Remembering Bill Braxton
Forty years goes by with the blink of an eye. Some voices that were so clear and vibrant years ago, fade from our memories and so it should be. But for those of us who knew Bill Braxton, his voice has never faded. Not for a moment. Nor has his spirit. Because that spirit lives on. Think of Bill’s spirit as the rivers that flow beneath the competitors who take their seats, tie themselves in, and grip their oars. Those rivers flow endlessly. There are days when the flow is barely evident, especially in the early mornings when the surface is shimmering glass. And there are days when the flow is a torrent, fueled by storms and the mountains that feed the streams. But it never stops.
The Bill Braxton Memorial Regatta, now in its 40th year, has become a living tribute to that unending spirit that Bill brought to his family, to his friends, to his teammates and to his sport. The Regatta has brought all of this together to ensure that the river never runs dry. To understand that, you had to know Bill.
Bill first became involved with rowing at Devon Preparatory School where, under the coaching of Tibor Machan, he rowed in a varsity four, competing for almost three years on the Schuylkill. During these high school years, Bill became affiliated with the Schuylkill Boat Club, where, under the leadership of Tom Rafferty, he became more and more actively involved in the sport.
Upon graduation from Devon, Bill entered Marietta College and by the spring racing season of his freshman year, he was rowing bow seat in the varsity lightweight eight. That year, 1972, the Marietta varsity lights finished an impressive second in the Dad Vail Championship on the Schuylkill River. Bill was visibly disappointed. He wanted first, nothing less. Yet, not a word of discouragement was heard from this dedicated young oarsman. He had his eye on the ’73 season, and eagerly awaited his second chance at the Vail Championship.
The ’73 racing season was to prove the championship season for Bill. Again rowing varsity lights, this time in 7 seat, Bill and his fellow varsity lights had only one thought in mind, victory. And victorious they were. Marietta’s varsity lightweights went undefeated in 1973, and the culmination of their perfect season was a victory at Dad Vail. By his sophomore year in college, at the age of 19, Bill had achieved the goal he sought. He was a member of the finest small college varsity lightweight boat in the country.
As the summer of 1973 came to an end, Bill had plans for the upcoming crew season, setting his sights on lightweights in the IRAs. On August 17, Bill was killed in a tragic traffic accident.
The following year, Bill’s dad looked at the river, and began the dream. Once a year for the last 40 years, except perhaps for one or two years when the weather kept them away, competitors from far and wide would race in Bill’s regatta and through Bill’s spirit. The river would come alive on that day as it has today, and as it has every year. For as long as his spirit is alive. For as long as the river flows.
On behalf of all of us who have had the privilege to be a part of this incredible effort over the last 4 decades, thanks to everyone. From the bottom of Bill’s heart.
Contributed by Bill's good friend, Dr. Tony Coletta