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Published: Friday, 8/13/2004

Rower at home in Toledo

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

If you look past the missing front grill and the wear and tear of more than 200,000 miles, you'll find a couple of duffle bags of clothing, a training bike, and three boxes of books.

Behind the wheel is J. Sloan DuRoss, U.S. Olympian.

He's a man with a country, but without a home.

As he shuttles between the East and West coasts looking for a patch of unfrozen water to ply his craft, Toledo becomes a place for the 27-year-old member of the American men's quadruple sculls (M4x) team to lay his head for two or three weeks every year.

The rower's dad, David, and step-mother, Marilyn, live less than a mile from the University of Toledo.

Coming to Toledo is like coming home," said DuRoss, whose first name is Jonathon. "The last couple of years, I've been leading sort of a vagabond lifestyle."

It's certainly not what one might expect from a Brown University graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering.

That it includes Toledo offers another twist.

DuRoss' mom and dad separated when he was 2. They were living in Vermont at the time.

An only child, the youngster spent most of his formative years with his mother in South Portland, Me. His father relocated to Columbus where he lived with his new wife and business partner, Marilyn.

The pair own Vins DuRoss, Ltd., a company that imports Spanish wines.

"We were doing a tremendous amount of business in Michigan," David said. "In the fall of 1998 we pulled off the side of the road during one of our

numerous trips back and forth. We went to the Yellow Pages, found a realtor and bought a house" in Toledo.

The fingers did the walking because Marilyn did some talking.

"David got sick of hearing, 'Honey, if we lived here we'd be home now,' " Marilyn said.

So Toledo became a part of Sloan's life. In a similar, unplanned, fashion it's how the sport of rowing did, too.

Sloan was 14 years old before his age equaled his shoe size.

"A kid that big, you'd think he'd play basketball," David said of his son, well over 6 feet tall. "But he couldn't jump, he couldn't run very well, and he was soft-boned before it all came together."

Long before Sloan developed to his Olympic size of 6-6, 210 pounds, he tried junior high football. A decent tight end, his career came to a halt when his coach and teammates weren't pleased that he passed up a game for Maine's state-wide mathematics tournament.

He then turned to soccer, figuring with his huge wing-span he might make a decent goaltender. He was right, but the competition in the classroom and on the pitch wasn't enough motivation.

One day Sloan called David and announced that he was going to attend Phillips Exeter Academy, an elite prep school in New Hampshire.

"I said, 'Great, but how do you expect to pay for this?'●" David recalled. "He said, 'I'm going to get a scholarship.'●"

At Exeter, homework brought more success than soccer. By his second day Sloan was demoted to the junior varsity squad. Two days later he wasn't even a backup.

Because of his size, someone suggested rowing. One day, DuRoss went down to the boathouse and jumped in with both feet. By the time he graduated, his skills in the classroom and on the water resulted in offers from colleges around the country.

Upon leaving Brown in 1999, Sloan accepted a $50,000 a year position as an analyst for Mellon Financial in Boston. His stint in the business world lasted slightly longer than his football career.

Missing the competition of rowing, Sloan quit his job in the winter of 2001-02 and went to California to train, with an eye on the Olympics.

While traveling coast to coast, Sloan began to lay roots in

Toledo.

The Wildwood Heath Club became a daily ritual during his visits, as did runs near Ottawa Park. Enjoying Marilyn's sheperds' pie was part of his 5,000-calories a day diet. Then he became involved with the Toledo Rowing Club, once entering an indoor rowing competition.

There, Sloan asked his father to hold the "stationary" machine.

"He needed to be there because that machine would have jumped forward," Marilyn said. "The power that boy has . . . David was so proud."

Sloan finished his 2,000-meter row in 5:59, easily winning the Toledo event.

It wasn't until June of this year that Sloan earned his trip to Athens for the competition that begins Sunday. A member of the 2003 Pan American Games bronze medal-winning doubles team, Sloan broke a rib in

December, ending his Olympic hopes in the pairs.

Asked by a coach to try out for the quad boat, the part-time Toledoan made the squad, and from his third seat from the bow helped the U.S. land one of 12 spots in the Games. Three days after qualifying for Athens, the American boat finished seventh in the World Cup.

Germany and Australia are among the favorites in M4x, a competion where two boats go head-to-head for 2,000 meters and where the luck of the draw can impact success.

Regardless of the outcome in the competition that ends Aug. 22, the Volvo 240 wagon will be making its way down West Bancroft Street again in about three months.

"I'll be back in Toledo around Thanksgiving," said Sloan, who recently snapped another rib while training. "Hopefully I won't be driving across the country again. It's a pretty big country in which we live. I'm not sure my car wants to go across the Rockies again with the boat on top."

It's a trip that might even be tougher with the added weight of an Olympic medal.

Contact Dan Saevig at:

dsaevig@theblade.com.



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