Crewing for TIME at ’84 Olympics

I wasn’t a kayaker in 1984. I had never sat in a kayak, never seen a kayak (except on TV), and didn’t know the first thing about paddling one. It wasn’t until I moved to the Pacific Northwest that I became a passionate paddler.

Likewise for rowing. Growing up in the Midwest, rowing just wasn’t the sport that it was on the coasts even though my youngest brother was on a crew team for Washburn University which had and still does have a respectable rowing team.  I never had the opportunity to watch a race firsthand.

Canoeing was something I may have tried once or twice as a kid on a lake with my Girl Scout troop or vacationing with my family somewhere. But I have little memory of it so the experience must not have been impressive.

The Olympic venue at Lake Casitas was a colorful place as you can see here in this photo of me walking through one of the main entrances.
The Olympic venue at Lake Casitas was a colorful place as you can see here in this photo of me walking through one of the main entrances.

Given my extensive background in each of these sports, I seemed the natural choice to be the reporter to cover those events for TIME Magazine when the 1984 Olympics came to Los Angeles. Once again, my home location then, on the north side of the San Fernando Valley, proved to be to my advantage. To me, this was plum assignment. I had to drive every day during the competition up to the Ojai Valley, about 90 minutes north, to Lake Casitas Lake where the kayaking, rowing and canoeing events were staged. The drive was relatively traffic free as I whizzed up the north side of the Valley and cut across to the 101 freeway to head on up towards Santa Barbara and Ojai.

Traffic during the ’84 Olympics was one of the big fear factors.  People were urged to work from home, to stagger their work hours if they had to go into the office, to take the time off and go to the Olympics in order to help minimize clogged freeways. In fact, many Angelenos left town, renting out their homes to Olympic ticket holders and cashing in on the demand for housing. So the dreaded deadlock on the freeways and city streets never materialized.  In fact, it was some of the fastest-flowing traffic that I could remember in all the years that I lived in that car-loving city.

Men compete in the kayak singles on Lake Casitas. The venue was like a 'mini-resort' to the athletes.
Men compete in the kayak singles on Lake Casitas. The venue was like a ‘mini-resort’ to the athletes.

The athletes competing in the Lake Casitas events were located in the Olympic Village in Santa Barbara. Initially, many of the teams complained that the distance between the Village and their venue was too far. But those concerns too soon vanished as people settled in and began to enjoy both the venue and the trip there.

As I wrote for TIME: “The site itself inspired festivity. Bright, Olympic pink roadside banners mark the two-lane highway as spectators near the north short venue. The spectator viewing area is bursting with vivid color. More than 31,000 annuals, marigold and petunias were trucked in and planted along with several sycamore and alder trees to create park-like setting. Spectators spread their blankets on a grassy knoll where they have apanoramic view of the 2,700 acre lake.”

The Swedish women's team give each other a big hug on the podium after receiving their gold medal for the 500 meter kayak doubles. Canada took silver and West Germany the bronze.
The Swedish women’s team give each other a big hug on the podium after receiving their gold medal for the 500 meter kayak doubles. Canada took silver and West Germany the bronze.

To the athletes, it was, as then Olympic rowing commissioner Barry Berkus put it: “almost like a resort.”  Because their primary quarters was located 28 miles away, a mini-village was created at the sight that overlooked the lake complete with a pool built especially for them.

The big names on the U.S. rowing team that everyone was pinning medal hopes upon were John Bigelow from Seattle. Bigelow’s chance for a medal chances was washed away by Finland’s powerful Pertti Karppinen but Brad Lewis from Los Angeles and his partner, Paul Enquist, also of Seattle, considered ‘dark horses’ surprised many by taking the gold in their doubles race. All three rowers figure prominently in journalist and author David Halberstam‘s masterful book about the ’84 men’s eight row team, “The Amateurs: the Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal.”   I recently read Halberstam’s book, right after having finished another good book about the sport, “The Boys in the Boat,” by Daniel James Brown. Both are excellent books, set in different time periods (Brown’s takes place before and up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin) and detailing the drama behind the dream.

A member of the Australian women's coxed four rowing team shows off her bronze medal to an admirer.
A member of the Australian women’s coxed four rowing team shows off her bronze medal to an admirer.

