Robert “Bob” Appleyard arrived in Pullman from suburban Illinois knowing “next to nothing” about rowing.
The former high school swimmer was looking to try a new sport as a college freshman. In September 1971, he spotted an announcement in the Daily Evergreen for a meeting of the newly formed rowing club. “They hadn’t yet ever been on the water, and I thought maybe I would take a look.”
Appleyard (’75 Zool., ’79 MS Env. Sci., ’86 PhD Vet. Sci.) ended up rowing for Washington State University’s fledgling crew team all four years of college and went on to become a celebrated race official with the United States Rowing Association (USRowing) and International Federation of Rowing Associations.
After more than four decades of officiating, he’s lost track of how many races he’s judged—from high school, college, and master to Olympic levels. He’s served on USRowing’s national Referee Committee, won national awards, and acted as chief referee for high-profile races, including the US national and Olympic team trials, Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships, Eastern Sprints, and Head of the Charles Regatta.
“I eventually came to understand that I was in the first group of outsiders, brought in from nontraditional programs, to not only replenish the aging ranks but also acknowledge the considerable expansion of collegiate rowing that was then taking place,” Appleyard said as the keynote speaker at 2023’s Cougar Crew Days banquet and auction at Beasley Coliseum.
Reflecting on the team’s origin, he continued, “It seems improbable that competitive rowing could ever take root at Washington State, but perhaps because we were not aware of that at the time, it did. And given our decidedly nontraditional entry into the sport, it seems improbable that a number of us from those first years went on to achieve more in the sport of rowing, as competitors, coaches, and even as national and international officials.”
Appleyard began refereeing in 1980 in Seattle. Four years later, he became the Northwest representative on USRowing’s national Referee Committee. He also filled in as head coach for WSU’s women’s club rowing during the 1984–85 academic year while working toward his doctoral degree. Now retired, he lives with his wife, Christine (Oltman) Appleyard (’87 PhD Vet. Med.), in her hometown of Shelton.
Appleyard also served on USRowing’s Referee Committee as the Northeast representative and as chairman. Since 2002, he has been the dean of USRowing’s Julian Wolf National Referee School, which trains referees throughout the country.
His international résumé includes the Goodwill Games, Pan American Games, World Cups, and World Championships. He was a technical official at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and was on the jury of officials for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In 2018, he was president of the jury for the World Masters in Florida.
His dedication has been recognized with USRowing’s 1993 Julian Wolf Award, the Eastern College Athletic Conference’s 2013 Shiebler Award, and USRowing’s 2014 Jack Franklin Award.
He still referees two or three races per year and holds tremendous respect for the sport. “One of the biggest challenges of crew is you have to work entirely as a unit,” he says. “You spend years learning how to do it. It’s very hard physical work.”