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River Of Dreams

River Of DreamsAfter 16 years at Tufts, Director of Rowing Gary Caldwell celebrates a national rowing award and the opening of the first Tufts boathouse.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.06.06] "Cheesy grits are his specialty." Varsity rower Dorothy Levinson (A'07) is not talking about a Tufts dining hall chef-she's complimenting her coach, Gary Caldwell, who has been at the helm of Tufts' rowing program for the past 16 years. While coaching, Caldwell has also found time to fundraise, play a hand in building a new boathouse on the Malden River, direct rowing for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC), and, of course, cook up some cheesy potatoes for his team.

The next time Caldwell has his women's rowing team over for dinner they will be able to check out his Carlin Award, an elegant blue etched vase perched on his mantle. The Yale University graduate received the U.S. Rowing award last December for his significant contributions to the sport.

"You don't go through life, at least I don't anyway, looking to achieve awards," says Caldwell. "This is something that happened ... it was a nice recognition."

Caldwell, who previously coached at Trinity College and Northeastern University, has been a staple of the Tufts rowing program since he took over as coach of the men's team in 1990. His main responsibilities more than a decade later have included coaching the women's team, tending to his duties as ECAC director and keeping a close eye on the construction of the new Tufts boathouse.

For years, the Jumbos have rowed out of Harvard University's boathouse on the Charles River. While the arrangement worked well, Caldwell points out, "When you are a guest in somebody else's house, that's what you are."

In 2001, Caldwell saw an opportunity for his rowers to have a home of their own when a real-estate development team had approached him about giving the marshy, downtrodden area surrounding the Malden River a facelift. Tufts eventually struck a deal with the company for a new boathouse to become part of the river's makeover.

According to Caldwell, the teams said goodbye to Harvard and set up shop in a temporary tent in Malden, where they have spent the past five years eagerly awaiting the new state-of-the-art boathouse, which will feature locker rooms, rooms for meetings and functions, a workout room and rowing machines.

Caldwell praises his rowers for their patience and tenacity during the transition. "The student athletes who have gone through this program for the six-year period we were over there in the tent have been accommodating. They have made sacrifices in their daily existence because they get the big picture, what the end game is."

While the student athletes will reap the benefits of the new facility, so, too, will the community, Caldwell points out.

"Tufts students can have a retreat there or the city of Medford can have a conference there," he says. "It's an asset for the community-not just a shed to put boats in. In the larger picture, it's part of a new riverfront park. It's going to be an attraction for the people who work there and ultimately the people who live there. It was really an urban dump and we're taking it back to something good. That's pretty neat I think."

With the opening of the new boathouse slated for some time in April, Caldwell is excited for the chance to re-focus his energies on his team and the sheer fun of coaching. "I'm looking forward to next fall," he says, "being a rowing coach rather than being associated with a building project, or as I was in my early years, almost being a full-time fundraiser."

While Caldwell will remain in his position as ECAC director-managing nine to 10 championships per year and approximately 9,000 athletes-he seems as committed as ever to Tufts. Last summer, he married Tufts athletic trainer Janet Silva on campus, setting up a tent on the residential quadrangle. "The Tufts family is an extension of our family," Caldwell says happily. "I have kids who went through the [rowing] program who are now adults who I count as some of my best friends."

And it's the kids that keep Caldwell in this profession.

"That's one of the reasons I keep coaching," he says. "It keeps me young."

-- Michaelann Millrood

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