‘I love the sport, I love River City’
"Talking with former executive director Arthur Ericsson about what's next"
As Arthur Ericsson stepped down from his job as the executive director of River City Rowing Club after six and half years, it seemed like a good time to talk about, well, whatever needed talking about.
Ericsson, who spent 13 years as the head coach of men’s rowing at Washington State University before joining RCRC, is continuing with the club in a half-time position, while former assistant director Holly Hopkins has assumed the role of executive director.
Jumping right into the big question, Ericsson gave a quick laugh when asked if he’d been nudged in any way into resigning from his position as executive director.
“No,” he said, adding it was simply time to change directions. “For me, it's about being happy as a person. I think that I'm not the kind of person who wants to have this full-time career into my 70s, 80s. If I see an opportunity to enjoy life more, then I'm gonna do it.”
After what he called “six and a half strong years,” Ericsson said he needed to evaluate what he wanted next. “There are two forces working in harmony: how much longer can I keep going with a positive energy, and when can I take an opportunity to lighten my load and do other things I've given up or had limited ability to do because of a pretty demanding job?”
Once he talked with RCRC’s board of directors and Hopkins, Ericsson realized he had options.
“I think when I was feeling a little bit unsure of whether I wanted to keep this (job) going, my first thought was I should move to a different rowing club,” Ericsson admitted. But then he said to himself, “No, I like River City. Maybe I can create a job that doesn't exist right now.”
He credits RCRC president Paul O’Sullivan for being supportive and open-minded about a new role for Ericsson.
This new position came about after Ericsson pondered what he most liked about rowing. “I love the sport, I love River City, and I love most of the things I've been doing for six and a half years. But if I had to boil it down to a half-time job, what would I pick? It would be coaching new rowers.”
He is extremely proud of the junior teams sending four different boats to Nationals in 2023 — “one from each of our squads, that’s very impressive,” he said. “I'm personally proud that the girls under-16 8+ is the first 8+ we've ever sent!”
And with adult learn-to-row classes in the summer and the novice girls team throughout the school year, he’s able to keep busy as a coach.
Also, he continued, “I like working on boats,” including boat repair and keeping the fleet operating. “That is not an easy thing to do, (with) 80 boats at River City from six different boat manufacturers … and we tend to use almost all of them.”
While he knows the club has many priorities for its funds, Ericsson admitted that he hasn’t been given enough money to keep the fleet up-to-date. “Boats are aging faster than we've been able to replace them,” he said, “I've replaced almost 25% of the fleet in the past six years with a very shoestring budget. We've made some great acquisitions,” he said, 19 in all. He praised “workhorses” like the Georgia Jones and the J3, but also said it’s time to add more sturdy boats like these.
When asked to note the best thing Ericsson brought to RCRC, he replied, “I don't know that there's one thing that jumps out. There's something to be said for keeping the ship moving. The club is in a strong position; we've got a solid master's membership, solid juniors membership, a couple of new programs — ROWsist Cancer and ROWsolution.”
Among the biggest challenges for River City, he said: “I think we struggle with people even knowing (rowing) exists … they don't know there's this club in West Sacramento. They don't know we offer these classes for beginners for a week or two or three.” But for “those who trip and find it, they heard about it from another rower, etc., our success rate is amazing,” citing a more than 40% conversion rate of Learn to Row attendees to River City’s novice teams.
He added, “The coaches cannot be underestimated. We have 16 coaches throughout the year; besides Jeff (Weaver) and Raul (Reynon), who've been here for a long time, I think everybody else is someone I've hired. We have a really good coaching staff … and it’s not like rowing coaches are knocking on the door for this job ever.”
Looking forward, Ericsson is “excited about the expansion project. I had dreams that we would have some big donor come in and want to put their name on this rowing pavilion structure. It's gonna be so huge for the club to make that happen.”
But the progress is steady, even without that huge donor. “We've made amazing progress thanks to Bill Naddy and Mark Dirrim. Those two together deserve most of the credit,” Ericsson said, adding that O’Sullivan is also “totally on board.”
And finally, Ericsson answered the question many other River City rowers have been asked: “Why do you row?”
“I was about 25 when I saw a little poster for River City with stick figures in a boat rowing … it said ‘learn to row.’ I didn’t even know the sport existed,” he said with some wonder. But he also knew “I need to do that.”
Continued Ericsson, “That is my calling. I knew I was gonna love it before I even got to the boathouse.”
By Tanya Perez
Above: Rowdiculous 2022
Right: "How the boats magically appear."