Attorney/Oarsman

Nielsen Lewis (Princeton University, Class of 1969, and University of Michigan Law School, J.D. 1972), an environmental litigation and land development attorney at Hill Wallack LLP at the Carnegie Center, has been rowing for four years.

As a litigator, Lewis has been involved in complex environmental cases that can continue for months or years. While many cases eventually settle out of court, each case must be developed and prepared for trial, and there are legal skirmishes and battles between lawyers along the way. Lewis’s first trial, as an attorney in the state attorney general’s office seeking a court order to enforce solid waste disposal rules promoting competition, took just one day. His most recent trial, which concerned insurance coverage for a gas station owner’s cleanup of contamination caused by a leaking gasoline storage tank, lasted seven weeks.

When he’s not in the office or a courtroom, as he told U.S. 1’s Barbara Fox, Lewis is often on the water:

Rowing is a great stress reducer. As a member of the Mercer Masters Rowing Club, sponsored by the Princeton National Rowing Association (PNRA), I enjoy rowing and competing. Six days a week at 5:30 a.m., we row out of the Finn Caspersen Boat House on Mercer Lake. At dawn we launch our “sweep” boats in a beautiful natural setting. The sky is just turning blue, the moon may still be hovering on the horizon. Around us, we see magnificent great blue herons, diving black cormorants, soaring hawks, rambunctious geese, jumping fish, and feeding deer. One day driving up to the lake, I braked for a coyote running across my path.

As with other good exercise, rowing enhances my sense of well being and outlook on life. It has not always been rowing. As a youth, I had a love of running. With the help of a scholarship, I had the good fortune of attending Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire, where I competed in track and cross country. Then, during my first year at Princeton, shin splints forced me stop the sport.

On entering the work force, I returned to running. At first I lived in Manhattan next to Central Park — beautiful open space filled with runners, riders and strollers right there in the center of one of the great cities in the world. It just beckons you. When my wife, Marcy, and I moved to West Windsor, I was running several miles a day on the road. But eventually my right knee would no longer take the pounding of long runs on pavement. As our son, Andrew, began rowing in 2003, I became curious about the sport and enrolled in PNRA’s Learn-To-Row-program. Andrew went on to row at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire and will row at Princeton next fall.

When I started rowing, I was pretty tense — gripping the oar hard and moving stiffly through the entire stroke sequence. Over time, I learned the curious combination of “driving” hard (most of the power comes from the legs) and relaxing on the “recovery” between strokes. Our coaches move us up and down the boat, and sometimes we “cox.” Coxswains sit in the stern or bow of the boat calling out commands. They are responsible for the boat and the safety of the rowers in it. Coxswains must deal with currents and winds, avoid collisions, and communicate with the coach in the launch, while also helping the rowers improve their technique and performance.

Rowing at the start of the day is a special time out for us before we enter our busy and noisy daily work routines. When we finish our workouts on the water, I feel fit, relaxed and confident. I return home, shower, eat a rich breakfast, and head off to work with a clear head. Mercer Masters is a great adult rowing program and experience. I only wish I had discovered it earlier.

Princeton National Rowing Association, South Post Road, West Windsor 08550, 609-799-7100, E-mail: amy@rowpnra.org, www.rowpnra.org. Learn to Row program through August 7, 4 weeks, $350, Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Carnegie Lake Rowing Association, www.clra.com. Learn to Row program, $300. Apply by August 23, attend September 13 and 14 followed by weekday rowing on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 7 a.m. and Sundays from 3 to 5 p.m. through Thanksgiving.

Accountant/Competitive Diver

Mary Bennett, a CPA and a masters competitive diver, grew up in Urbana, Illinois, the youngest of four. Her father was a landscape architect and her mom a housewife. She earned a bachelors in zoology from the University of Michigan in 1971 and a CPA in 1986 from the University of Illinois.

She owns her own CPA business based in Lawrenceville; the bulk of her clients are individuals and she also deals in the tax aspects of divorce, as well as multi-state returns. When she is not crunching numbers, she can often be found on the high dive, contemplating a plunge into the water below — as she explained to U.S. 1’s Jamie Saxon:

In Illinois, where I grew up, there’s nothing to do in the summer, so my mom took us to the pool. I was a swimmer first. I dove my senior year at college in Michigan and then joined the Peace Corps, volunteering first as a teacher in Liberia, then in Nigeria as a national swimming and diving coach. I competed in the 1968 Olympic trials but didn’t make the team. But I ended up being in the top 20 in the world in 200 and 400 freestyle.

