Rowing Across Generations, From “Notre Dames” to the Shamrock Sisters

By Vreni A. Hommes '82 and Mary Bustin '78

When I decided to join fellow ND Rowing Club (NDRC) women alumnae, known then as the “Olden Domers,” to train for the Head of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia in 2014, I had no idea we would evolve to become the active and cohesive intergenerational group we are today.

It really started in 2012 at the annual NDRC Alumni Row. Among the alumni rowers were a number of the women who had first started rowing with the men’s crew, as part of the Notre Dame Rowing Club, back in the early 1970s shortly after ND went co-ed and more than 20 years before women’s rowing was granted varsity status in 1996.

The ND varsity rowing coach, Coach Martin Stone, casually suggested the women get back together to row. It didn’t take long before their thoughts turned to racing again.  After a year of training, the “Olden Domers” raced in the prestigious Head of the Charles River in Boston (Debbie Dean Hansen ’78 coxed, Jill DeLucia ‘78, Jody Gormley ‘77, Mary Hayes '80, Beth Corbin Murphy '77, Mary Fitzsimmons ‘77, Shotsi Cain Lajoie SMC ‘76, Kathy Dilworth ‘79, Marylin Crimmons SMC ’75) and the Head of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia (Jill DeLucia ‘78, Carol Latronica ‘77, Mary Spaulding Burns ‘77, Lauren Wood ’79).  Coaching them was Clete Graham ’75 and cheering them on were Mary Brady Bustin ’78, Ann Deighan Buckley SMC ’78, Charmaine Ortega ’79, Mary Jaeger '77, and Virginia Elliott ’79.

Although they didn’t win, they placed well and were charged with the exhilaration of rowing together and competing again. There wasn’t a better feeling than being shoved off the dock being serenaded with the Notre Dame Fight Song by the current Varsity Women.They left Boston even more determined to continue training and rowing together.

Since then, the “NDames,” as we are now known, train together each year at camps in Florida, Washington state and back at Notre Dame and compete in at least two races. In 2019, we raced in the OARS Regatta in Orlando in March, the Masters National Championships in Grand Rapids in August, and will compete at the Head of the Schuylkill in Philadelphia in October.

We now have over 30 women actively rowing and a few others who join us when they can. Most of us joined the NDames to renew and enjoy our college-day friendships, and because of our love of the sport.  What keeps it exciting is our competitive drive to continuously improve our fitness and racing edge, which gets more interesting and challenging as we get older. Plus, rowing and racing together gives us a huge sense of purpose and accomplishment. Through all of this, the camaraderie just keeps getting stronger and stronger.

As the NDames has grown and younger alumnae join, our mission has evolved. We now see the NDames continuing into the future, beyond our years. Many younger alumnae are still too busy with work and family to do much rowing. But they know that there’s a seat in the boat for them when they’re ready to get back out on the water, even if the last time they got into a rowing shell was years ago on the St. Joe river.

NDames’s reach has also expanded from the original rowing club to the varsity team alumnae, who call themselves the “Shamrock Sisters”. Martin Stone has been wonderfully supportive of the NDames and our connections with the Shamrock Sisters. NDames started having “Meet & Greet” gatherings with varsity rowers to learn more about them, share our stories and make ourselves available for career and other advice. We’ve held a few social events in New York City for the NDames and Shamrock Sisters to get together.  We even had a NDame row with the Shamrock Sisters alumni at the Head of the Charles last October.

Rowing is truly a lifelong sport, and the ability to share this among women rowers from across generations is phenomenal. These are friendships that go back 50 years, and we are now able to see them extend into the decades ahead.

Vreni was Captain in 1982 and joined the NDames in 2013. She’s a co-founder of the “At the Catch” Symposiums, which are dedicated to educating, engaging, and empowering women masters rowers. She also recently started a project called “Why We Row,” which celebrates the unique lives and stories of women masters rowers.
Mary was in on the formation of NDames in 2012. She is currently unable to row, so she’s now helping with planning and filling in as coxswain when needed.

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