But it was the women’s eight who  thrilled the crowd by taking the first gold medal in for the U.S. in that event. Champagne flowed. Fans cheered. Autographs were signed. As I overheard one observer say:  “How things have changed in rowing. They’re getting autographs. It used to be lucky to get anyone to come.”

Olympic team members signed autographs for the fans.
Olympic team members signed autographs for the fans.

Indeed, the sport of rowing has grown even more popular. In 1981-82, only 43 NCAA schools had women’s rowing teams. Today, that number has more than tripled to 143, including Western Washington University in Bellingham, where I live. Over the years, I’m proud to say that several members of the women’s Division II championship crew teams have worked with me as my studio assistant.

As for the ’84 Olympic teams, the U.S. took home eight medals tying with Romania, one of the only Eastern bloc countries to participate in those Summer Games.  In fact, the Romanians took home more gold medals in rowing than any other country. They also cleaned up collecting ‘gold’ onshore from spectators as they sold Romanian t-shirts and model wooden shells to earn money to buy and take back with them stereo sound components.

The Romanian crew team sold miniature wooden sculls to spectators to earn money for stereo equipment.
The Romanian crew team sold miniature wooden sculls to spectators to earn money for stereo equipment.

Lake Casitas is again vying for to be the venue for the Olympics in 2024 if Los Angeles is selected in what would be the 40th year reunion of the Olympic Games. If it’s successful, I might see you there!

 

 

Years Later, First Day Brings Smiles and Tears

Students at Western Washington University and Whatcom Community College started classes this week for the fall quarter. Those who live in the WWU dorms arrived last weekend and moved in creating the usual traffic jam for the neighborhood as a steady stream of cars pulled into the surrounding campus parking lots. I always enjoy seeing the students return. My studio and home are located right off the WWU campus so I often stroll through the campus to take in the first day excitement. First year students usually show up with their parents, their arms loaded with all the belongings and necessities they’ve brought from home for their dorm room.  They are all smiles as they pull into the parking lots but by the time they say goodbye, there are usually a few tears as their son or daughter stays behind to begin to their college career.

Clutching his lunch bag, my son is ready to leave for his first day of school.
Clutching his lunch bag, my son is ready to leave for his first day of school.

It brings to mind my own experience of seeing our sons off on their first day of school.  And yes, I’ll admit tears sometimes well up in my eyes when I think about those wonderful times.  That happened recently when I was sorting through some of my old snapshots to place them in an album.  In the one of the negative envelopes were the priceless prints of my oldest son, taken on his very first day of kindergarten at Calahan Elementary School in Los Angeles.  He looked so small.  I had forgotten about those pictures but when I came across them was grateful that I had started then the tradition of taking a photograph of my sons on their first day of school.

Outside Calahan Elementary School on my son's first day of kindergarten. He looked so small.
Outside Calahan Elementary School on my son’s first day of kindergarten.

I remember taking his little hand in mind, his other hand clutching his lunch, as we walked through the playground gate towards the open kindergarten door. Other parents and their kids were already inside the classroom, introducing themselves to the attractive, young teacher named Melinda, and helping their kindergartener pick and settle into a place to sit.  There was an air of anticipation as the kids looked tentatively around the room at those who were to be their classmates,not only for kindergarten but for another six years. We knew only one little girl who had been in my son’s Mommy and Me class two years earlier.

My son was looking forward to kindergarten.  He had already attended two years of pre-school and needed new challenges. But I could tell that he wasn’t quite sure, as I bid him good-bye, if he was up to this. And I wasn’t certain that I was either.

My son takes a seat at his kindergarten desk and waits for class to start.
My son takes a seat at his kindergarten desk and waits for class to start.

The first time’s always the hardest, I kept telling myself, as I hugged him good-bye and made myself step out the door. I looked back from across the playground to see him sitting inside the classroom at the desk. The teacher was already attempting to take control of the class and make the kids feel welcome.  My son looked as if he was paying close attention. How I wished I could have stayed as a tiny observer for just that day.

Kindergartners, my son among them, parade out the classroom and across the playground at the end of their first day.
Calahan’s kindergarteners, my son among them, parade out the classroom and across the playground at the end of their first day.