Years later, while living overseas due to my ex-husband’s work, I was pregnant with my second child, and I read “The Woman’s Room” by Marilyn French, about how women in the 1950s were brought up — essentially, you had kids and stayed home and took care of them. I got depressed and went back to states during the summers and took accounting courses at the University of Illinois.

After coming back to the states permanently, my younger son and a good athlete, now 25, (Bennett also has an older son, 28), was diving with the Blue Dolphins at the College of New Jersey, a junior Olympic team. He ended up quitting but there was another dad who was diving, and he said, “Mary, come on, give it a try.” That was 10 years ago. I dive in the Masters, ages 55 to 59, but there are masters groups for ages 25 to 29, 20 to 39, and so on all the way up to 90 and over. There was once a woman who was 101 and competed. I want to be her.

I practice at TCNJ six days a week for a couple hours in the evenings, practicing my different dives on a springboard. I also stretch and do strengthening exercises and/or Pilates daily.

I find diving to be a huge release from my work. I might work from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., then go practice and when I get there I’m a seething mass of frustration, but after I dive for 30 to 40 minutes, I’m calm and focused and the world is right. Since I dive with the Blue Dolphins, I’m diving with 9 to 18-year-olds; we’re all on the same team. I really like hanging out with the kids at TCNJ — it’s not just go and work out. I get to hang out with great people. There are also a few other masters divers who have joined. That’s huge.

I just came back from competing in Perth, Australia, but the first time I competed there was in the 2002 World Masters Games in Melbourne, where I earned a gold and two silvers. In Riccione, Italy, I got two golds — world records in the one meter and three-meter springboard, and a silver in platform. The next year, in Edmonton, Canada, I set two world records with three gold medals.

One of the things about Masters sports that I love is the camaraderie. I get together with Masters divers twice a year for competitions; last year I was in Miami and New York. If you can imagine something that you’re passionate about and getting together with a bunch of people who feel the same way, you can see it’s a very tight-knit group of people. My best friends are from Finland and South Africa and Lithuania.

In order for me to do my dives and work on learning new dives, I make sure that I stay stretched and healthy, or else I can’t dive the way I want to dive. I have to do it every day, for a half hour to 45 minutes.

My kids think it’s pretty cool. And they come to see me compete if it’s close by. A while back I got an E-mail from Geezer Jock magazine — I thought it was a joke — which said, “We’re looking for athletes to go for geezer jock of the year.” I sent it to my son to check it out and it turns out it was real. He works on an aircraft carrier so I tried to have him get everyone there to vote for me. The magazine had three winners per age group, and I won in my age group.

We’re constantly looking to get people back into the sport. There’s a dedicated core group of masters divers at TCNJ who would love to help you get into it or get back into it. If you want to learn to dive we will help you.

Blue Dolphins, the College of New Jersey. Visit www.bluedolphindiving.com or contact Candace Gottlieb at gotcandy2@comcast.net or 856-287-0218.

Data Cruncher/Rock Climber

George Kopf moved from California when his wife, Anne Cheng, became an English professor at Princeton University two years ago. He works remotely from his Princeton Township home as a database administrator for Merced Systems, a Silicon Valley-based firm that provides solutions for call center and customer service businesses.

Kopf’s father worked in sales for General Electric for 25 years and his mother was a real estate guru who formed her own real estate school. Kopf received his bachelor’s degree in information systems from the University of Maryland and his MBA from Maryland in 1994. As he told U.S. 1’s Scott Morgan, “I’ve been an athlete all my life.” Here is how that athleticism currently is engaged:

I’ve poked around with triathlons, run 10Ks, a marathon, played beach volleyball. One day, about 12 years ago, a coworker mentioned rock climbing. I kept bugging him to take me, and he finally gave in and took me to a little crag called Carderock in Maryland. The next day I went out and bought the equipment.

