St. Paul rowing coach is tough, by choice

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The Mississippi River sparkled with sunshine as it sped past the Minnesota Boat Club on Raspberry Island in downtown St. Paul. Overhead, American flags adorning the Wabasha Street bridge fluttered and flapped in the May wind. From the dock, seven sleepy-eyed rowers from the boat club’s junior team quietly slipped their boats into the water and began their early morning journey upstream.

Soon, though, a megaphone-kind-of-voice interrupted the peaceful river scene:

“DO NOT STOP IN FRONT OF A BRIDGE ABUTMENT!” shouted rowing coach Miriam Baer from the pontoon boat that trailed the high school crew. “IT CAN KILL YOU! THE CURRENT IS VERY FAST RIGHT NOW!”

Baer sounds like a drill sergeant, but she acts like a mother duck trying to keep her ducklings safe. At 70, this silver-haired coach with the cane next to her in the boat has spent more than half her life witnessing the power of this river.

“I’ve told them so many times,” says Baer with a heavy sigh. “They just have no respect for it.”

These young rowers might not respect the river yet — but they do respect their coach, the St. Paul Pioneer Press (http://bit.ly/1lVHd0J ) reported.

“She’s a bit intimidating at first,” says 17-year-old Daniel Holod of St. Paul, who just graduated from Cretin-Derham Hall. “But then you realize that she just wants you to be the best you can be. And she’ll get you there — if you listen to her.”

In the rowing community, Baer has a reputation for creating champions. Her alums include Micah Boyd, who rowed all the way to the podium at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, winning a bronze medal in the men’s eight category. There also have been wins at regional, state and national competitions.

It’s not just about medals, though.

“She’s tough and not for everyone,” says Elisabeth Johnson Holod, Daniel’s mom. “But she produces winners and kids who get into good schools. … Within the past two or three years, she has had students go to Harvard, Brown, Columbia, the Naval Academy and George Washington, among others. Daniel is headed to Cornell University next fall to row.

Baer’s roster also includes coaches: Boyd, the Olympian, is now the head varsity coach for men’s crew at the University of North Carolina. Boyd and his brother, Anders, both learned to row at the Minnesota Boat Club.

Looking back, Boyd is impressed at how this small club can train its high school rowers, who come from public and private schools around the metro, to compete at elite levels against rowers from powerhouse programs.

“Even if you’re not very athletic, if you work really hard, Miriam is going to see that and she’s going to pay attention,” Boyd says.

Baer, a farm girl with 11 brothers and two sisters, attended St. Scholastica in Duluth as a nursing student, not a rower.

“But I think I did pick St. Scholastica because it’s on the water,” Baer said.

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