That was a long day for me as I waited for the hours to pass until I could return to the school and pick him up. When I did, I had my camera with me and caught the kids on film as the teacher’s aide led them together out the door, across the kindergarten playground to the gate where parents, like myself, were patiently lined up to retrieve their kindergartener. It was an odd feeling, knowing that this would be the pattern for the next several years. And one, after that first day that I really didn’t think about as much until it came time for my son to leave for college.

The truck almost loaded on the day my son left for college.
The truck almost loaded on the day my son left for college.

Once again, I was saying good-bye but this time, I wouldn’t be the one to go with him as my husband was driving the loaded truck with my son while I stayed behind with our other two sons. And yes, I was teary-eyed as I hugged him when the last box had been put into the truck and the rear door pulled down and locked into place. I stood there at the end of the walk and sadly watched as they slowly drove away from the house. I have pictures from that day too and am glad I do.  Now, as I watch the students and their parents go through this same ritual each fall at the university next door, a smile comes to my face and a tear to my eye. And sometimes, as I did this year, I go home, pull out the photos of my own sons first day at school and remember.

WIth one last pet to our cat and a hug to me, my son headed off to college.
WIth one last pet to our cat and a hug to me, my son headed off to college.

 

Graduating My Assistant

Every year about this time I get a little sad.  That’s because it’s graduation time for many high school and college students. To be sure, they deserve to celebrate their years of hard work and accomplishment. But for me, the celebration is bittersweet when I have to say “Good-by” to my studio assistant.  I haven’t had to do this for three years so I guess I should be grateful. Still, I got a little teary-eyed when I said farewell and best wishes to my studio assistant, Megan Marler, on Thursday .

Megan graduated with honors from Western Washington University (WWU) this week with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology.  She headed out-of-town early Friday morning for a road trip to her home back in Colorado where she will soon be married on July 5.  I can hardly believe that it’s been a little more than three years since she first contacted me about the possibility of working with me as my assistant.

Megan is usually behind the camera with me, not in front, having worked for the past three years as my studio assistant.
Megan is usually behind the camera with me, not in front, having worked for the past three years as my studio assistant.

I was pretty impressed with Megan right from the beginning. She ‘cold-contacted’ me about working me after searching out my information on-line. She already had worked in the studio of a Colorado photographer. It so happened that my previous studio assistant, also a Western student, had just recently graduated and moved back to her home in Indonesia, when Megan contacted me.  The timing couldn’t have been better.  Megan hadn’t yet arrived in town but we set up a time to meet once she got here.

Although she had an interest in photography, she planned to pursue an education that would lead her to physical therapy or something similar. I don’t remember now how it was she came to enroll at WWU, but I’m glad she did.  It didn’t take her long to settle into student life here.  She quickly made the university’s women’s crew team. (I was thrilled to learn this, having covered rowing at the 1984 Olympics for TIME Magazine.) Her height, six-foot, and strength clearly gave her an advantage, both in rowing and as my assistant. I jokingly tell my clients when we’re on location with my assistant that they are my ‘human light stand’. But it’s hard work as they must hold and position my reflectors in order to place my light just as I want it on my subject. Sometimes they are standing in the weeds, in the water or on the rocks just out of my camera’s view, but close enough so that I get the light I want. Megan learned quickly and was often able to anticipate exactly where I’d like her to go before I even directed her.

Megan, who graduated with honors from WWU, shows off her diploma on the Western commons.
Megan, who graduated with honors from WWU, shows off her diploma on the Western commons.

She excelled on campus in her classes and on the row team. Her classload wasn’t ever light but she managed to do well in them all. At the same time, she was up every weekday, on the water and ready to practice with Western’s crew team by six a.m.  It didn’t take long for this inexperienced rower to make the varsity eight-woman boat. WWU’s women’s crew team is nationally regarded and they prove it year after year by having been selected to compete in the NCAA Division II National Rowing Championships 13 years straight.  They won the national title seven consecutive years from 2005 to 2011. Megan was on the team that represented WWU in 2013 and 2014, and went with them to Nationals in 2014 to win third.  The team wasn’t chosen to go to this year’s Nationals. But Megan, and four others of her teammates, were named National Scholar Athletes by the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association.