It was love at first sight. Within a year I was asking people to teach me how to lead climbs. I read books, started taking trips — Joshua Tree, California; Seneca Rocks, West Virginia; Yosemite; Red Rock Canyon, Nevada; New River Gorge, West Virginia.

Now every weekend I’m in the rock gym or on a rock. There’s a maxim in climbing — you climb to train and you train to climb. Gyms are good for strength and balance, and I’m at the rock gym two or three times a week working on the agonist (pulling) movements.

What’s it like? Grab hold of a chin-up bar, palms out, and pull up all the way. Then, without lowering yourself, slide your chin over your left hand. Then your right. Then your left. Then your right. I go to a regular gym to work on the antagonist (pushing) movements. I often go all the way down and stand back up on one leg. You frequently will have to move your entire body weight with one leg when you’re climbing.

Nothing beats being on the rock, though. It’s all about getting out there, getting up high, and being safe. You always have to be safe. Climbing starts to get really complicated and a little bit dangerous. If you do it wrong, it’s very dangerous. I once helped carry one guy off who had a broken skull, a broken wrist, and puncture wounds in his abdomen.

I hear stories like that all the time. Most accidents are the result of a momentary lack of attention, especially on the way down. People tend to relax, or even rush on the way down. But you want to go slow so you don’t make any mistakes. Especially when you’re rappelling. You don’t want to slide so fast that friction overheats your rope, and you have to be careful not to rappel off the end of it.

Safety is always first. I’ve never been hurt, which I think is a testament to my focus on safety. You want to avoid what are called “epics” — bad trips that come from lack of experience or preparation. I’ve been on epics where I started climbing at 8 a.m. and didn’t get back until 2 a.m. In the pouring rain.

I focus my thinking on how not to screw up — I’ve been six feet off the ground with my partner talking to me and been so focused that I couldn’t hear him. I become very stoic on a rock. If I thought about it, I’d probably panic. After all, imagine standing on a two-inch ledge with a 30-foot fall below you and no good place to put your hands. And every time you inhale, your chest pushes you away from the wall and threatens to knock you off balance. Your muscles are saying “We can’t do this anymore,” and turn you into a quivering mass of angst and fear and panic.

The only way out is to calm yourself. You have to tell yourself, “I’m going to pull this off.” It’s crucial to know that your best performance is when you’re calm. It’s kind of an emotional retardation. When your plane shifts from horizontal to vertical and your core muscles are maxed out just to sustain your position, focus and calm are everything — and it takes everything you’ve got.

I’m at the point where I’m jazzed by whatever I come across. Just getting out there on a real rock makes me happy. I’ve done the sustained climbs, gotten off route, gotten lost, had epics, been on three-hour hikes just to get to and from a climb. But climbing is so addictive. I’ve met “full-time climbers” who bus tables part time just so they can spend their days off climbing. That’s all they want to do. I know how they feel. Yet, when you’re on the rock, you don’t necessarily notice the beauty around you. The thrill comes later. When you’re climbing, it’s all about focus and safety. It’s about getting to the next belay (cleat that holds the rope) and making sure your partner is safe. Later in the parking lot is when it suddenly sinks in. You look back and think, “Wow! That was great!”

Rockville Climbing Center, 200 Whitehead Road, Hamilton 08619; 609-631-7625; fax, 609-631-7582. Clay Tyson, manager. www.rockvilleclimbing.com.

Chiropractor/Scuba Diver

Raised in Brooklyn, where his father was a salesman in the paper and packaging industry, and his mother a housewife who later worked in medical offices in Manhattan, Cliff Hochberg had no more than an armchair interest in the aquatic world.

Cliff Hochberg graduated from Brooklyn College with a degree in elementary education before he realized he did not want to be a teacher. He instead embarked on a professional music career until his late 20s, when he realized that he wanted to be a chiropractor. Hochberg graduated from the New York Chiropractic College in Long Island in 1986 and moved to Plainsboro in 1988, where he has lived and practiced ever since. He operates Hochberg Chiropractic (www.drhochberg.com) in the Princeton Meadows Office Center.

