but according to what close friends have said is that Gluckman had undetected leukemia that was discovered after he suffered a stroke and was taken to a hospital in Burlington, Vermont.

“Larry made the trip down to Sarasota, to watch me race at 2021 Olympic Trials. My journey in the sport was coming to an end and he wasn’t going to miss it for the world. Larry is True North for me,” Graves said.

After helping Graves win the singles event at U.S. Olympic Trials I last month in Sarasota, Fla.

“It’s impossible for me to articulate the scale of his impact on me. He was an unwavering source of wisdom, energy, and support for me on every step of my journey in the sport. It was a dream to cross the line at trials and salute him, one step down, one step to go. 

“We were planning our trip to Lucerne when Larry began to get sick. We had spoken about plans as recently as Friday. Prior to his passing, his daughter, Kate, told me that Larry wanted to make sure I was taken care of, that I kept focused on the goal, and that he loved me. I still can’t stop crying thinking about it. It’s the most Larry thing possible. Totally selfless and coaching until his final breaths.”

To those who knew Larry Gluckman, Graves’ story is not unusual, but an example of who the legendary coach was at his core. He loved coaching, and he was drawn to others who committed themselves to the sport.

“Larry brought a lot of good will, a lot of joy, a lot of fun to the process,” said Yale men’s head coach Steve Gladstone who has known Gluckman since he coached him in the U.S. men’s eight in 1973.

“Everywhere he coached, the years he was at Princeton, the years he was at Trinity, there was always a sense of good spirit in what they were doing. It was never glum, it was never heavy. He brought to his teams that he coached the joy of racing, competition, camaraderie. He was a very, very warm human being.”

Born and raised in Hampton Bays, New York, where he was a standout high school athlete, Gluckman’s long career in rowing began at Northeastern University where he was a walk-on athlete to the crew team.

By the time he was a sophomore, Gluckman was voted most improved, and by the end of his junior season, he was voted the Most Valuable Oarsman. His senior year, Gluckman captained the crew that lost only once (to Harvard) in the 1968 regular season and finished fourth in both the Eastern Sprints and IRA Championship.

Gluckman also rowed on the US national team at the Pan Am Games, World Championships, and Olympics between 1967 and 1976.

Gluckman’s collegiate coaching career began at Columbia University. After Columbia, Gluckman returned to Northeastern as an assistant coach. In 1980, he was named head coach at Princeton University and helped establish his teams as one of the elites in the collegiate ranks. In addition to his years at Columbia, Northeastern, and Princeton, Gluckman spent 2015-2019 coaching at the Florida Rowing Center.

He was inducted into the Northeastern Varsity Club Hall of Fame and was a Power 10 honoree in 2011.

Everywhere Gluckman worked, he left a legacy as one a caring and dedicated man and coach, friends and fellow coaches recalled.

“Larry and I came to Princeton in the fall of 1979, he was the frosh heavy coach and I was the frosh light coach,” said Curtis Jordan. “He has been a lifelong friend and mentor of mine ever since. When I think of Larry, I think of his generosity. He was beyond generous with his knowledge, time, and energy. Every athlete and every fellow coach knew they were getting 100 percent of Larry, all the time. He loved rowing and the people in the sport. The sport and all of us in it will miss him.”

Following Princeton, Gluckman led Dartmouth College before beginning work with Concept2 as a marketing representative, while also coaching at the Craftsbury Sculling Center.

In addition to his time as a collegiate coach, Gluckman coached on the world stage as an assistant coach for the 1979 Pan American Team, as the 1980 Olympic Coach for the women’s double scull and coxless pair, at the 1981 World Championship and 1984 Olympics, where he coached the women’s coxed four.

Gluckman returned to collegiate coaching in 2002 at Trinity College where he stayed until he retired in 2009.

IRA commissioner Gary Caldwell, a friend for over 49 years, remembered Gluckman’s time at Trinity as some of the happiest years of his coaching career.

“We had a number of lengthy talks before he took that job,” Caldwell said. “And I don’t think I ever saw him happier as a coach at the college level then I did during his time there because he got to do what he loved best about the job, which was coaching. And he had tremendous success at Trinity, not just with the Henley crews but in general, he lit the place up the entire time.”

Caldwell said he first met Gluckman when he was a young coach and was invited to a pre-Olympic training camp as a coxswain coach.

“I was in my first or second year of coaching at Trinity, and he was coaching when I first met him and I was invited to pre-Olympic training camp up at Dartmouth as a coxswain coach and I spent a lot of time in the launch with him. I found him then to be one of the best coaches at sharing.

“He always felt that nothing was worth keeping secret. He was willing to share anything and everything he knew about the sport of rowing with anybody who wanted to sit down with him and talk about it. Keeping secrets didn’t make your boats fast, which as a young coach I found really, really fascinating.

“And he was always willing to mentor somebody and give them advice, and I think the part of his legacy is that the people who rowed for him admired him and wanted to do their best, not only for themselves but for him too.”

After Trinity, Gluckman and his wife Sara moved to Glover, Vermont, where he started the Small Boat Training Center at Craftsbury, which developed into the Green Racing Project. During his years leading the elite rowing programs at Craftsbury, he coached several crews onto the U23 and senior national teams, including the 2016 men’s quad that won trials and went to Lucerne for the final Olympic qualifier. John and Peter Graves rowed in that boat.

Steve Whelpley, who now coaches the Craftsbury elite sculling group, remembers Gluckman “as a believer.” He still followed numbers with a practical diligence, but he believed in the potential of people. The number of athletes in the world that drove themselves to higher forms of themselves as a result of Larry Gluckman is innumerable.

“On a physical level, Larry gave me the gift of a mustang suit without which I would have surely frozen at the helm in Craftsbury. On an intangible level, his example gave me the promise of a balanced life with heaps of success only overshadowed by the mounds of inspiration he provided to the world around him.”

A celebration of Larry’s life will be held in the summer. In lieu of flowers, a scholarship fund has been set up in Larry’s name at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center to support bringing new people to rowing or donations may be sent to D.U.M.P and their environmental justice efforts. Notes to the family can be sent via the Curtis-Britch funeral home’s obituary page.

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