Hometown Hero: Steve Garside has become synonymous with Concord Crew

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 08-28-2023 12:15 PM

Steve Garside’s family will welcome some guests to their home later this fall: Buddhist monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in Tibet. His wife, Lisa, who owns Ohana Yoga in Contoocook, has been connected with them for several years now. This will be their third visit to the Garside home.

As part of their trip, they’ll spend days intricately designing a sand mandala with numerous colorful patterns and perfect symmetry, only to destroy it shortly thereafter. It draws attention to the impermanence of life, a key doctrine in Tibetan Buddhism.

Garside, who just recently began another season as the head coach of Concord Crew, hasn’t ever really thought about how this Buddhist teaching connects to his coaching role, something he’s poured himself into since his oldest son Jacob began rowing about eight years ago. But on some level, he sees the culmination of hard work come face-to-face with the impermanence of life every spring.

At the end of each spring season, the graduating senior rowers make farewell speeches. It’s their chance to show their immense appreciation to a program some of them have been part of since seventh grade.

They endured years of training for one of the most grueling physical activities – multi-hour sessions on the Merrimack River week after week, winter training indoors on ergometers and rowing machines and much more. And there’s always a common theme that emerges.

“How close of a bond they formed with all their teammates,” Garside said.

Yet, there’s always that moment to say goodbye, and Garside has made it his mission so that when that moment comes, he’s helped propel them forward into whatever journeys lie ahead.

Teamwork

Concord Crew is a nonprofit rowing club for kids in the area. They don’t have to have any experience when they start, and they can participate from all over, since it’s not a Concord High School sport.

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Garside’s work as the organization’s head coach for the last six years earned him a Hometown Hero nomination.

He started rowing in college at UMass Lowell and quickly caught the rowing bug. It’s how he met his wife, and with both sons, Jacob and Travis, avid rowers as well, it’s more than just a sport for him.

This past June, Concord Crew held Learn to Row Day on a Saturday where anyone could come try rowing for free. Meanwhile, the following Thursday kicked off the US Rowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota, Florida, where Garside had 11 kids qualify. Garside spent the whole Saturday at Learn to Row, then went home, loaded up all the equipment for the national championships in a trailer – boats, oars, riggers and other parts – and started on a 22-hour drive down to Florida the next morning to get everything ready for the event.

Concord Crew President Chris Graham estimated Garside driving the equipment himself saved the organization at least $3,000. It’s just one example of many of how he’s gone above and beyond for the program.

“He really, deeply cares about their overall experience,” Graham said. “Crew can be hard, but typically that hard work, with the teamwork that Concord Crew requires, really makes a difference in these kids’ lives and makes it a real meaningful experience for them.”

Tim Blagden, who nominated Garside for this recognition, has watched his son, Andrew, benefit from Garside’s work since he joined Concord Crew a couple years ago. With Andrew about to start his senior year at Kearsarge High School, his father’s seen the great impact Garside’s had on making the experience so worthwhile.

“I think he has a tremendous amount to do with the overall culture that’s so welcoming and does so much for the kids in our community,” Tim Blagden said of Garside. “It’s a phenomenal place for kids to have a very unique experience that will serve them well in their lives, and I think a great deal of that – from what I see – is because of the energy of Steve Garside.”

‘Pretty moving’

The senior sendoff at the end of each season also serves as validation, in a way, for all the time and effort Garside devotes to Concord Crew. It’s one of his favorite traditions, and while it’s something that predates his coaching tenure, its continuation underscores how he’s played an outsized role in shaping these experiences.

“To listen to all of those kids say how appreciative they are for having had the experience is just awesome,” Blagden said. “That’s really cool for me as a parent that my kid is involved in a program like that, and that Steve has fostered that kind of opportunity and giving back. He’s teaching the kids to give back, teaching the kids to never give up.”

They’re lessons the rowers can take with them well after their time with Concord Crew comes to an end.

“It’s pretty moving. It’s something I really enjoy,” Garside said of the senior speeches. “It’s nice to get a kid’s perspective on what they’re going to miss and how it affected their lives and stuff. It’s really amazing.”

It’s also that reminder of impermanence that, no matter how much time and effort his rowers put into the program, their time there will always come to an end.

“Nothing’s forever,” Garside said as a lesson he’s learned from the Buddhist monks and their sand mandala. “Enjoy it while you can, but don’t be so attached to it that you can’t let go.”

Garside himself isn’t quite yet ready to let go of his coaching responsibilities. For an experience that started with few expectations when Jacob joined the program, he’s impacted the lives of dozens and dozens of kids who’ve passed through Concord Crew. He always likes to share a few words to the departing seniors. For someone Graham described as very matter-of-fact, it’s always an emotional moment.

“He gets choked up,” Graham said of when Garside addresses the seniors. “It just shows you the deep emotion and feeling that he’s got. You talk to him for any bit of time, and you really understand just how passionate he is about rowing. That just resonates with the kids and the parents a lot.

“He’s not one of the ones that you can replace. He’s pretty special.”

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