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CRU romance: Couple plays and stays together
by Ross Forman

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What started on a blind dinner date in early 2001 has turned into a relationship that is now eight years strong, and everything truly is sailing right along just fine for Brando Mataya and John Sanders.

They live together in Bucktown, are the co-owners of Simple Floors, Inc., and are teammates, boat mates and the First Family, so to speak, on the Chicago Rowing Union ( CRU ) , the area's only predominantly gay rowing club.

"CRU is a great organization to meet other GLBT in a unique environment," said Mataya, 42, who has been rowing for three years. "It's nice to meet people who have the same interest in the sport. It's very important to define ourselves as rowers who happen to be gay as opposed to the other way around. CRU provides great training, coaching and facilities to all members.

"This year, the organization has grown tremendously in terms of membership and the numbers of entries in all races/regattas. The quality of rowing is definitely improving as we have started winning some of the races this year."

CRU and the D.C. Strokes are the only two pre-dominantly gay rowing clubs in the U.S. There are 40 active CRU members, plus many more that only row during one season or another ( Sprint or Head ) . Participants range in age from 20 to 48, with men and women. CRU members work in the food industry, the hospitality industry, IT, engineering and sales; there are consultants, doctors, lawyers, scientist, business owners, students and more.

The CRU season is April through October, including Learn-To-Row classes in April. CRU offers three teams — Novice, Club and Competitive — based on skill level.

The winter months are used for off-water training and fund-raising for new, improved equipment. Mataya also is working to improve CRU's website. "We want the website to not just tell our story, goals and objectives, but we want to draw more awareness in terms of membership/recruiting, community outreach and support, and fund-raising," he said.

Mataya and Sanders compete in the same boat, though on different sides. Mataya works the port, while Sanders is starboard. Thus, Mataya said, "rowing is just like our relationship: one compliments the other."

"It's nice to have your boyfriend there as there are times that I need some moral support before or even during the race," Mataya said. "It's nice to have someone reassure you that everything is going to be just fine. The race is always exciting, but can be nerve-wracking, too.

"As long as we gave it our all, losing a race is not frustrating to me. I don't think losing affects our relationship and I don't remember bringing home any frustration about rowing. We talk about rowing frustrations, but not directly against each other.

Mataya and Sanders are one of at least three couples of CRU members, but they have the longest relationship. Sanders is the captain of CRU's Club team. He also is the CRU equipment manager, responsible for maintaining CRU's boats.

"The single most [ important key to our relationship success ] is a deep understanding that in a real sense we are 'one' and in this together," said Sanders, 39. "When you are one, you put the others' needs/feelings up there with your own. You are more thoughtful, and you are more understanding of faults/imperfections. Nothing is perfect, but we can do things separate from each other without insecurity of being hurt cause each of our needs are in the others' best intent.

"We are both competitive, but the teamwork element trumps the competitive element of rowing."

Mataya and Sanders went to Copenhagen this past summer to compete in the 2009 World Outgames, and they returned to Chicago wearing two bronze medals, won in the Men's Masters 4+ ( 1K Sprint Race ) and the Men's Open 4+ ( 6K Head Race ) .

"The Outgames was an amazing experience, competing internationally with other gay rowers," Mataya said. "There were about 200 rowers and though the competition was fierce, the sportsmanship and camaraderie was truly evident."

Sanders added: "The rowing was great, but the overall experience was beyond my expectations. To date, it was my most memorable regatta."

Mataya and Sanders also have been winners in the Men's Masters 4+ finishing second place at the Milwaukee River Challenge in September and the Men's Masters 4+ finishing third at the 10th Trail of the Fox Regatta in Wisc., held earlier this month.

And also, most importantly, in the game of life.

CRU is having a fundraiser to celebrate the end of its first season on Thursday, Oct. 22, at Hydrate, 3458 N. Halsted, 7-10 p.m. For a $10 cover charge, you get three drinks with 100 percent of the proceeds going to CRU.

More about Brando Mataya ( BM ) and John Sanders ( JS ) :

—High school: BM: Pagbilao Academy in the Philippines, Class of 1983. JS: Rochester Washington, Class of 1991.

—College: BM: Enverga University in the Philippines, Class of 1987. JS: Seattle Central.

—Ever thought of going to a state that allows gay marriage: BM: "Not really. Marriage equality is great and I am all for it. I think there are other human rights issues that are as important." JS: "I am all for gay marriage and equal rights. Marriage in general, as an institution, is not the answer to all. It is, after all, a piece of paper and brings along with it expectations of entitlement over another individual. I believe you have to prove your value in your relationship daily; you can not hide behind a piece of paper as the bond to the relationship."

—Complete the following sentence: I'm better than my boyfriend at … BM: "Cooking, being organized and directions." JS: "Rowing"

—Favorite movie: BM: Sliding Doors. JS: thezeitgeistmovie.

—Favorite TV show: BM: Lost. JS: "I don't really like TV; Brando watches enough for both of us."

—Favorite sports besides rowing: BM: Gymnastics and swimming. JS: Basketball, baseball and football.

—Hobbies: BM: Working out, yoga, martial arts, dancing, photography, wine and fine cuisine. JS: "I like mental and physical self-improvement and enlightenment-oriented activities. I enjoy moderate body-building and work out four or five times per week and practice budokon, a mixture of martial arts, meditation, and yoga."

—People don't know that I... : BM: "Graduated [ from ] college when I was 19 and passed the CPA Board Exam shortly thereafter." JS: "Was raised a Jehovah's Witness in Washington state, but got ex-communicated from my friends and family for 'being gay.'"

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