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"I don't know how they do it," says University of Washington senior five seat Gordon Gruendell. "We're only off the water for about three weeks, during Christmas break."
Wisconsin pounds through the long winter months to the rhythm of a creative training schedule devised by Jablonic. Jabo (as he is called) has been involved with Badger rowing since 1954, first as an oarsman and then as a coach. He knows how to keep things from getting tedious.
"I like to change the program around so that it's interesting," says Jabo. "Every year I pull out something new."
Jabo knows winter training. His "something new" has included: rope runs, with the entire team (about 50 people) hanging onto a rope and trudging across frozen Lake Mendota, often in waist-high snow; the Hour of Power, 60 minutes of running up and down the steps of Camp Randall Stadium while Jabo plays polkas on his boom box; and deer tails, where as part of a weight training circuit, a sock attached to a rope hangs from the boat-house ceiling, nine feet off the floor, and for one to three minutes at a stretch the oarsmen have to jump high enough to touch it.
"We go out and run when it's 40 degrees below zero," says captain Todd (Moose) Hinrichs, whose nickname comes from Moose in the Archie comics—not that someone who's 6'8", 220 pounds needs another reason to be nicknamed Moose. "The first time we were pretty apprehensive. But Jabo just told us that as long as we dressed for it, we'd be O.K."
"He also said that if we were worried about frostbite on a certain part of our anatomy, we should stuff newspaper down our pants," says stroke Fitz Dunn.
Sometimes the training gets interesting for spectators as well. A few weeks ago, just before the team left Madison for the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships in Syracuse, N.Y., the Badgers celebrated with a ceremony they call the Grand Row. In it the crews, most of them naked, row past the boat-house while Jabo stands on the bow of his launch, a John Philip Sousa march rumbling from the boom box, and a man playing bagpipes stands on the dock as fireworks go off overhead.
"In his Wisconsin country-boy style, he'll get you to dream about things," says former Badger oarsman Earl Anderson. "He can get you to do things you didn't think you could do. It builds a relaxed kind of confidence."
It is Jablonic's intention to let that relaxed attitude carry over into other aspects of his athletes' lives. Last week, when Hinrichs suffered an upset stomach after eating at a Mexican restaurant in Cincinnati, he received some Jabo Medicine: a box of toasted oats, a bag of puffed rice, several apples and a bottle of Kaopectate. Jabo knows first aid.
"It worked," says Hinrichs. "Although I'm not sure which part did the trick."