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It Takes Strong Rowers to Fill a Big Truck

By Rowena Lindsay
Posted on October 22, 2017
It Takes Strong Rowers to Fill a Big Truck

Walking along the river during the Head of The Charles Regatta with Larry O’Toole, a lot of people stop to say hello. He has worked with some, rowed with others, and in many cases both. Owner and founder of the moving company Gentle Giant, O’Toole makes a habit of hiring rowers and other athletes for his award winning moving company.

The Regatta could not happen without Gentle Giant. They are an official sponsor of the Regatta, but also plays a big role behind the scenes. The team of “giants” move boat docks, set up trucks for Regatta staff to use as a mini warehouse throughout the weekend, deliver signs, and coordinate with the Department of Conservation and Recreation.  It is a lot of work, physically and logistically, but the company has a history of supporting rowers and rowing.

“They commit over a hundred people to working the Regatta every year,” said Mason Cox, the assistant director of the Head of the Charles. “Everybody sees the trucks, and thinks that’s it.  But they really are the backbone of the logistical end of the whole weekend.”

“Well, we’re a perfect fit for it because we love rowing and we sponsor our own rowing club, so we already have a passion for rowing,” said O’Toole.

Primarily a sweep rower, O’Toole has been rowing for 47 years. He started rowing as a sophomore at Northeastern University in 1970, and has rowed in about 35 Head of The Charles Regattas since, with some of the same guys he used to row with in college. He has a tendency to wax poetic about the sport.

“It is a beautiful exercise and activity,” said O’Toole. “You get out in the early morning, sunrise or sunset. You can be out there by yourself, close to nature, on the water—which is beautiful anywhere, but in the city it gets you away from the hustle and bustle. Its just a beautiful feeling to be moving a boat along smoothly and effortlessly and gracefully. It’s a great feeling.”

 O’Toole graduated from Northeastern with an engineering degree, and while he liked the work, he disliked the corporate culture. So he left the job and started to save up money in order to start his own manufacturing business. His roommate at the time suggested he start a moving company, but O’Toole didn’t take the suggestion too seriously. Then the roommate gave the moving company a name. And bought an ad in the local paper.

“Without telling me he called up the Boston Phoenix and bought an ad for $17,” said O’Toole. “And then somebody called and he brought me the phone said, ‘it’s for you, somebody wants to use your moving company, Gentle Giant.’”

O’Toole borrowed  his roommate’s van and did the move. He enjoyed the physical nature of the work and how appreciative the customers were. The business started growing, mostly by word of mouth, and he made a commitment to stick with it for two years and see if he could meet some basic business goals. Thirty seven years later, Gentle Giant is a $40 million company with offices in cities across the country.

The company makes a point of hiring athletes, particularly rowers.

In the beginning, O’Toole started out hiring friends of his from the rowing community to help him with moving jobs, and found that rowers make for great movers. Not only do they in shape for the highly physical work, but they don’t whine or complain and they are always up for a challenge. Moving can be an incredibly stressful experience, and O’Toole found that rowers have the right mentality to make anxious families comfortable.

“Consequentially, the reason rowers are great at moving is because they are perennially optimistic and they treat everything as a welcome challenge,” said O’Toole. “And of course moving is so much easier than actual rowing.”

A lot of people would spend a good deal of time complaining, but rowers, O’Toole says, aren’t like that.

“To really understand why, you’d have to be a rower and race a 2,000 meter race because when you get to the last 500 meters of the race you’re in complete oxygen debt. Every part of your body wants to just stop, quit, give up,” said O’Toole. “You have to be the kind of person who will reach down inside themselves and find a way to get the energy to pull yourself across the line in front of the other boat.”

By Rowena Lindsay
Posted on October 22, 2017