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Because of the Olympic boycott—the Geers were the 1980 U.S. Olympic women's doubles team—it wasn't until the world championships in Munich last August that they had a chance to test their mettle and strategy against all the real heavies: the Soviets, Bulgarians and Romanians as well as the East Germans.
Of the teams that reached the finals, the Geers, who finished fifth, were the only one not financially supported by its government. They weighed at least 30 pounds less than any of the other teams. The pairs of Eastern Europe, endowed with salaries, weight and experience, were products of an assembly line; the Geer sisters, endowed with Yankee ingenuity, pluck, hand-knitted socks and a natural rowing style, were products of the Vermont woods and a family that was delighted to dig up an old cast-iron turbine in its backyard.
Home to Carlie and Judy isn't Hanover or Darien, Conn., where they grew up and where their parents still live most of the time. Home is the rambling old farmhouse in West Fairlee, Vt., where the family spends summers and vacations, where Carlie clings to the rafters in the garage while using her body weight to hold down the lid of the ice-cream freezer—Oreo cookie is a favorite flavor—as Judy or any of a number of bearded friends cranks.
"The cows are eating your Jeep again, dear," says the sisters' mother, Julia, 55, poking her head into the farmhouse living room, where her ever-industrious husband, Pete, 61, is down on his hands and knees. "They love the upholstery," Julia, whom everyone calls Jeff, explains to a visitor.
Pete, dressed in paint-spattered clothes, grins and continues to drive nails into the hardwood floor he is laying down. Outside the window a friend's hefty black-and-white cows, which are grazing on the Geers' land, continue to reach over the fence and munch on the stuffing of the dilapidated Jeep parked by the barn.
"I actually married my husband because his family had a 42-foot yawl; they used to take me up to Maine," Jeff says, leafing through an old National Geographic. "When Judy was a baby, I made formula on the boat and I used to wash diapers by tying them to a line and towing them behind the boat."
"I've always loved to work with my hands and make things," says Pete, hammering away. "You know, the five of us built that sugar house out back—only cost us $150 for the materials. Last year we made 20 gallons of maple syrup."
The Geers hope eventually to make their own electricity. There probably aren't very many families in America who have a turbine buried in the backyard. Most of the ones that do probably go through life without even knowing it's there.
"I knew that years ago there were cider and saw mills along the river that runs through the property," Pete says, "so when I saw a little pipe sticking out of the ground back there, I was intrigued."
Some folks might see a little pipe sticking out of the ground and just think, "Hmmm, here's a little pipe sticking out of the ground." Pete got a shovel and his two daughters and son, Bart—now 26 and an investment analyst—and they took turns digging. The little pipe turned out to be connected to a two-ton turbine that had been interred for some 60 years. The Geers rented a crane to hoist it up. Now they plan to rebuild a small dam that once existed on the river and make electricity for themselves, their neighbors and the power company.