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Let it Run! Steve Sandor Feature

16-Jul-2023 1:15 PM | Ruth Robertson

If I had a dollar for every time Steve Sandor said “let it run”, I’d have a new Empacher single.

For decades, Argo stalwart Steve Sandor mentored and inspired dozens if not hundreds of our members. His familiar call could be heard on the water as he stopped you rowing by to comment on your technique. The same was true up in the erg room. Steve took an interest in mentoring every rower at every level of skill. Born in 1921 in pre-war Budapest, Hungary, this is his story.

When the sun rose to find Steve Sandor rowing on the Danube river for the first time, it was May 3rd, 1937. Every life has defining moments and for Mr. Sandor, it was his first moments rowing on those historic waters that he knew he had made his choice.

As a boy, Steve first sat in a wooden row boat while on vacation. He liked it so much he asked his father, who had a cabinet-making business, to build him one. But the Great Depression had set in and circumstance wouldn’t permit. Years later a recruiter from the Hungarian Rowing Club visited his school looking for new talent – preferably 180 cm or taller boys who hadn't previously rowed. Steve remembered how he was told to wear thick-soled shoes to lash into the fixed foot-stretchers in the heavy-duty wooden rowing shell.

So launched a remarkable career spanning over 60 years. To this day Steve is the only Hungarian to win National Championships in every boat category – 1X, 2X, 4-, 4+, and 8+. He won the European University Championships and a total of 18 National titles. His career culminated with a three-gold-medal performance at the World Masters Games in the 1X, 2X and mixed 4X in Portland, Oregon in 1998.

Born on June 8th, 1921, in Budapest, Hungary, Steve endured the Great Depression, the collapse of the family business, Nazi, and later communist occupations. What kept Steve grounded in his life was his pure love of the sport of rowing. He rowed for the FTC Sports Club in the 9th district and served as President and Captain between the years 1949 - 1959. This club was an amalgamation of four clubs and operated much like what is now a national team system producing the best crews in the country. There were also competing clubs made up entirely of communists, which were favoured by party reps during the Olympic Team selection trials.

To his chagrin, Steve fast became aware that the communist crews were to be favoured by the selection committee. Attending a selection meeting, Steve had been told not to speak as he wasn’t a communist party member. When it became apparent his crew would not be chosen he bravely stood up and said “Comrades!” to show respect for the party officials and continued saying, “Who will represent Hungary at the Helsinki Olympics – the fastest crew, or the communist crew?” Put that way, party officials paused and considered his request. Steve was successful in securing a two-boat race off against the fastest communist crew to determine who would represent the nation. It was a best two of three format and with Steve in bow, they easily won the first two races to secure a spot on the team bound for Helsinki.

Steve’s Olympic experience differed greatly from those of other Argos who competed at the Helsinki Olympics. Coming from a communist country, Hungarian athletes were forced to live in a fenced-in compound and weren’t allowed to associate with athletes from other countries. 186 guards accompanied the 186 members of the team, each assigned to one individual.

Still, Steve spoke fondly of having the opportunity to represent his country at such a prestigious event. His crew, racing in a communist-built boat 50 kg heavier than other countries used, didn’t advance beyond the repechage. As Steve put it “we were carrying two coxies”.

Years later, after the fall of communism in Hungary, Steve ran into the same officials he addressed prior to the Olympic trials. They commended him for the stand he took with them and the courage he showed confronting the party on behalf of his crew despite the dangers involved in doing so.

Steve moved to Toronto in 1981 after 12 years of braving the roads of Manhattan driving a taxicab. One day while driving on Lakeshore Blvd. West he happened to spot past the Argonaut Club so he pulled in and met Jim Ingram. They discussed rowing and membership and Steve promptly paid the $100. fee required for one year of rowing at Argos. Thus began a lasting legacy at Argos. When a local sports channel interviewed Steve at Argos in 1997 he reiterated how he felt he was home here "this is a club, go into the workshop, it is has the smell of a club, it feels like a club, it has a history".

Days from turning 93, Steve still marvels at his many great experiences rowing at the club and the people he has known. He has great memories of times spent with people like Bob Blunt and still raves about the "incredible blade work" of Shannon Crawford when she took him out in a pair. Although he has slowed down a little, Steve is still able to make it to the ARC Double Blue Awards Gala every year where he can reminisce with friends.

Our waters miss Steve but he watches over them. The view from the kitchen of his Swansea condominium catches the Western edge of our watercourse only steps from the lakeshore – where he needs to be.

Let it run.

Grant Sommers 2014

Argonaut Rowing Club is a not-for-profit corporation registered with the Province of Ontario. 

1225 Lakeshore Blvd W, Toronto, ON M6K 3C1


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