At the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue, in the boathouse full or rowing shells, Jim Pickens works; the outline of his sunglasses visible on his tanned face.
He’s putting a skeg, which is little more than a fin, on the shell to ensure that damage isn’t done, should one of his rowers run up on debris.
That little service draws out the bigger picture of what Pickens was brought on to do as coach of the Lake Lanier Rowing Club: prepare.
“They hired me not just to coach, but as a director,” Pickens said. “Someone to put this place on course and make it a world-class facility again.”
Pickens has been rowing and coaching for the last 11 years, and made his way to the rowing club from Raleigh, N.C., where he coached not only juniors, but the men’s and women’s teams at the University of Mary Washington.
It was while working for a company that sold boats at a rowing show, that Pickens was informed of an opening at the rowing club in Gainesville.
“Raleigh wasn’t a rowing place,” Pickens said. “So I applied here, was interviewed and, basically, that’s how I got here.”
So from August of 2008, Pickens has been working diligently to impart his vision for the Lake Lanier Rowing Club — a non-profit organization that relies on club members and volunteers.
“I want this place to become self-sustaining,” Pickens said. “There is so much potential for growth. There is so much potential to house big events, like NCAA regattas, without requiring a whole lot of work.
“The infrastructure is here, the people are here; they just need someone with the right enthusiasm for the sport to make it happen.”
And it seems as though Pickens is just the man for it.
“People need to be reminded that this is an outstanding place to train,” Pickens said.
So in his day job, working for a company that repairs rowing shells, Pickens reminds them.
“My job takes me to regattas that don’t happen here, so I schmooze” Pickens said, “It keeps my finger on the pulse of the sport so to speak.”
Pickens has trained with rowers who compete on the national level and coached people who are not only in college, but have been given college scholarships.
He’s done everything in the sport from selling boats to repairing them, but most importantly he loves the sport, and that’s the foundation for his wanting the Lake Lanier Rowing Club to be all it can be.
“Some of the best experiences I’ve had in my life have been through rowing,” Pickens said. There’s a true love I have for this sport because it is the ultimate team sport.
“You have eight people rowing and if one of them doesn’t do their job, it hurts everyone.”
He loves it so much that he proposed to his wife Lauren on a rowing dock.
“You’ll never get money to do it, you’ll never get paid a lot to teach it; so you have to love it,” Pickens said.
Pickens considers it another part of his job description to pass that love along, and so two days a week he puts on Learn to Row classes with the mantra that, “You don’t have to be an Olympian to row on Lake Lanier.”
Among the things covered in the classes, offered in June and August, are boat safety, equipment terminology and the fundamentals of rowing.
“My job is to make sure people enjoy rowing enough to join the club,” Pickens said.
Sixteen people are currently signed up for the Learn to Row classes, with the ages ranging from 10-69.
“Chuck Logg, who’s a former Olympian, comes out here and rows like a spring chicken,” said Pickens of Logg, who in 1952 was a member of the only U.S. pairs without a coxswain crew to win an Olympic gold medal. “He still goes with the best of us.”
Pickens’ background qualified him for the job, his enthusiasm allowed for his hiring; but it’s his evident passion for rowing that is the sustaining factor that will result in success whether his vision is met or not.
“Everyday I get to get out on the water and teach people something I love,” Pickens said. “You can’t ask for much more than that.”