Donation of new boats to URI crew club will help team build on recent success

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Dave Johnson (right) and his wife Suzi
URI alumni Dave Johnson (right) and his wife Suzi christen the new crew boat they donated with champagne and river water. Photo courtesy of the URI Foundation.

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 15, 2019 – When Dave Johnson ʼ80 rowed for the University of Rhode Island crew club in the late 1970s, the Varsity Heavyweight team had some of its greatest success in the club’s history. Recalling his fond memories of those days, Dave and his wife Suzi ’82 were moved to purchase a new boat last year to help the team stay competitive.

“The timing was right,” he said. “My father had just passed away, and Suzi and I thought of it as a way to recognize him, as well as my mother Beverly, and give back to something that was very formative to me.”

Johnson’s father, who everyone called Big Ed, was the crew team’s biggest fan when his son was competing.

“Crew isn’t much of a spectator sport, but my parents came out to almost every race and even traveled to watch us row,” he said. “So we named the new boat Big Ed.”

Johnson, who grew up in Cranston and now works for Bain & Company in Boston, joined the team as a freshman in 1976 after being recruited while he stood in line to register for classes.

“I had the build of somebody who might be able to row,” he recalled. “At first I was intrigued with the idea of being part of a sport, but I had never even watched a crew race before. So I went to early practices and there was a lot of positive energy. I liked that it was physically demanding, and I got hooked. I never looked back.

“I also liked the camaraderie,” Johnson added. “Crew is the ultimate team sport. There are no individual heroes; no box score; you win as a team and lose as a team. It made me a far better athlete, and the discipline it required made me more effective and efficient as a student. It was also so special to be able to team with my brother Dan ʼ82, who joined our boat in my junior year.”

Fellow URI alumni and crew team members Steve Flagg ʼ88, Jim ʼ86 and Mary MacKenzie ʼ87, Chris Yun ’88 and Lisa Rodier ’87 came together to purchase a second boat for the team, which was named Rhode Warrior.

“The whole team is tremendously grateful to all of the alumni donors who contributed to help us purchase the two new boats,” said Dominic Campione, president of the club. “Everyone who has ever been on our team knows the hardships we face, but that these challenges form a bond between old, new and future generations helps the program thrive. Their generosity is amazing, and we know these boats will launch URI crew into a whole new era of success.”

The team is coming off a tremendously successful couple of years, with the Varsity Eights placing third at the 2017 New England championships – the first time it had medaled since Johnson’s boat did so in 1979. The Varsity Lightweight Fours and Novice Lightweight Fours won the 2017 national championships. The team is looking forward to another successful year with the upcoming 2019 New England and national championships in May.

“The new boats are making it much easier to compete,” Campione said. “They’ve got better functionality and row nicer through the water.”

The team and all of the donors were in attendance at a dedication ceremony last fall to christen the new boats. And then Johnson and most of the team he rowed with climbed into Big Ed and gave it a test run on the Narrow River. It was the first time in 38 years that he had been in a crew boat.

“It was an amazing time,” he said. “It’s something we’ll always remember.”