Rowing has been at the center of her life since she arrived at Dartmouth, but if Judy Geer had had it her way, she'd have been wearing the Green earlier than she did.
If Judy Geer had been born two years earlier, she would not have had the opportunity to go to Dartmouth, or row, or be on three Olympic teams.
Last year she attended the 30th reunion of the first Dartmouth women's crew team, and was amazed at how many of the women are still involved in rowing. Some are coaching and several, including Geer, have daughters who will be rowing together at Dartmouth.
Geer and her counterparts were Dartmouth pioneers. She arrived as a junior transfer from Smith in 1973, the second year Dartmouth had women as students. Some women in these early classes reported encountering hostility, but Geer remembers her experience as positive. "I had a great time. I just stayed as far away from fraternities as possible.
For her, the decision to transfer was natural. "I knew I didn't like it at Smith early on," she says. "There weren't enough kindred spirits. I was really ready for a change." At the time, Smith College didn't have the sports she was interested in. There was no rowing, and she found herself doing synchronized swimming instead of swim team.
Dartmouth was also her family's school. "My father and my uncles, and some grandfathers, had all been part of Dartmouth -- so I was raised wearing green to football games. I announced during high school that I wanted to go to Dartmouth, but I had to wait to have the chance." The year she applied to college was one year too early to apply to Dartmouth.
At the time some alumni opposed women attending Dartmouth, but that wasn't the case in the Geer household. "My dad thought it was great. In general I think the Dartmouth alums with daughters were much quicker to accept the change to co-education than the Dartmouth alums with sons."
Once Geer arrived at Dartmouth she started rowing right away. She swam in the winter, and rowed again in the spring. In 1975 she became the first captain of the varsity women's crew. "When I got there Peter Gardner, the men's rowing coach, was prepared to coach," says Geer, "We rowed on the Connecticut River, one of the most gorgeous places anywhere."
When asked about high points of her Dartmouth rowing career, Geer replied. "I just remember it all as a high point." She was very busy at Dartmouth, between athletics and academics. "I remember coming to the realization that the more I had to do, the more I got done," she says. "I think having a lot to do helped keep me on task and kept my day structured. Rowing tended to be very early in the morning -- so I couldn't stay up late at night."
After graduating with a degree in ecology Geer realized she wanted to keep rowing, so she worked with a professor doing field research, while continuing to train at Dartmouth. In February 1976 she went to Cambridge to train with Harvard's Harry Parker. She tried out for the national team, and says, "I barely got invited to camp, but once I was there I did really well. I made the cut and ended up in the four for the 1976 Olympics."
After the Olympics Geer switched to sculling, mostly in order to allow her to train alone, and then took her first job. "My first real job away from Dartmouth was teaching math at St. Paul's school and coaching rowing, so I guess sports helped there."
She returned to Dartmouth a year later, and was women's rowing coach from 1977 to 1979. There she coached her sister, Carlie, who started rowing after the Montreal Olympics. According to Geer "she saw me in the Olympics and decided she wanted to row too, not just watch."
Because Judy was still training, and she and Carlie wanted to improve together, not compete against each other, Judy remembers little rivalry from coaching her little sister. She left Dartmouth to take time off to train for the 1980 Olympics, where she was to row in doubles with Carlie. These plans were interrupted by the 1980 Olympic boycott.
After 1980, Judy returned to Dartmouth again, this time to work on her Masters in Engineering, which she earned in 1983. Both sisters continued rowing and went to the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, but in separate boats. Carlie won silver in the single sculls.
Geer grew up in Connecticut but her family moved to West Fairlee, Vermont, just before she transferred to Dartmouth. She met husband Dick Dreissigacker, a rower from Brown who rowed in the 1972 Olympics, "through being the only two rowers in Vermont." Geer kept running into Dreissigacker at various rowing venues.
The relationship progressed, "such that when I graduated I had a job and a place to live." The couple married in 1985.
The job Geer referred to was at Concept2, Dreissigacker's company, which manufactures and sells composite oars and other rowing supplies. Dreissigacker and his brother, Peter, invented the carbon composite oar, which dominates rowing today. She started in manufacturing and software development, but switched over to marketing so she could have a more flexible schedule as their children were growing up.
Geer feels very fortunate that rowing remains a big part of her life. She has loved it ever since the first time she tried it during a rowing class at Smith where according to her, it was taught as "proper rowing for young ladies."
As she raised her children, she says "we were careful not to force rowing on them." Her oldest daughter, Hannah, is at Dartmouth now, a member of the Nordic ski team.
Geer's second daughter also grew up skiing, but recently started rowing and made the Junior National team. As her mother tells it, "she knew how to row since she could walk and was in really good shape from the skiing." She was recently accepted at Dartmouth and will be heading there this fall.
Their son Ethan is 15, also a skier, and she feels it would be no surprise to see him decide to apply to Dartmouth as well. Geer feels very fortunate that she was able to follow the family Dartmouth tradition, and glad the tradition can be passed on to her daughters as well as her son. "I loved the place, and I am thrilled to say that my daughter is also loving the place."
— Suzanne Eschenbach