Megan sits second from the right in this photo of WWU's women's varsity eight crew competing at the Pacific Conference Rowing Championships earlier this spring. The photo is taken from the WWU website.
Megan sits second from the right in this photo of WWU’s women’s varsity eight crew competing at the Pacific Conference Rowing Championships earlier this spring. The photo is taken from the WWU website.

Besides being on the crew team, Megan somehow found time to help coach a local girls select soccer team, stay active in her church and ‘job shadow’ with a local physical therapist. I have every confidence that she’ll continue to do well no matter what path she chooses to take in the life ahead of her. I will miss her big smile, conscientious work ethic, attentiveness to detail and cheery outlook every time she stepped through my studio door. I’m proud to have had her alongside me for countless photo sessions and in the studio doing work for me far below her skill level without complaint. I’m sorry to see her go, but at the same time excited to see where she goes next. Congratulations, Megan!

In the traditional manner, Megan gives hers graduation cap the celebratory toss!
In the traditional manner, Megan gives hers graduation cap the celebratory toss!

 

WWU Navigates Kids to College

If you happened to be on the campus at Western Washington University today, as I was earlier this morning, you might think that WWU’s university students had gotten a lot shorter, and younger.  In a way, they have. At least if Cindy Shepard, the WWU President’s wife, has anything to do with it.

Fifth grade students from all over the region arrive for their first day on campus.
Fifth grade students from all over the region arrive for their first day on campus.

Shortly after the Shepards arrived in Bellingham (Bruce Shepard took over from Karen Morse as the new president), Cindy launched a program similar to one she had done at their previous university stop. Called Compass 2 Campus, it pairs the area’s fifth through twelfth-graders with university students who mentor them for a full year.

Volunteers like Margaret help greet the arriving students as they make their way towards the university gym.
” Volunteers like Margaret help greet the arriving students as they make their way towards the university gym.

During the school year, the kids visit the campus, experience different aspects of college, participate in workshops and basically learn what it means to be a university student.   It’s a great way to introduce the idea of higher education to the kids.  And for the university students who take part in the program, many of whom are education majors but not all, it gives them a life-long college memory unlike any other.

“You should see these kids when they leave, their faces are just beaming,” said Truc Thon, a community member and program volunteer.  I ran into Truc and the other Compass 2 Campus volunteers–many of whom were friends of mine–this morning when they were greeting the kids who were arriving at the university literally by the busloads for this first day of this year’s program.

Volunteer Truc loves to see the smiles on the students faces as they arrive.
Volunteer Truc loves to see the smiles on the students faces as they arrive.

I’m not sure who was more excited for their arrival, the volunteers or the kids.  The fifth graders were wearing bright chartreuse T-shirts with the Compass 2 Campus logo emblazoned on the front.  Many of them were hauling along big backpacks too, just like the university students who were hurrying on their way to class at the same time.  The university’s student volunteers met each group as they unloaded and then escorted them towards the middle of campus where they all would attend an opening ceremony of sorts that was designed to resemble a college graduation.

The chartreue-colored t-shirts of fifth graders were hard to miss, even in the morning fog, as the visiting fifth graders gathered before the university's Wade King Recreation Center.
The chartreuse-colored t-shirts of fifth graders were hard to miss, even in the morning fog, as the visiting fifth graders gathered before the university’s Wade King Recreation Center.

They would remain on campus all day, until 3 p.m. during which they would visit many of the different departments, perhaps sample a little cafeteria fare, and get to see what it’s like to be a university student. For many of these kids, it’s the first time that any of them have ever set foot on a college campus. The hope is, at least as far as Cindy Shepard and the program volunteers are concerned, it won’t be their last.

Autumn Arrives in the Northwest

The summers are short in the Pacific Northwest. The days are long, but the summers short.  Perhaps that’s why so many of us who reside here refuse to leave from about mid-July (meteorologists pin the actual start of warm summer weather to July 14), through the end of August.  No where else that I’ve ever lived is it as beautiful in August as it is here.

So autumn arrives with not only a tinge of chill in the mornings, but a bit of sadness as the daylight hours fade earlier and the warm, sunny afternoons and evenings become fewer.  For me, however, once I overcome the initial feeling that summer is fleeing, autumn reminds me that it is my favorite season of the year.

From my balcony, I can see the Japanese maple in my neighbor’s yard as it starts to show it’s autumn color.