Hochberg also serves as the officially appointed town crier of Plainsboro. He is one of only about 30 appointed town criers in the country and is also a member of the American Guild of Town Criers. And, as he told U.S. 1’s Scott Morgan, a chance visit to a New Jersey tourist destination rekindled that armchair interest in water sports:

My love affair with scuba diving probably started when I was a kid watching “Sea Hunt.” I was fascinated watching Lloyd Bridges roll backwards off that boat and into the ocean. I imagined myself doing the same thing, but being too young and growing up in Brooklyn, I didn’t really have the opportunity to learn.

When I got to college there was a class in scuba diving, but it was so popular it was always closed out. So I put the idea on the back burner for a lot of years. Then in 1996 I took my daughter to what was then the New Jersey State Aquarium in Camden. We saw the divers doing a show and somebody mentioned that they always need volunteers. A light bulb went off in my head. I thought, “I want to do that!” So I got certified.

I needed to log 25 dives before I could join the aquarium’s team, and in 1999 I finally did. Now I’m at the Adventure Aquarium every two weeks, swimming with the sharks, doing tank maintenance, helping take care of the animals, and performing shows for visitors.

It’s been great. I’ve been to Cozumel, Grand Cayman, the Bahamas, the Florida Keys, the Jersey Shore, Cape Cod. I’ve even been to the James Bond wrecks from “Thunderball” and “Never Say Never Again.” But the aquarium is so enjoyable that it really satisfies all my diving urges. I get to dive every two weeks in crystal clear water, in New Jersey, with 2,000 aquatic animals all around me. And I don’t have to schlep my own gear.

When my light bulb first went off and I told my wife I was going to get certified, she said, “You’re never going to dive with sharks, are you?” Nah. Of course not. There was no dedicated shark exhibit at the aquarium, but there was a shark tank and I would be in there with them. These days she’s fine with it, and believe me, the sharks don’t care about us at all. But when I was about to jump in with them that first time, I thought, “Why am I doing this? I must be nuts!”

Once I got in, I realized the beauty of it all. For me, as a diver, it’s almost meditative. To be breathing under water and having the opportunity to share an environment with these creatures is exhilarating.

I wouldn’t say it’s scary, despite what people might think. Sharks seem to bring out some archetypal fear in us, and I think the first thing people think of is “Jaws” and Peter Benchley.

But Benchley eventually became a great advocate for sharks and did a lot to protect them before he died in 2006. Even so, there are millions of sharks killed every year and very few people who are hurt by them. Sharks are in far more danger from us than we are from them. A curious thing happens when people find out you swim with sharks, though. You start getting shark books as presents. But that’s fine. I knew very little about sharks when I started diving but I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and a lot of great experiences.

Outside the aquarium, there are some spectacular sights too. Coral reefs are beautiful. They really are something to see. As you get deeper, the colors do fade, but they are especially beautiful when you’re night diving and your light hits the reefs and the animals. The oranges, greens, reds, and blues are just amazing.

I wouldn’t say recreational diving is strenuous, but you do have to stay in shape. There are currents to deal with, there is stress, and you can be carrying 50 or 60 pounds on your back. I stay in shape by walking three miles a day and by cycling 50 to 120 miles a week. As a matter of fact, I’ve been training for the Tour de Cure, which is a 100-kilometer fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association.

Safety is always a concern when you dive, of course. Buddy diving is very important, you have to stay close enough to each other at all times to help in an emergency. You need a dive plan — the depth you’re going, how long you will stay down, where you’re going, what time to be back up. You communicate a lot with hand signals and you learn emergency techniques to help each other back to the surface in the event of an out-of-air situation. I became a certified rescue diver a few years ago.

Back in the tank, it’s a little more under control, but you still have to be aware that you are in their world. We have a strict no-touch policy, and while we do hand-feed the stingrays, we feed the sharks from long poles from the surface because we don’t want them to associate divers with food. Sometimes it gets so familiar I get almost jaded. At times I have to look around and remind myself how privileged I am to be under water with all these different creatures.

Lang’s Ski & Scuba, 1757 North Olden Avenue, Ewing 08638; 609-538-1970; fax, 609-538-8954. Bob Lang. Home page: www.langsskiandscuba.com.

The Scuba Connection, Mountainview Plaza, Hillsborough 08844; 908-359-1050; fax, 908-359-1986. George Fish. Home page: www.tscscuba.com.

