FALL RIVER – A triple Olympic rower from Massachusetts is helping develop the sport locally, through a relatively new nonprofit based in Fall River.
“(Rowing) has that aspect of service,” said Tom Darling, adding that the sport requires intense teamwork that can be applied to other aspects of life.
Darling, who is from Lincoln and now lives in Swampscott, spoke at a Fall River Rotary Club meeting on Thursday, where he walked his athletic career and spoke about bringing the sport to youth and athletes with disabilities .
In 1980, Darling first made the US Olympic rowing team, but President Jimmy Carter chose to boycott the Games that year because of the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR. Four years later, he made it to the team again and helped the American team win a silver medal in Los Angeles. In 1988, he rowed at the Seoul Olympics and secured a fifth place finish.
Later he was a grinder for the Stars and Stripes when the boat won the America’s Cup, one of the most prestigious sailing races in the world, in 1987. He was also previously the director of para-rowing for American Rowing, responsible for finding and helping develop team members for the Paralympic Games.
Darling recounted Team USA’s silver medal in 1984, where they beat favorite New Zealand but finished a fraction of a second behind Team Canada. After a wave of disappointment over their second place finish, he said he remembered feeling grateful to have been a part of the team and that his family got to see him compete in person.
“We are all going to lose more than we gain in this lifetime, and you have to learn how to lose in a healthy way,” he said.
Darling told the Rotary Club that he was indirectly interested in the sport of rowing, after a teacher who was also his school’s rowing coach suggested he join the team as an outlet.
He quickly felt comfortable in a boat, where he said the oars look like wings when you glide between strokes.
“It’s like flying,” he said. “It’s a calming and meditative sport. “
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Now Darling is helping to grow the sport in the Fall River area, especially with teens who might not otherwise be able to access it. He is a member of the board of directors and advisor to the Watuppa Rowing Center, a non-profit club on the South Watuppa Pond of Fall River that was founded in 2018. The pond is one of the few rowing venues in the United States that has been approved for Olympic trials, and the only one in the region.
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The club offers a free summer rowing program for teens in grades 7 to 12. Besides the free program, they offer rowing for teens and adults, with an emphasis on both teaching the sport and participating in competitive rowing.
Darling is working to bring para-rowing to the Watuppa Rowing Center this summer, to welcome injured veterans and others with physical disabilities. With the right adjustments, he said, rowing can be an accessible sport for many, including athletes who lack legs or have limited use of their torso.
“It’s the kind of sport that a lot of people can play who may have physical limitations,” he said.
You can reach Audrey Cooney at [email protected]. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.