Erik Breiland | Reader Athlete July 2012

Age: 35
Residence: Milton
Family: Fiancée, Meredith Haff; golden retriever, Baxter; family in Addison
Occupation: Application engineer at IBM
Primary sport: Sculling

Erik Breiland of Milton is passionate about the sport of sculling. The president of Green Mountain Rowing teaches the sport at Craftsbury Outdoor Center and hopes to see more Vermonters take up oars. He might end up using his own property on the Lamoille River to make that happen.

VS: When did you start sculling?
EB: I started when I was in college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. My pastor had encouraged me to do some sweep rowing (one oar), and his advice basically went in one ear and out the other until I got to school and heard someone say there was a rowing meeting. I had played soccer for 12 years and decided to try something different, so I rowed and played ultimate Frisbee. At the end of my freshman year, my pastor and I went out in a double scull and I continued to do that during the summers while rowing at school.

VS: Was sculling part of your decision to move to Vermont?
EB: When I moved to Vermont in 1998, I had my own boat, and I knew I didn’t want to live where I couldn’t row. Lots of scullers row for four years in college, but then quit because they don’t have the time, the energy, or the location.

VS: Is there a local group?
EB: I’m president and one of the founders of a group called Green Mountain Rowing. We’re somewhat inactive, but we do have officers, meet once a year, and collect dues for a rainy-day fund.

VS: Where do you keep your boat?
EB: Initially, I rented space at the location the University of Vermont team uses on the Lamoille River. Several years ago, the owner put the land on the market, and that’s when we formed Green Mountain Rowing. I eventually bought a house on the Lamoille, [and the property] has 400 feet of river frontage and is three miles south of the UVM dock. It’s a nice spot to row from because you can go either north or south, and you can go as far as Outer Malletts Bay on a good day. I’m building a barn that will be big enough to house an eight-person scull so others can use it as well, possibly even UVM. Some of their boats are currently outside and ultraviolet rays deteriorate carbon fiber.

VS: What is the joy of rowing?
EB: For me, rowing can be a spiritual experience. It gives me the opportunity to see a lot of sunrises and sunsets, and experience nature for the good and the bad. Sometimes you’re being chased by a deerfly but other times you’ll see a heron take off or hear a beaver slap his tail. I enjoy all aspects of it including the competition and the camaraderie with fellow rowers. I coach at Craftsbury, and I really enjoy that as well. It’s neat to show someone something they haven’t done before. I particularly like coaching folks in their 50s and 60s and seeing their eyes light up from trying something new. Plus, rowing is a wonderful sport for the environment. It’s nonmotorized and promotes good stewardship of our rivers and lakes.

VS: What is your favorite stretch of water?
EB: I love the Lamoille. In my mind, it’s one of the prettiest stretches of water. The river is calm and there aren’t too many turns. The end of the Winooski is nice, but it has too many oxbows. The last part of the Missisquoi is also good, and I’ve rowed at least one section of the Upper Lamoille north of the Peterson Dam. Green River Reservoir is a great location, as is Craftsbury. I’ve also rowed some sections of the Otter Creek and the Dead Creek by my family’s farm, and I hope to get out on Malletts Bay more this summer. For many people, sculling is about rowing fast and training, and they do the same course over and over again. They’re very skilled at what they do, but they don’t see rowing as a means of exploring.

VS: But you also compete, don’t you?
EB: I do. I never made the national team, although for a few years, I got close. I still do some sprint races and some 2Ks in the spring and summer, and in the fall I do the Head races; the Head of the Charles, the Black Fly Regatta on the Upper Connecticut River, and the Green Mountain Head in Putney. The Head of the Charles is a two-day event with almost 9,000 boats with a quarter of a million spectators in good weather. This year I’m also going to go to the Masters National Championship Regatta in Worcester. I’ll race in the mixed doubles with Meredith but also in a parent-child boat with my mother. We won that race once, and I’d like to get our names on the trophy again. I got my mother into rowing eight years ago, and she loves it. I might also do a race near Saratoga, N.Y., called the Schuyler Skiff because winners can get some money toward a race in Torino, Italy, called the Silver Skiff. There isn’t much money in rowing.

VS: Do you do other sports?
EB: Meredith has gotten me into running. Last year I did the Rollin Irish Half-Marathon and then signed up to do the full VCM, but it was hot and humid, and I guess I wasn’t drinking enough because I started hallucinating around the halfway mark. Apparently my stride was all off and someone had to jump over the barricade to keep me from falling. I don’t remember any of it, but I woke up in the ICU, and they kept me there for several days. Since then I’ve done a 10K, and I really would like to run the second half of the VCM. In the winter, I teleski and do some skate skiing for cross-training. Vermont is great for outdoor activities. Meredith’s dad made me a kayak, which is my newest toy. Once you have a place to store boats the way I do, you can end up with a whole fleet.

Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with two spoiled orange cats. She is a skier, skater, cyclist, kayaker, and lover of virtually any sport which does not involve motors. She is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”