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Why I Row: On taking nearly two decades to finally get in a boat

By Tanya Perez

If you haven’t already met Darije Tufekcic, make a plan to do so.

The intermediate rower who took Learn to Row in August of 2021, was a novice in the true sense of the word. “The first time ever rowing was at River City.” And he wasn’t kidding when he said “ever” — “I’d never even been in a kayak before.”

What? How about a canoe?


“Nope, never in a canoe,” he said with a laugh. Still, Tufekcic had an interest in giving it a try for a long time. 



Tufekcic bowing a 2x during Intermediate Team practice at River City Rowing Club

“I remember seeing boats out on the water about 15-20 years ago and thought, ‘This looks fun!’ My wife (Ivana) remembered that and saw during the pandemic an ad about Learn to Row.”

Originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia, Tufekcic moved to the United States as a refugee in 1995. He was 19 at the time, when he, his 24-year-old brother, and his brother’s wife fled the country due to the Bosnian War. “It wasn’t safe back home,” he said, so the trio applied for refugee entry to the United States, Canada, Italy and Australia. 

What normally should have been a one-month process, Tufekcic said, took seven months for the U.S. to offer them asylum. “We chose Sacramento because we had family friends who’d moved here in 1993 or so,” he said. Tufekcic attended McClatchy High School for his senior year, followed by Sacramento City College, then earning a degree in criminal justice from Sacramento State.

Now Tufekcic, Ivana — who is also from Bosnia but met Darije in Sacramento — and their two daughters, ages 17 and 14, are locals and could spend all their days on the Sacramento River. 

“My daughters have zero interest,” Tufekcic said with amusement. “I talk about it once in a while, and Ivana says she wants to try it. But I took them to the boathouse once and my daughters became even less convinced.”

Still, he’s not giving up. “I plan to take them all in a quad someday,” Tufekcic said.

And why is he motivated to get them rowing?


“I love the team aspect,” he said. “I love our people, love the mix of men and women (on the intermediate team), I love our camaraderie — we fit well as a team in the boats and out.”

Tufekcic had played team sports when he was younger, including track and field, basketball and tennis. Also, he said, there was “Always soccer, from the time I remember my grandpa taking me to watch it, the local team back home, to me playing on teams.” 

But, he said, when during his second day of Learn to Row they were on the water, “That was it.” 


Aside from enjoying the nature — “Being on the water, those birds, the occasional coyote” — Tufekcic said, “The physical (aspect) speaks to me. The rhythm, your head’s in the boat, thinking about your next stroke, the person in front of you, and no ability to think about chores or anything else you need to do.”


Note: This interview was conducted before Tufekcic was promoted to the Men’s Team in July.

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