Programmer/Fencer

Dirk Goldgar grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta. His father was a business consultant, his mother was editor and publisher of the paper that became Atlanta Jewish Times. After graduating from Princeton, Class of 1977, with a bachelors in anthropology, he worked for Applications General in Princeton for 24 years as a computer programmer and consultant.

When the company dissolved, he established his own company, DataGnostics (www.datagnostics.com), in 2001. He specializes in all kinds of computer programing and information consulting, and is a Microsoft Access (database program) MVP (most valuable professional), “which basically means I know what I’m doing.” His business partner, Debbie Bratsko, handles the business management and is the art director for the company’s web design clients. His wife, Mary Ellen Curtin, is the company’s webmaster. He has two daughters, a 19-year-old at Wesleyan, and a 12-year-old.

His passion for fencing, he explained to U.S. 1’s Jamie Saxon, began after an injury in another sport:

In college and for several years after I was very involved in tae kwon do and had my first degree black belt. I was working on my second degree and blew out my ACL in my right knee. Even after reconstructive surgery and a year of rehab I couldn’t go back to tae kwon do. I did nothing for awhile. The knee was getting weaker and I was starting to favor it. I heard about Bucks County Academy of Fencing in New Hope (it moved to Lambertville in 2003), and I thought, that’s cool, maybe I could do that.

What I found after I started was this: In fencing you fence with one leg forward. So because I’m right-handed and my right knee had the ACL problem, there was no twisting stress on my right knee and I could do that. I found many commonalities between tae kwon do and fencing, so I had a jump on the technical issues. I loved it and found it had the same kind of intensity and enjoyment I’d experienced with tae kwon do.

For many years I thought of myself as a tae kwon do person who does fencing, but now I’m just a fencer. I was unusual in that I started fencing when I was 30. It used to be that most people would start fencing in college, but in New Jersey there’s a lot of high school fencing, and lots of kids are starting even younger these days.

I began to go there three evenings a week for four or five hours, and would basically stay until the place closed down around 11:30 p.m., and I was competing on weekends. I started doing novice competitions after six months and open competitions within a year. I started having reasonable success, becoming a threat, if you will, within a few years. The U.S. Fencing Association has sections and divisions, and I was fencing then with the Philadelphia division. My first national-level success was seventh place in Division 2 Foil in 1990 or ‘91.

I won the North American Cup, veteran 50 (50 or older), my first national gold medal, in December, 2005, in Pittsburgh. Since then I’ve had a couple of bronze in Veteran Foil and Veteran Epee. Three weapons are used in modern fencing: the foil, the epee, and the sabre. The majority of people concentrate on one weapon; I fence all three. For me, though, it’s mostly foil and epee. I’ve had torn cartilage and arthritis, so now I focus on epee more than foil. It is the sole exercise I do.

Fencing is a very serious and high-intensity sport; it’s not standing around poking each other. There is a high premium on fitness with short bursts of very, very fast action as well as technical ability. You move up and down the strip very fast. Each bout is fast. You have to be very fast for a short amount of time. A normal bout is about three minutes of actual fencing time. Your body says, I’m about to be hit, and it cranks your metabolism way up because you feel like you’re in a fight, so even if not much is happening, you come off the fencing strip sweating. If you don’t move, they’ll hit you before you blink. BCAF is a club and a school; we teach and host competitions. I started teaching after seven years. Nowadays I spend about six or seven hours a week teaching classes and private students. If I worked a nine to five job I would have more time for fencing.

Fencing takes your head out of anything else. When you’re fencing you have to be completely aware of yourself and your opponent, at split-second speed. It completely engrosses you, and you can get your aggressions out. Women, once they get past the initial socialization thing — oh, I can’t hit someone — are berserk on the strip. The ratio of men to women at BCAF is maybe 60/40 or 65/35. Right now the U.S. has the number one ranked women’s sabre team. Debbie, my business partner, is also a fencing student of mine, and at age 45 is highly ranked in the veteran women’s epee.

Another interesting thing about fencing is that for people who are overly aggressive, fencing helps to channel and focus their aggression. There’s an enormous, incredible rush while fencing a bout. Coming off the strip, you know you were 100 percent there.

Bucks County Academy of Fencing, 287 South Main Street, Lambertville. 609-397-7551, www.bcaf.com. Open weekday evenings, 6:30 to closing; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

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