Kiss the Joy to Debut at Newport Beach Film Festival

The life of Joan Lind Van Blom, the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic medal in the women’s single sculls, will be featured in the new documentary, Kiss the Joy – the story of Joan Lind Van Blom, which will debut later this month at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

The 59-minute documentary, which was directed and produced by filmmaker and Van Blom teammate Jean Strauss, will debut at the Festival at 5:45 p.m. (PT) on Saturday, April 28, at the Lido Theater, with a second screening taking place at 7:45 p.m. (PT) on Thursday, May 3, at Edwards Big Newport 6 & RPX.

Van Blom, who passed away in August of 2015 after a battle with brain cancer, began rowing in the single sculls internationally in 1973 and was the first U.S. woman to reach the final in the event at the world championships. She repeated that feat in 1975 before winning silver at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Eight years later, she won a second silver medal –  this time in the quadruple sculls at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

“I would say that making this film has been such a privilege,” said Strauss. “Joan and I trained together in 1980; and like all of my contemporaries, she was the role model we all aspired to be like. When I asked her if I could do a film, she had to weigh that. She wasn’t sure how long she had, and she wanted to spend every minute with John. In the end, I spent 32 days with the two of them, underfoot, drinking coffee in the morning with cream that had been shared with their Lorikeet, Little Bird, and watching how the two of them found joy in each other and every day, despite what was going on. In fact, one didn’t really ‘see’ what was going on. They were just living. Racing. Laughing.

“How lucky was women’s rowing to have her show up at the beginning. She really set the standard – and the bar – high. To me, there’s no one else quite like her. The film is a small testament to what she did and how she touched people. She was the center of the galaxy that was, and is, U.S. women’s rowing.”

Born in Long Beach, Calif., and raised just two miles from the rowing course built for the 1932 Olympic Games, Van Blom knew nothing of rowing until her freshman year at California State University Long Beach when a classmate who rowed on the men’s team asked her to come watch a race.

She went to the race and met two women who were competing at the regatta. Van Blom told her classmate that rowing “looked like fun,” and he told one of the women, Melinda Collis. Collis approached Van Blom and asked her to come to the Long Beach Rowing Association, where she was introduced to two male scullers training for the Olympics.

One was her future husband, John Van Blom, and the other was coach Tom McKibbon, who wanted to bring women into the sport.

“I started rowing in 1970 with these outstanding male scullers who were so open to teaching women how to row well, and that’s where I feel fortunate,” Van Blom said during an interview after winning the 2014 USRowing Ernestine Bayer Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to women’s rowing and/or an outstanding woman in rowing. “I hear these nightmare stories of women battling the men’s programs at their clubs and universities, and I did not experience that here and neither did the other women here.”

It was the beginning of a long, distinguished career in rowing that saw Van Blom win two Olympic medals and represent the U.S. at numerous world championships. Van Blom continued to stay competitive as a masters rower, holding 11 indoor rowing world records and winning gold in the senior women’s eight at the 50th Head of the Charles Regatta in 2014, less than a year before her death. In addition, she had a 35-year career as a physical education teacher and was instrumental in winning a million-dollar grant to put rowing machines in each of her school districts’ nine high schools.

For more information on the festival or to purchase tickets, please visit the Newport Beach Film Festival website.

All proceeds from Kiss the Joy will support the Joan Lind Van Blom Women’s Sculling Endowment. The endowment was set up to honor Joan’s memory and support women pursuing excellence in the sport she loved. Kiss the Joy – the story of Joan Lind Van Blom will be available for private screenings after May 3, 2018. Contact USRowing or the National Rowing Foundation (NRF) to schedule a screening.

1 of 4 Kiss the Joy - the story of Joan Lind Van Blom
2 of 4 Joan as a novice
3 of 4 Kiss the Joy - the story of Joan Lind Van Blom
4 of 4 Joan at the 1976 Olympics

Film Synopses:

Joan Lind breaks the glass ceiling in rowing, setting the gold standard not just for women – but for men – forever.

It was luck for all of them. She was a flag girl who happened to walk into the Long Beach, California, boathouse just as women were being accepted. And inside that boathouse were the best men’s double scullers in the world – and one of them had just begun coaching women.

She was the unlikeliest candidate to change the world of rowing. She had never been a competitive athlete. But inside her was a fierce drive to succeed that would propel her not just to the top of U.S. women’s rowing – but to challenge the very best in the world.

One person can change a sport, a country, a culture. In an era ripe for change, Joan Lind was responsible for the tectonic shift in an all-male sport.

Hemingway once wrote that every true story ends in death. This is a true story. But it is a tale about life – and how much one person can change the landscape of our world.

To see more Joan Lind Van Blom, click on the following links:

To see a Van Blom’s taped interview from the 2014 USRowing Annual Awards, click here.

To see the presentation of the 2014 Ernestine Bayer Award, click here.

To watch Van Blom’s 1976 Olympic race, click here.

Parts of this article were republished from USRowing’s In Memory feature on Joan Lind Van Blom. Photos provided by Kiss the Joy – the story of Joan Lind Van Blom and the Newport Beach Film Festival.

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