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Evan Rowe Coaches at Maccabiah Games

[Archived from August 28, 2009]

[by Phyllis Shaikun]

Evan Rowe had the chance of a lifetime and took advantage of every minute of it when he was chosen to be assistant coach of the 24-member U.S. Men’s Track and Field team at this summer’s Maccabiah games in Israel. The team arrived at Kibbutz Shefayim near Tel Aviv on July 3, and from that day on, Rowe was up at 5:30 each morning making sure the athletes were at breakfast by 6 and on the bus for the 20-minute ride to the Hadar Yosef training camp in Tel Aviv by 6:30. After the practice, they returned to the kibbutz for an early lunch and touring.

Most of the team had competed in track and field in college,” Rowe explained, and the majority were in their 30s. He called the team’s coach, Alex Smolka, in his seventh year as coach of Florida Atlantic University’s Cross Country and Track and Field programs, phenomenal. “We were two laid-back but aggressive guys who rolled with the punches,” said Rowe. “Alex was easy going and never lost his composure. We really bonded.”

One of the requisites of Rowe’s job was to raise $1600 to help underwrite the games and his participation in them. He thanked family and friends for helping him reach that goal.

His special moments included visiting Yad Vashem, floating in the Dead Sea and attending a July 4 barbeque. Some of the athletes participating in the games had never been to Israel before, so they really enjoyed seeing the various historical sites. For those who had not previously celebrated a bar or bat mitzvah, there was a mass b’nai mitzvah ceremony observing that rite of passage.

Rowe was impressed that the torch bearer for the opening ceremony was award-winning swimmer Jason Lezak, who chose to forego competing in the world championships in Rome to take part in the Maccabiah games. Bruce Pearl, coach of the University of Tennessee basketball team, was there too. (His team won over the Israeli team in overtime.) The ceremony was “fabulous,” Rowe says, with about 60,000 in attendance. They all wanted to keep that emotion, the enthusiasm motivated them to win. The U.S. had the largest contingent of athletes next to Israel.

Rowe’s team competed on July 14 and 15 and won five gold medals and a total of 24 medals altogether. In the men’s 4 x 4, they passed Israel by 10 meters to the finish line. They picked up two more medals and qualified to go to Natanya for two more races. The Jerusalem Post featured a photo Rowe had taken that overturned the results of one race.

He still marvels at having been to the games where he met people from all over the world. He stopped to think that he was among a group of 9,000 Jewish athletes – a population close to the size of Louisville’s entire Jewish community. “To be around all of them,” he says, “was unbelievable.” The group also had special IDs that got them into all kinds of places and earned them special treatment.

“It was a great experience,” said Rowe. “I love being in Louisville, but I miss all the guys I was with in Israel. We were so close for those three weeks since we only had one another.”

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