Alumni Spotlight (Frances Tuite ’78)

I grew up in West Lafayette, the daughter of a Purdue professor of botany and plant pathology and a botanist homemaker mother. We lived on Quincy St near the Wabash River, so not far from our boathouse next to Merou Grotto. My dad always believed in sports and competition growing up and he always wanted all six of his kids to participate vs spectate. He coached an AAU track team, so my sister Kathy and I were runners from a young age. I was also always passionate about biking and rode my bike everywhere (and still do today). I had some success in track in high school but when I came upon a Crew Call out as a freshman and after seeing the inspirational film about rowing, I was smitten. Here’s a link… it’s  worth watching:

My parents were both short, but my dad was particularly scrappy; boxing as a lightweight in college and taking up running after giving up smoking; so my height at 5’4” wasn’t particularly appealing to a rowing coach, yet Kevin Sauer encouraged and inspired me to give it my best and work hard. He was an inspiration to us all, especially my good friend Barb Thebert who ended up marrying him! Kevin taught us work ethic and persistence, traits and habits that have changed my life. His influence on my love of rowing and my career successes are a testament to his leadership and mentoring. Dave Kucik has been an inspiration to me as well, carrying out a tradition of work ethic and personal values that are critical to our society.

While I only rowed at Purdue for two years, as I moved to Ohio in my junior year, I never gave up rowing. I learned to scull in Cincinnati and have been racing ever since. I moved to Chicago in the late 80’s and joined the rowing club on the Chicago River and then Lincoln Park Boat Club. The friendships that have come from training and rowing have been core to my life. I was lucky to meet and train with Olympians, which further developed my tenacity and technical skills well into adulthood. I have more success as an adult rower, than I ever did at Purdue, yet it was the base from which I grew. I’ve medalled at the Head of the Charles, Masters Nationals and Worlds, Royal Henley Veterans, Heineken Roeivierkamp, and Silverskiff in Italy – traveling the world to race and commune with friends. 

I got involved in Chicago with Recovery on Water (ROW), a breast cancer rowing program using exercise and teamwork to fight the disease and improve health. I wanted to give back to the sport that gave so much to me. After 7 years with ROW, a group of us formed a new non-profit Chicago Community Sculling to focus on underserved youth, with the club being funded by memberships and fees from masters as well as donations and grants. We are still in the start-up phase, but we have Arshay Cooper on our board (author and feature of the film of the same name “A Most Beautiful Thing”), as well as Olympian Andrew Campbell, amongst others. We hope to impact lives in Chicago.

I also built a boathouse at my home in Michigan on the St. Joe River so that I could scull on my own schedule and invite friends and neighbors to join me. I’ve hosted multiple rowing camps and our first regatta (Virtual HOCR) this year. This is a beautiful river and I hope to host some Purdue Rowers in the future. 

Rowing has been transformational to my life and I hope it will be to yours. Please reach out to me if you have any questions or interest in getting further involved in the sport! 

Fran Tuite –