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For Sisters, A Very Good Year
They can't outwrite Charlotte and Emily, outglitter Joan and Olivia or outwarble Patti, LaVerne and Maxene, but it's safe to say those celebrated sisters could not, in several lifetimes, outrow Judy and Carlie Geer, outrebound Pam and Paula McGee or outskate Mary and Sarah Docter. These American athletes are stars in their sports—and like all siblings, subject to rivalries made the more poignant by their ties of blood. Herewith, the sisters of the year.
In one fluid movement they push their oar handles away from themselves, sliding aft on their seats, their knees coming up to their armpits, their arms extended as far in front of them as possible till they make the catch, dropping the blades down into the water, and whoooomph, they uncoil, pulling the oar handles back—legs straightening out, arms back, backs back, hands back to their stomachs; then again, reach, whoooomph, pull back; reach, whoooomph, back. The boat is full of Geer sisters—two—the U.S. women's double-sculls champions.
"For me," says Judy Geer, at 28 the older of the pair, "the pleasure of rowing is in the way the boat feels when it's going well. You take one stroke, you let it run out, you're perfectly balanced, you're getting something free; you can't wait to take another stroke, it feels so good. It's so easy to hurt and kill yourself when the boat responds."
Judy, who in October set a course record for the women's single sculling event at the renowned Head of the Charles regatta, might not have become America's top woman sculler if it weren't for the inescapable impetus she receives daily from her admiring, inexhaustible 24-year-old sister, Carlie, who, like Judy, is both a champion sculler and a champion sibling.
"Carlie's great," says Judy, whose serene chipped-tooth grin is visible even in the darkness of the Dartmouth boat-house where the Geers keep their sculls. "We're mutually bound to each other to do well. I'm really grateful to her for her drive."
Neither of them does anything without a whole lot of drive, or without somehow messing up her short boyish hair. "I'm psyched to take a nap," Carlie will say, throwing off her backpack and charging to her bedroom. They even knit as if it were an aerobic exercise.
"Knitting is a lot like rowing," says Judy. "You do the same motion over and over. In knitting, you throw in patterns; in rowing, you throw in different drills. Last summer at the world championship in Germany, the U.S. team had a talent show in which I brought out two oars and a plastic bag that I put on the ground. Then I sat down, took some yarn out of the bag and started to knit with the oars.
"See, I like symmetry. In sculling and knitting, your hands are right here in the middle; you're perfectly balanced."
Both Geers graduated from Dartmouth College—Judy with an A.B. in biology in 1975, Carlie with an A.B. in geography in December of 1980—and both have remained in Hanover, N.H., where every possible day they tear up turf, water, pavement and/or snow as they run, row, swim, bike and/or cross-country ski themselves into the extraordinary shape they are in. In winter, when ice on the Connecticut River, which runs through the Dartmouth campus, makes rowing impossible, they work out on a machine called a rowing ergometer and in the school's rowing tanks.