I can usually tell that autumn is on its way when I see the leaves of the tall Japanese maple in my neighbor’s backyard start to change from its summer green to its autumn dress of rich burnt oranges and golds.  It signals to me that autumn will soon appear shortly after the first of September. Gradually, the colors seep from the tips of the leaves on the very top down through the entire tree as a though a bucket of thick paint had slowly been poured over it.

Autumn’s arrival also brings with it the arrival of the nearly 15,000 new and returning students to another of my neighbors–Western Washington University.  Suddenly, the campus which has been nearly abandoned since the end of summer session in August springs back to life as those moving in to live in the dorms load boxes and bags from their parent’s cars into their temporary academic residences.  It brings bittersweet memories back to me of the time when my husband and I, just a few years ago, were playing the same scene with our own sons.  They arrive filled with such hopes, anticipation and excitement as they carry in their belongings to settle in and start a new chapter of their young lives.

The trees on the WWU campus begin to turn color just as the students return for the fall quarter.

To greet them, the many trees on campus hint at the display of color coming in the next month as if to say: “Welcome, there’s more in store.”  And then, gradually, the arboretum behind the campus becomes a backdrop of autumn foliage. It flows down the hill, the top of which the university sits, into the tree-lined streets and yards below eventually canvassing the entire city.  Then, summer is only a distant memory and autumn the vivid present.

Gradually, the entire city, as seen here from the WWU campus, becomes a palette of autumnal color.

The Graduate Goes Home

It’s always hard to say good-bye.  Seems like I’ve had to do a lot of that lately.  Last week, I bid farewell to my photographer’s assistant for the past two years–Ika Hirawan.   She has been by my side on location during photo sessions with high school seniors and families as well as having handled whatever I needed done in the studio.  I’m going to miss  her.

Ika, my photography assistant for two years, on the Western Washington University where she studied for two years.

But she graduated from Western Washington University in June with a bachelor’s degree in business and has a job waiting for her in her native Indonesia.  Having spent five of the last six years in the United States, I know her family was anxious to have her back again.

Ika first came to the States as a junior in high school and lived with a family in Iowa.  It was quite a  change from her homeland.  After graduating from her high school in Indonesia, she applied to and was accepted in a student exchange program and wound up at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham.  Upon completing the two-year program at WCC,  she applied to WWU where she continued her college education.

She proved herself to be a diligent student, a delightful young woman and a very dependable photographer’s assistant!  I hope to see her again one day, whether here in the States, there in Indonesia or some other far corner of the world.  In the meantime, we’ll keep in touch via the wonders of electronic mail and Facebook.  It makes the distances between us seem closer and our worlds feel less far apart.

Many thanks, Ika, and best wishes for your future!

Back 2 Bellingham

I knew little about Western Washington University until my husband and I considered moving to Bellingham from Los Angeles.   As it turns out, the University and its nearly 15,000 students was one of the reasons we chose to relocate in Bellingham.  Not only is it a valuable asset in the community but it is an outstanding academic institution.   Now, I serve as an advisory board member to the University’s College of Fine and Performing Arts.

This weekend, May 18-20, WWU hosts Back 2 Bellingham, one of  the year’s biggest events on campus.  The schedule is chock-full of a variety of tours, performances, presentations, open houses, activities, parties and receptions, both on campus and off, that are open to all.  Nearly 4,000  alumni, parents and students come to campus from a dozen states and the greater Puget Sound region.  For the past two years, members from every class year from 1958 to the present have attended.  In short, Back 2 Bellingham is Western Washington University’s homecoming, spring parents’ weekend, and a student recruitment weekend all rolled into one.  It brings an incredible  infusion of visitors to the university and Bellingham.

My portrait of President Shepard was made
for the University as his official portrait.

President Bruce Shepard welcomes members of the university’s President’s Club at a reception this evening, May 18, to recognize donors and advocates of WWU.   Two years ago, Shepard and the University hosted a series of “100 Conversations”  with people from throughout Bellingham, Whatcom County, the state and beyond to gather the thoughts and ideas about the role the university needs to play in our society in the future.  It’s all part of the university’s efforts to raise awareness of WWU’s nationally recognized programs and faculty.

I hope you’ll check out Back 2 Bellingham here at: http://www.wwu.edu/back2bellingham and discover WWU for yourself.