Commitment to Masters Rowing: Tom Sanford

Tom Sanford

Tom Sanford has taken his commitment to rowing and shared it with the Connecticut communities of Stonington and Mystic, a region graced by rowing history at the National Rowing Hall of Fame in Mystic Seaport Museum, where he volunteers. “Folks (in the community) know me as ‘that guy who rows’,” says Sanford, but it wasn’t always that way.

On Father’s Day, 1998, Tom Sanford made rowing a part of his life again. Tom helped his father take out a double from New York Athletic Club on Long Island Sound that day. His father, William B. Sanford, was over 90 years old but still rowed for fitness. He had stopped rowing a single when he was 88, so his son Tom helped him balance a double so he could continue the sport he loved. Tom only rowed occasionally at this point in his life, and mostly with his father.

“He really passed the baton in a strange and wonderful way,” says Sanford. His father died of a heart attack that day, his son Tom with him in the boat. For Tom, it was when he returned to rowing after an almost 30-year hiatus. “From that point on I became an avid sculler,” says Tom. Sanford had moved from Bronxville, NY where he grew up to Stonington, CT, where he lives with wife Candace (his three grown children live elsewhere). He connected with local rowing organizations, and has lived a rowing lifestyle for the past 10 years.

William B. Sanford was inducted in the National Rowing Hall of Fame in 1974 and the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame in October of 2008 as part of a Heavyweight National Championship crew at Columbia College (now University). Tom Sanford also went to Columbia University and rowed all four years, graduating in 1968. The competitiveness of the Columbia program had changed by then. “It was less than mediocre,” says Sanford. “I had four coaches in four years.”

Tom Sanford with medalSanford, 62, a retired commercial banker, reaches out to the community to share his sport. He started a rowing program at the Mystic YMCA where he is a member (Mystic River Rowers), and helps support local schools with rowing programs. He is currently on the Board of Directors of the National Rowing Foundation which supports US teams. As the executor of Dr. Dorris Hutchison’s will, he donated funds and facilitated the purchase of a Vespoli Ultralite Racing Eight for Stonington High School in spring of 2008. The renowned local microbiologist had given Sanford some flexibility to support community programs. “The kids love that boat,” he says of the Stonington teenagers who row the new shell.

He encouraged the high school to choose a Vespoli because of his own conviction they are the best available—he should know, he owns two (almost) identical Matrix 26 singles, both black with blue lettering. “I really like the way the boat looks...the line...it looks narrower and sharper next to other shells and it is very fast by design.”

He feels his own anecdotal research on the boat confirms the speed of the Matrix.

When Guilford, CT native, University of Michigan standout, National Team member, and Georgetown Women’s Novice Lightweight Coach Sarah Trowbridge needed a boat for the “Race Between the Bridges” in Mystic in September of 2008, she contacted Sanford through mutual friends/family. Sanford had contributed to a purchase of an Empacher for Trowbridge years prior, so he was eager to share what he felt was a faster shell to the National Team member, who was slated to line-up against Olympic silver medallist Michelle Guerette, in an Empacher, in the sprint event.

Trowbridge won in his Matrix 26. “In a sprint race, the speed of the hull for a rower is very telling and important... the Vespoli single is a very fast shell, Sarah proved it to me.” He added, “It is pretty robust too, but light as can be!”

Though competing at a different level, Sanford appreciates the speed it delivers. He races successfully in head races, recently finishing third at the Head of the Housatonic in the Veteran Master single in 2008 as he did the year prior.

Sanford is active at Pettipaug Rowing (Yacht) Club on the Essex River in Essex, CT as well, where he feels the level of training with local talent is very high. “It is the best competition around.”

Over the winter, Sanford will take his boats to the Vespoli shop in New Haven, Connecticut to be reconditioned. “I am excited about the Platinum Care Program” His 2005 and 2008 Matrix 26 singles need a little work to keep them in top shape for the next season.

“I like that Vespoli listens when I offer suggestions,” says Sanford, who had made a comment about the hatch cover for his Matrix to Walter Torres, Production Manager at Vespoli. “They fixed it in mine but also produced a screw-in cap that is better for all new shells in production.”

“I know that whenever I call Vespoli, someone will be able to help me—either have a part I need or an answer to a question,” concludes Sanford.

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