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Never Too Deep

(Photo - Mike Sullivan on the Bay)During the week, SLAC programmer Mike Sullivan sleeps just a few feet above South San Francisco Bay. For the past few years he has spent his weeknights floating at Bair Island Aquatic Center in nearby Redwood City, which allows him to divide his weekdays between SLAC and rowing, or "sculling," lessons on the Bay.

"Sleeping away from home and family is difficult," he said. "But as a consolation I get to spend early mornings teaching people to scull."

Over the years, Sullivan has become a well-known figure in the sport. In the past, he has served as a coach for national programs at the University of California, Irvine, and as "relief pitcher" at Stanford when the coach went on maternity leave. However, he now spends his time introducing beginners—most of whom have never even been in a boat before—to the sport. He says this lets him enjoy teaching without the type of commitment that exists in coaching top-notch programs.

"It's immensely exciting to see people who are all so different in their mental and physical ability succeed," Sullivan said. "When they obtain the skills to safely handle the boat alone, that's when my lessons end."

Sullivan was introduced to the sport as a freshman in college. Groups of rowers from the school would gather on campus to spot talent and do recruiting.

"In my case, they were looking at the 6' 5" all-state wrestler standing next to me," he said. "They peeked behind him and said I could come along too—and I ended up making it my life."

Sullivan, who has been teaching beginners on-and-off since the late '70s, says he can't predict how successful people will be by their appearance or even by talking with them. Timid non-athletes have been known to prove themselves instantly and some of the know-it-alls and jack-of-all-trades might struggle, he said.

"The only way to know is to go," he said. "The first lesson is always free."

Matt Cunningham, SLAC Today, March 4, 2008

Above image: Mike Sullivan teaches a student how to reenter a boat from the water.