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Larry Gluckman: He Did Something More

BY ANDY ANDERSON
PHOTO BY IGOR BELAKOVSKIY

Rowing lost a giant on March 30. Word spread quickly that Larry Gluckman had died. How could it not have? Larry had so many admirers and people whom he had helped that the LG network got the word out at cyber speed. I hadn’t seen Larry in a while but I had talked with him last summer when he gave me details of the 1973 race in Heidelberg, Germany, where he and other US team members won the famous Martini Achter eight.

Over the past 40 years that I knew him, Larry delighted in telling stories and spinning theories about rowing, many of which found their way into my columns. When Larry got into a story, the listener was hit with a tidal wave of enthusiasm, energy and humor. Larry brought these same qualities to his coaching and the countless coaching clinics he gave. You walked away from listening to Larry thinking, “Boy, I’d like to row for him.”

He introduced me to a workout that is famed for its intensity, a workout that builds confidence once you live through it. At racing ratings: 20 on, 5 off, 20 on, 5 off, 20 on. Minute and a half rest. Repeat three more times. That’s a 2K. Rest five minutes and repeat two to three more times. We have always called these pieces “Gluckers.” Generations of rowers have suffered through it but appreciated that it made them tougher.

Gluckman’s Theorem was what I dubbed an important piece of research that he told me about. It began with a letter to me:

 Most of my old rowing buddies have female offspring. Someone said that Larry Gluckman has a theory about this: “If a guy does a lot of intense seat racing, he burns up all of his male sperms and can produce only girls.” What do you know about this, Doc?

Sign Me,

Y Chromosomes

In my column, I replied: 

Isn’t Larry Gluckman great? Just when you think you’ve heard it all, along comes a new Gluckerism. This is the man who said, “Anything can happen in rowing. It’s an outdoor sport.” He’s rowing’s answer to Yogi Berra.

Although this isn’t exactly my field, what the heck, how difficult can the miracle of human birth be? I’m not sure that your phrasing “the male sperms” is exactly on target, but let’s not quibble over details.

This sounds like a variant of the old Wearing-Jockey-Shorts-Causes-Infertility urban legend. You know, by raising body temperature, the sperm are cooked beyond the magic point. It is true that at temperatures above 104 degrees, the motility of sperm is reduced and the creation of new sperm (spermatogenesis) is slowed. But according to research, the effect is short-lived, only a half hour or so, barely enough time to get the boat docked, out of the water, and into the rack. So, unless Mr. Gluckman is talking about coed gymnastic sex in the boat, right after a piece, I think that we can safely rule out higher temperatures as a causal agent.

I went to a New Year’s party and looked around. National teamer Tom Bohrer was there with his two daughters. Tom Kiefer carried in his girl. Greg Montesi had daughter Piper in tow. Andy Sudduth chased Zoë and Sophie around.

I wonder what Glucker would say about another interesting thing that all of these guests had in common: Their wives were all oarswomen of note, having earned basketfuls of medals themselves. So is Glucker’s theorem somehow made stronger by the presence of these strong X chromosomes?

Surprisingly, Gluckman’s Premise, unscientific though it may be, has some support in the rowing world. When airing this strange bit of reproductive theory, I heard a corollary. Strokes do have boys. Strokes–they never get seat-raced much. Strokes–the stylists in the boat. Strokes–they don’t really crank it the way the guys behind them in the engine room do. Hmm. Stroke of the world champion 8 in 1987 John Pescatore has twin boys.

Said one old oar who wished to be kept anonymous, “Show me an oarsman with sons, and I’ll show you a guy who tanked a lot of pieces.”

So where is all this headed? In 20 years, look for some awesome American women’s crews.

P.S. Did I mention that Larry Gluckman, seat-raced to within an inch of his life while trying to make the ’68 and ’72 Olympic squads and a spare for the ’76 Olympic eight, is himself the father of three–count ’em, three– great girls, Meg, Katie, and Anna?

Larry used to tell his crews a story about his father. “My father grew up in the Depression, and his father was out of work. So my father decided that he needed to get a job to help out at home. He was 16 and applied for a position at a market stocking shelves. There were probably 20 applicants for one position, and there wasn’t anything about my father that stood out. He went in for an interview, talked to the boss, and was told that they’d get in touch with him. It sounded like a hollow promise. On his way out of the office, my father noticed a broom lying down near the door. He picked it up and stood it in the corner and left. The boss came running out and said, ‘You’re hired. You didn’t have to do that, but you did.’ My father used to tell us that story and end by saying, “Always do something extra; that’s how to live your life.”

His crews undoubtedly got the message. Larry always did something extra. He spread around his knowledge, his warmth, and his humanity to anyone in his orbit. We should all try to live as Larry Gluckman did.

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