Barron Pierre de Coubertin (FRA) – founder of the modern Olympic movement

A life-long lover of physical activity, education and history, Pierre de Coubertin was a passionate internationalist, whose efforts to bring the world together in peaceful cooperation through sport gave birth to the modern Olympic movement.

Born in Paris in 1863, Coubertin participated in a number of competitive sports including rowing, boxing, fencing and riding. He travelled widely to learn from pioneers in sport and education in Europe, Britain and America. His plans finally became reality in 1894 with the founding of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and a commitment to hold the first Olympic Games of the modern era just two years later in Athens, Greece.

In 1964, a special award was created in Coubertin’s honour. The Pierre de Coubertin medal is awarded by the IOC for sportsmanship and exceptional service. It is the highest honour within the Olympic movement.

Victoria “Tori” Murden McClure (USA) – Explorer, President of Spalding University

Born in 1963 in Florida to a family often on the move, Murden McClure’s involvement with rowing began as a teenager. Rowing was just one of several sports (including squash and basketball) she competed in at a high level as an undergraduate at Smith College, Massachusetts.

McClure developed a well-honed ability to seek out adventure. In 1988, she was invited to join an overland expedition to the South Pole. McClure and her expedition partner became the first two women to reach the geographic South Pole by cross-country ski (a journey of roughly 1200 km).

McClure’s next goal was the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. An auto accident on her way to attend the USRowing trials in 1991 should have been a devastating blow. With two broken ribs, McClure still saw an opportunity to keep an Olympic dream alive, but not her own. She replaced one of her competitor’s broken equipment with parts from her own boat; that rower, Michelle Knox went on to race in Barcelona.

McClure went on to become the first woman to complete a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine (GBR) —Explorers, Mountaineers

Last seen alive on 8 June, 1924 barely 250 metres below the summit of Mount Everest, George Mallory and Sandy Irvine had pushed the limits of human endurance in their remarkable attempts at becoming the first to conquer the world’s highest mountain. Whether they actually reached the summit before they died is a matter of contention, but their achievement was by all accounts superhuman.

Both were exceptional mountaineers, talented athletes, and had been rowers at university. Irvine had been an integral member of the 1923 Oxford crew, the only Oxford win in the middle of two decades dominated by Cambridge. Mallory had attended Cambridge nearly 15 years before and he raced in the first eight for his College.

Helen Keller (USA) – Pioneer in the advancement of women and persons with disabilities

Helen Keller was born in 1880 and lived with deafness and blindness from a very young age following what may have been childhood meningitis. She developed a range of skills to interpret the world around her and a vocabulary of signs to communicate.

In an era where para-sports would have been an unthinkable obstacle to most, Keller fell in love with nature through activities like sailing, rowing, canoeing, tree-climbing, swimming and horseback riding.

Keller became the first person with deafness and blindness to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree when she graduated from Radcliff College in 1904. As an author, women’s rights activist and advocate for people with disabilities, Keller was world-famous in her own life time and has inspired millions since.

Other renowned people who rowed

There are many more people, who once rowed and have become important contributors in their various fields. Here are just a few:

Admiral Robert Perry Sr. (USA) – first person to the North Pole (disputed) – rowed at Bowdoin College

Professor Stephen Hawking (GBR) – Theoretical Physicist – coxswain for Oxford University

Theodore Roosevelt (USA) – 26th President of the USA – rowed at Harvard

Stanley Melbourne Bruce (AUS) – 8th Prime Minister of Australia (1923-1929) – rowed at Cambridge University

Rear Admiral Alan B. Shepard Jr. (USA) – 2nd man in space – rowed at US Naval Academy

Dr. Benjamin Spock (USA) – renowned paediatrician, author – won 1924 Olympic Gold in M8+

King Olaf V (NOR) – King of Norway (1957-1991) – rowed at Oxford University

Princess Beatrix (NED) – Queen of the Netherlands (1980-2013) – rowed at De Vliet club

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee (GBR) – inventor of the World Wide Web – rowed at Oxford University