Before donning his business suit and ensconcing himself in a sixth-floor office in the Dupont Circle Building, Erik Meyers goes rowing on the Potomac.
The sounds of commuter traffic merge with the water lapping on the sides of his long, one-man scull. Dressed in shorts, T-shirt and running shoes, Meyers rhythmically pulls on the oars, gliding over the water.
"It's refreshing to be off and be by yourself," said Meyers, 34, a lawyer for the Environmental Law Institute, after his daybreak ride. "You get a piece of nature every day."
Meyers is among an estimated 30 District area lawyers, doctors and bureaucrats who belong to the Potomac Boat Club and roam the river in the dawn hours.
The 115-year-old club, just west of Key Bridge on the shores of Georgetown, has 260 members who range in age from 18 to 75. They share a love for traveling on the water the old-fashioned way, using their own strength and tenacity.
This troop of rowers includes men and women, novices and medal winners fresh from victories in the recent Olympic games. Five club members from suburban Virginia and Maryland won silver and bronze medals as members of various racing teams.
Most club members gained their love of the sport by competing on college rowing teams. Some row for relaxation, others because they still compete in races. Some dedicate up to seven days a week to train for events such as the annual Independence Day Regatta in Philadelphia, the Royal Canadian competition or Olympics.
Meyers, the club's president, joined the Georgetown University rowing team as a freshman in 1967. Earlier this year, he and a teammate came in second in the Olympic tryouts in New Jersey in two-man, or double scull, racing. The team that beat them won the gold medal last month in California.
Ann Stevens, 23, emerged from her two-man scull, exhilarated from a 90-minute early morning workout. She is preparing for a 3.5 mile race, so she'll row about 9 to 10 miles each day for seven days.
"It's a loner's sport," said Stevens, who works in sales in a Washington jewelry store. "I like the solitude. Sometimes it's nice to just get away from everything."
Stevens, who began her rowing career while at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, added, "I love it. It just feels so good to come down and get the boat ready. And in the fall, it's just gorgeous."
Paul Weinberger, a 37-year-old accountant with Pepco, stood shirtless, in shorts and knee socks, rinsing off his 12-foot scull after an hour's workout. Weinberger gets up at 5:30 a.m. to reach the river from his Silver Spring home around 6:15 a.m.
"After a while, I got used to going to bed at 9:30 and to get up at 5:30," Weinberger said. "It gets pretty hard to change. No matter how the day goes at work, I know that by 8 o'clock at least I've done something."
Cindy Cole, 28, often sees beaver, deer, ducks, foxes and blue heron during her early morning excursion on the river.
"It's like you're in a park right in the middle of the city," said Cole, who coaches the club's beginning women's program. "At 5:30 in the morning it's very quiet and you notice wildlife. No one realizes there is wildlife so close to he city."
Tom Charlton, 50, a former Yale University rower and official with the U.S. Department of Transportation, started rowing at 15. He won a gold medal with three teammates in the 1956 Olympics in Australia.
"Each time I try to get away from rowing, I've always come back to it," said Charlton as he loaded his scull onto the roof of his car. "The Potomac in the morning is a beautiful place, but rowing is what brings me out here."
Charlton's rowing partner is Townsend Swasy, 47, a development economist for the World Bank and a former member of the Harvard and Oxford University rowing teams.
After the morning sessions members can change clothes and store their boats at the club, whose walls bear pictures of boat races and club activities.
"Rowing has become increasingly popular, but it's still a private sport," said Meyers. "It's a nice, peaceful activity."