Why I Row: ‘It’s a lot of things’

By Tanya Perez, Intermediate Masters Team
RCRC Nadine's rowboat.jpg

On the day of this interview, Nadine Cronkhite-Watson admitted she’d missed practice.

“It’s only the second time in 22 years I’ve missed practice due to my human error,” she said, sounding both proud and contrite as she explained mis-setting her alarm.

Twenty two years is a long time to have been a member at River City Rowing Club, but it’s nowhere near as long as Cronkhite-Watson has been a “rower.” 

She started her rowing career around age 5. “I rowed an old rowboat. I learned to row at the cabin.” This cabin she mentioned was owned by her family since 1967 and was at Juniper Lake near Mt. Lassen; “was” because it burned down in last summer’s Dixie Fire. 

The shock of what was lost — including one rowing shell and the old wooden rowboat she kept at the cabin’s boathouse — is still heavy. But in a twist of good luck, some months before the fire, Cronkhite-Watson had grabbed the old logbooks from the cabin.

Those logbooks and her lifelong enthusiasm for photography have helped preserve memories.

“I read in my logbook that I got ‘qualified’ to row this rowboat when I was 6,” Cronkhite-Watson explained. These qualifications, bestowed by her dad, granted her access to “be able to go out on my own in the cove at one end of the lake, where someone could see me. I could take the boat out by myself and bring it back by myself.”

The rowboat that Nadine Cronkhite-Watson was "qualified" to row at age 6 sits on Juniper Lake, circa 2012.
Nadine Cronkhite-Watson photo

She had to wear her life jacket, of course, and her dad “tested the boat for sinkability and glued styrofoam under the seats.”

As Cronkhite-Watson got a little older she was allowed to row around the entire lake, bringing along her younger sister to explore. “A cool thing I really loved doing as I got older, I could look for things under the water.” She remembered discovering an old barrel and an old shovel, and she’d take her camera along on these excursions to photograph her discoveries. 

Before joining RCRC in 2000, Cronkhite-Watson had hoped to row while a college student. “I wanted to at UC Davis, but I could not afford the $50 to join the team.”

She continued, “At the end of college, I went to Harvard to visit a friend who was in grad school.” Cronkhite-Watson was mesmerized while “going along the Charles River, watching people in shells with the sliding seats.”

So at the 2000 Whole Earth Festival at UCD when said she saw now-Executive Director Arthur Ericcson standing at a booth with a long oar in hand, she could no longer resist. “It was way more than $50,” she noted, with a laugh.

Cronkhite-Watson now rows on the women’s advanced team. When asked her favorite boat to row, she said, “An 8, the Caroline. But also the quad and the double … I like singles, too, but it’s hard to do with practice. I’m liking everything now!” 

And what inspires her to continue rowing? “It’s a lot of things,” she said. “It’s a really deep, personal connection because I liked rowing at the lake when I was growing up. When the oar hits the water and makes that splash, it’s calming and relaxing.” 

The team aspect, she said, adds depth to the experience. “I love the camaraderie. … My teammates are my really close friends.”

Cronkhite-Watson continued, “It’s part of you. I like the feel of the boat when all of us are rowing together and there’s a really long run. It feels right, and I like the trust that we have together.”