Eve Green: Rower, not survivor
When the daylight begins to fade earlier each day and the Saugatuck River begins to freeze, the members of the Saugatuck Rowing Club eagerly anticipate getting a few more races in before the coming of winter. One of the club’s members, 80-year-old Eve Green, is a retired schoolteacher. On the phone from her home of Westport, Conn., Green explains her training with much enthusiasm.
“I am usually on the water around 7:30 to 8 a.m. Five mornings a week, I row 6,000 to 8,000 meters,” she said.
This will be her 16th year as a rower. As an older (and shorter) woman, this 5-foot-1 athlete is easy to identify amongst the other rowers.
“I am the club’s secret weapon in the bigger boats because I am the oldest woman, I don’t weigh much and I’m a pretty good rower,” she said.
These advantages are a plus when rowing in a crew. Her weight doesn’t add drag to the boat. Her age gives the crew a handicap, subtracting seconds from the timed race. But competing in a crew appeals less to Green than rowing in a single.
“If you have a bad day you can take the boat out,” says Green, a breast cancer survivor and single mother. She pauses to collect her thoughts. “The river is a psychological refuge.”
The Saugatuck River flows through 2000 meters in the residential area of Westport. The river is surrounded on both sides by elegant New England homes. It is also a practicing zone for Olympic champions who train at the club. Green may not be destined for an Olympic medal, but she’s moved into second place for the women’s senior-veteran singles behind Gertrude Zint, whose record for the division has stood since 1990.
When Green retired from teaching at the age of 58, a friend from the Saugatuck Rowing Club asked her to be a coxswain for her crew. Coxswain literally means, “boat servant.” Green decided that this was not the job for a woman who had known the servitude of raising her three children alone after a divorce from her first husband.
Nicolita Mantescu, who is roughly half Green’s age, has been coaching Green since the first day she arrived at the rowing club. Mantescu giggles over her fondest memory of Green as a beginner rower and her struggles with balance. A fellow rower once yelled to Mantescu to go rescue Eve. She had hit a red and green buoy, throwing her off her disposition and leaving her in an acrobatic stance with one oar pointed up in the air.
When she started rowing she had a special nickname for her high track record of being rescued.
“We used to call her May Day Eve because she needed a lot of rescue,” said Mantescu.
But this didn’t stop her. Instead, Green knew she wanted to be a rower and with the encouragement of her second husband and her coach, she started training to become one.
Just three years into her rowing career, when she finally learned to gain balance in the scull, Green was faced with a life threatening illness. She found out through surgery for a shoulder rotator cuff tear she had developed breast cancer. “When I discovered I had breast cancer I got very upset because I didn’t know how this was going to affect my rowing,” she said.
The doctors told her she would need an operation to remove some of her infected lymph nodes. Green’s fear increased because she knew there was a chance that she could develop lymphedema, causing a swelling of her limbs. This would greatly affect her mobility. Luckily Green never developed lymphedema. After her sudden burst of good luck, Green decided that she wasn’t going to let her illness change her life as a rower. Still, Green had to seriously adjust her rowing career.
“Eve had a great desire to get back in the boat, but she had a lot of doubts. She was determined that breast cancer was not going to stop her as a rower,” said Mantescu.
During Green’s five weeks of 65 radiation treatments, Mantescu would go out in a boat with her and slowly help her practice her technique.
Mantescu knew that the Green’s small stature is her greatest disadvantage in rowing in a single. A small rower is good for rowing in a crew, but a smaller size is not a benefit if you are rowing in a single event.
“Bigger women have an advantage over her,” said Mantescu who remembered that Green compensated for her size by pulling the oar so hard that she would wear herself out. Mantescu continually told Green that rowing is not about power, but about technique.
Green hadn’t realized this until her body had slowed down from the radiation. She began to ease off and slowly pull the oar. Green focused on moving the oar in sync with balancing the boat. This technique caused her to go faster.
As a 12-year breast cancer survivor, she said she believes that having cancer has improved her rowing. Green said she thinks she can break the record held since 1990 and become the best women rower in her division. Green is not one to reflect on the metaphysical, though.
“I’m a rower, not a survivor.”
Melissa Pocek is a freelance writer who has covered national issues, local events, and professional profiles. She admits proudly that her interests, such as her frequent attendance of music festivals and her worldwide sampling of regional foods and wine, extend into a passion that fuels her writing.