When I called Ginny Beams ’90 for our first interview, I thanked her for taking the time to talk.
“I hope you aren’t disappointed,” she said. “I’m not one of those superstar athletes.”
Rob Beams ’90 might disagree.
Former Princeton rowers Ginny Callery and Rob Beams met in 1985 during the fall athlete-orientation session in their first year — “yeah,” Rob recalls, “that’s when I saw her.” They shared a sport then and share a name now; the Beams have spent the last 34 years as best friends, teammates, competitors, and a couple. They’ve collected three collegiate gold medals between them (no thanks to Rob), raised three children, and come dangerously close to buying a baby tiger. No big deal.
Ginny arrived on campus for her first year without ever having met her coach. Her recruitment, she says, came as a total surprise — she’d begun rowing only to train for cross-country skiing, her main sport. She explains her irregular recruitment process with a chuckle.
“I heard I was being recruited, and then I got the letter saying I was accepted, and I said ‘thank you.’”
When she finally met her coach, she remembers — here’s another laugh — the look of “disappointment” on his face. Ginny stands at five-foot-nine, traditionally short for an openweight rower. Her coach informed her that no matter the boat she made, she wouldn’t leave the stern or bow.
He was right that she’d never be part of the engine room. He was wrong, though, that she’d disappoint.
Ginny rowed for the women’s openweight team for three years (a back injury cut her senior season short). She sat sometimes in stern, sometimes in bow — but whatever boat she was in found success. She rowed to victory at the Eastern Sprints Regatta time after time, earning three separate gold medals over the course of her career.
For Ginny, that 1985 athlete-orientation event was the beginning of what would become an illustrious career in the Orange and Black. The next four years would prove less glorious for Rob.
The men’s heavyweight team boasted 12 talented first-year recruits. Rob, who’d just graduated from Delaware’s St. Andrew’s School, a rowing powerhouse, remembers that there seemed no doubt in his mind that the team would do “extremely well.”
He was right, at first. The heavies’ first two races resulted in two victories. Then came a matchup against Rutgers — what was supposed to be an easy win. The Tigers lost, and the shock proved too much for them. No one knew it at the time, but the team was headed towards a long dry spell.
The contrast between the flailing men’s squad and the successful women’s team — who practiced, lived, and raced with what Rob remembers as “tremendous intensity” — couldn’t have been starker. The two teams’ members were great friends on and off the water. But their lives were so intertwined, and the difference in results so dramatic, that relationships as teammates, peers, and significant others started to morph into relationships as competitors.
Ginny chalks the men’s resentment up to pure ego: “They all came in thinking they were hot stuff.”
Rob doesn’t disagree.
“As we started to have problems with our program,” he said, “we couldn’t be happy for the women’s program doing well. It’s just a maturity thing.”
The heavyweight men continued to lose. By the end of Rob’s sophomore year, eight of his fellow recruits — and the coach himself — had bowed out. Beams found himself forced to question what his Princeton experience would look like without rowing.
The answer? A lot freer. He joined the flood of other disheartened recruits leaving the team’s “silly competition” behind — and used his newfound leisure time to switch his from his liberal arts major to civil engineering.
For the next two years, Ginny racked up medals, Rob did equations, and they remained close friends. No one batted an eye when they started dating senior year; both of them can rattle off the names of other athletes — like every one of Ginny’s former roommates — who found their spouses at Princeton.
After graduation, the two married and moved to Florida. Ginny attended law school, while Rob worked at a citrus grove (he’s now the chief operating officer of the Island Institute, an organization that seeks to safeguard the communities of coastal Maine). After three daughters — Hannah, Mia, and Ellie — entered the scene, the couple moved to Mattapoisett, Mass., to settle down with their family.
And by settle down, they mean they waited until their daughters had hit the double digits to pack their bags and live on a sailboat for nine months — as if they hadn’t already spent enough time on the water.
In 2012, Ginny recalls Rob asking their daughters a very important question: Would they rather have a “pet tiger, another baby sibling, or go sailing for nine months?”
“Two wanted another baby, one wanted a tiger, and none wanted to go sailing.”
Naturally, the family set sail — going from Massachusetts to Granada and everywhere in between, stopping in places like Hampton Roads, Virginia, and Totula of the British Virgin Islands.
Ginny and Rob homeschooled their children; Ginny served as “principal and head teacher,” and Rob was relegated to being the “assistant-teacher-in-training.” Rising early in the morning, the girls were almost always done with school work before noon. That left them ample time to see what each new place had in store for them — the family docked in a series of beautiful seaside towns to snorkel, hike, and explore.
What Rob loved most about the adventure — aside from the fact that combining sea, sun and snorkeling is foolproof — was how his daughters came to relate with him and Ginny.
“What was great about the year of sailing was that our kids could see both Ginny and [me] in different ways — really putting ourselves out there, scared and panicked, but still bring everything back and ultimately making it work.”
It might have been those nine months of sailing. It might have been encouragement from their parents. Or maybe it was just in their blood: Ginny and Rob’s two eldest daughters themselves both enjoy successful rowing careers today.
Hannah, a junior, rows for Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and holds gold medals from two-time wins at both Nationals and the Head of the Charles Regatta. Mia, a Bridge Year member of the Class of 2024, followed Rob to a successful stint on St. Andrews’ first boat. Time will tell if, come September, Mia will choose to row on Lake Carnegie, like her parents.
Given their own successful careers, do Rob and Ginny coach their superstar athletes of daughters?
Short answer: No. “I find that they’re wiser than I am at this point,” says Ginny.
But were she to say one thing — about rowing, about marriage, about life — she would say this:
“Do it because you love it for yourself and not for anybody else. But you only get through the hard, unpleasant, cold times because you love the people who’re sitting in front of you and behind you in the boat.”