Spotlight: Boating runs in family for crew equipment manager

On a rainy night in 2004, Matt LeBlanc huddled under a tarp in an Iowa state park, hurriedly fixing a Women's Rowing Team racing boat. The next morning, the team captured the Big Ten Championship title in the repaired craft.

The boat, called a "shell" in rowing lingo, broke before the team left for Iowa, and LeBlanc, the facilities coordinator and equipment manager for Women's Rowing, had to fix it on the road. Transporting and maintaining the team's 24 rowing shells and various power, inflatable and coaching boats requires the flexibility to make repairs under pressure.
(Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services)

"No matter how well I plan for something, I'm always at the mercy of the weather, the staff and a bunch of 18-to-22-year-olds running around in expensive boats," LeBlanc says.

LeBlanc's duties also include ordering equipment and assembling the 2,000-meter-long racecourse on Belleville Lake where U-M races are held. "One morning I'll be editing video and that afternoon I'll be fixing a boat," he says of the diversity of his job.

A former collegiate rower and coach, LeBlanc races once or twice a year and also enjoys jet skiing. This affinity for boating runs in the family. LeBlanc grew up in Gibraltar, which he calls "a town with more boat slips than houses." His grandfather owned a marina, his father rowed in the 1960s, and his brother rowed for U-M, so LeBlanc followed the same path and joined his high school team.

After graduation LeBlanc enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves and performed humanitarian aid missions in Guatemala. When he returned to Michigan eight years later, a friend recruited him to Grand Valley State University's (GVSU) rowing club. Although studying business and microcomputer applications, LeBlanc ended up coaching the GVSU freshman women's rowing team. "I was around the boat house too much," he says of how he got the job.

While a student, LeBlanc attended boating repair clinics. Mending the carbon fiber and fiberglass rowing shells is tricky, he says, adding, "I use the same skills as you would in an auto-body shop. The materials I use are a hybrid between boats and aircraft." With proper qualifications and years of rowing experience, LeBlanc hopped onboard the Michigan Rowing staff in September 1998.

Along with attending practices and working in the boathouse, LeBlanc travels with the team about 15 weekends each year to competitions as far away as Princeton and San Diego. Although he likes driving, he spends a lot of time in hotel rooms away from his wife, Belinda and 1-year-old daughter, Yvette. To shorten the long traveling hours, LeBlanc plays online video games. "It's something you can do when you're on the road," he says. "I can play games online with my friends when I'm in a hotel room."

LeBlanc especially enjoys playing Eve-online, a multi-player science fiction game. A scenario where time in the virtual world continues even if a player signs off, LeBlanc can easily keep the game going when he travels. "It's a good way to get rid of stress," he says.

Although he enjoys his job's variety, in the future LeBlanc would like to run his own boat repair shop.

"Eventually I would like to move some place where it's warmer and I can just walk outside and jump on a boat."

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