By Craig McKay
“Now I can die in peace!” Those were the words gasped by then 73-year-old Duncan Spencer from the bow seat as we beat Palm Beach Rowing Club in the Men’s E4 Open Final at the Masters Nationals Regatta in Sarasota, Florida, in 2013. It was a photo finish and we didn’t know we won by a bow ball until our teammates shouted the glorious news from the shoreline. Palm Beach is a rolodex club, meaning they bring in talent of rowing pedigree to major regattas. Duncan knew them all as they, like Duncan, were former elite rowers . . . which made the victory sweeter for all of us but especially for Duncan. The line up was Ralph Stedman, myself, Mark Comtois, Duncan, and my wife Susan McKay. This race was the most memorable of all my medals at Masters National competitions since 2006.
Why? Three years earlier, the same four rowers, but with my daughter Steffanie coxing, won the event at the 2010 Masters Nationals Regatta in a come-from-behind victory over the Occoquan Boat Club. In that race, Duncan was stroking the boat and I was again 3 seat. I remember Steffanie encouraging us as we clawed our way back from a half boat length deficit at the 500 meter mark. Inch by inch we came back. Then with 150 meters to go, she yelled, “We can do this . . . but you have to pull harder than you have ever pulled before!” “Bring up the rating!” she yelled. I hear her scream, “I got 37, we got 39, 41!” I’m gasping and thinking, “I can’t do this.” Then I realize the stroke sitting in front of me bringing up that rating is 70 years old, 19 years older than me. “To hell with it, let’s do this!” I tell myself. Again, it was a photo-finish victory. It was similar to the Sarasota race, but at Sarasota we were ahead and Palm Beach was inching up on us!
We were so proud of that first win, we commissioned a trophy for the event and named the trophy the Spencer Cup. The inscription reads, “In honor of Duncan Spencer, A good oar, good man, and good friend.” It took us three years to win the trophy back, and we did it at Sarasota in the only way Duncan would have wanted it. Duncan has been rowing more years than I have been alive and he is a role model for every rower at Capital and across the nation. Last year at the Masters Nationals in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, I again had the honor of rowing a four to victory with Duncan, but it was up one age group to the Men’s F4. It was a great win but a much easier win as we had open water at the finish.
This is what I love about Capital. Training hard throughout the year, building camaraderie and lasting friendships with teammates with mutual goals, then peaking at the National Championships to race—and beat!— top clubs from across the country. I rowed four years in college, took 25 years off, then resuscitated my rowing skills and conditioning with Club AM for a year, finally moving to the Comp Program where I have been enjoying my passion for rowing ever since! Go Capital!