USRowing’s 2010 Man of the Year, William Engeman, took his very first strokes with coach Charlie Butt, as a member of Washington-Lee High School crew. The crew’s home base has been Potomac Boat Club since its establishment in 1949.
Engeman showed up for the team in 1956, after a couple of classmates said he wasn’t tough enough for crew. While his goal may have been simply to prove them wrong, he fell in love with the sensation of gliding on the Potomac, the camaraderie, the challenges and the rewards of the sport.
Engeman carried this new-found passion with him to Brown University, where he rowed from 1957-1961. He was captain of the first Brown University varsity crew, and eventually, became the first oarsman inducted into Brown’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
After graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law, Engeman moved to Cincinnati, where he spent three decades working in the employment and labor division of Taft Stettinius & Hollister. In his spare time, he rowed, coached, and helped establish rowing clubs in the Cincinnati area. His work promoting the sport through 15 National Collegiate Rowing Championships was recognized in 1998, when he was admitted as a patron to the National Rowing Hall of Fame.
For the last couple of years, Engeman has been dedicated to helping the Iraqi Rowing Federation and its athletes. He traveled to Iraq to lead training sessions and supported the Iraq team as they trained in several cities throughout the U.S., including at Princeton with our U.S. men’s team.
Engeman believes rowing provides athletes with a chance to test themselves physically and mentally, strive continually for improvement, and balance the technical aspects of the sport with the mind-clearing peace found only on the water. He wants to ensure these Iraqi athletes have the chance to realize all of rowing’s benefits, and sees the team as another way for Iraq to unite over something beyond politics, ethnic infighting and war.
To read more about Bill Engeman’s work on behalf of the Iraq National Team, see From the Charles, Rowing with Iraq (Boston Globe, May 7, 2010).
To read more about the Iraqi team in Princeton, see Iraqi rowers persevere during war, train with U.S. team (Patrick Garrity, USAToday, October 2010).
To read the full text of the December 2, 2010, USRowing press release on Bill Engeman, scroll down.
To make a tax deductible donation online to the historic Washington-Lee High School Crew program, please visit their boosters’ site here, then click on “donate.” Arlington residents, support the crew by ordering mulch by February 26, to be delivered to your home.
Congratulations to Bill Engeman! Thanks for sharing your passion for our sport with so many others.
For the better part of this year, Bill Engeman has been focused on helping a handful of rowers from Iraq.
Along with Community Rowing’s Bruce Smith, Engeman traveled halfway around the world to work with them. And then, the duo helped a group of five rowers and one coach travel to the United States to train in Boston, in Princeton with the United States National Team, and then in Cincinnati to help them prepare to compete at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
So, it was no surprise that when asked about being named USRowing’s 2010 Man of the Year, he flipped the subject back to the Iraqis.
“If I’m the man of the year, what the heck are they?” Engeman asked. And there was no stopping him. The former attorney from Cincinnati was brimming with pride. The Iraqi lightweight men’s four had finished just out of the medals, but single sculler Haeider Hamarasheid had brought home a bronze medal.
“I applaud him,” the 71-year-old Engeman said. “And because it gives me a chance to talk about these guys, I’m all for the award. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
While the award, given in recognition of outstanding contributions to men’s rowing or to an outstanding man in rowing, is largely about what Engeman has accomplished with this group of Iraqi athletes, it also recognizes his lifetime of accomplishments.
Engeman began his rowing career at Washington-Lee High School in 1956. He rowed at Brown University from 1957 to 1961 and captained the first Brown University varsity crew. He later became the first oarsman to be inducted into Brown’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
After settling down into a law career in Cincinnati, Engeman set out to bring rowing to his city after a rowable lake was developed at East Fork State Park in 1982.
With the help of rowing friends and supporters, Engeman developed rowing programs, boathouses and facilities. He helped organize and run 15 National Collegiate Rowing Championships and was recognized for his work in 1998 when he was admitted as a patron into the National Rowing Hall of Fame.
For nearly 30 years, Engeman has served as a trustee for the National Rowing Foundation.
Harvard University coach Harry Parker met Engeman in 1960 when both were competing at the Olympic trials, and their friendship grew over the years as Engeman tackled one project after another.
“His contributions to rowing have been pretty remarkable,” Parker said. “His first achievement was while he was an undergraduate at Brown. He revitalized that program and led the team to an extremely successful season, including participation in the Olympic trials when it was still a club program. (He) clearly established the momentum to make it a varsity program.”
Parker said that Engeman was the driving force behind the collegiate national championship and the development of youth rowing in Cincinnati. “It was his idea to put that regatta together, and it was a great success.”
While the Iraqi project took shape this past year, the work began nearly three years ago after Engeman saw a newspaper article about scullers training on the Tigris River in the middle of the war. Last spring, Smith and Engeman went to Iraq and ran a rowing camp. He then helped organize the athletes’ trip to the United States in September.
Asked what he thought about the Iraqi project, Parker laughed and called it “classic Bill, but on the far end of the spectrum.”
“I was just in awe that he would tackle that and pursue it as relentlessly as he did,” Parker said. “But I was not surprised. He’s sort of quiet for a while and then all of a sudden he reappears with some grand project.”
While Engeman wants to deflect attention away from his accomplishments, he still takes pride in the things he has done.
“I enjoyed the initial success of the national championship; that was pretty cool,” Engeman said. “I enjoyed watching the Yale crew, coached by Tony Johnson, win the first championship. I’ve enjoyed all the things that have happened thereafter. (Parker) laughingly told me in Boston as we were celebrating the 25th anniversary of CRI, he said ‘Bill, you just keep doing the same thing over and over.’
“I guess there is a sort of repetitive quality of these experiences. The Iraqis, Cincinnati rowing, the fun I had at Brown, all were very similar kinds of making something out of something else and enjoying watching it happen.”