Whether they’re on skis carving out towers of surf, chasing down racing shells behind the wheel of a boat, or helping kids learn to paddle a kayak, Brian and Cindi Dulgar are truly at home on the water.
This is most evident at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center, where, over the past 30 years, the Dulgars have presided over a period of unprecedented growth at one of the nation’s premier aquatics facilities.
“I always wanted to have an impact and make a difference in other people’s lives,” Cindi says. “When I teach kids, they get up on skis for the first time and their faces light up. … There’s nothing better than that. We came in with a passion, but we’re not just a sailing center and we’re not just a rowing boathouse. We’re a center that services a wide variety of passions.”
Over the past 30 years, Brian and Cindi Dulgar have served in nearly every role at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)
The Sacramento State Aquatic Center, opened in 1981, is home to national championships, training courses, team-building retreats, popular summer camp programs, and safety and certificate training, not to mention daily watercraft rentals of every sort for adventurers of all ages.
In many ways, the story of the Aquatic Center is the story of Brian and Cindi.
The lifelong athletes met at a waterskiing tournament in the early 1980s and soon became close friends and training partners.
Cindi moved from Bishop to study recreation administration at Sacramento State and started working at the Aquatic Center as a camp counselor in 1984. Now the center’s associate director, she was integral in shaping the summer camp program that now serves more than 1,800 kids annually. Brian came to Sac State from Reno to study business administration and compete on the University’s waterski team, joining the Aquatic Center in 1986 to coach and develop its waterski program. He became the center’s director in 1998.
Brian and Cindi Dulgar met at a waterskiing tournament in 1981. (Photo courtesy of Brian and Cindi Dulgar)
Back then, the Aquatic Center was little more than two cargo containers and a rickety Dodge van that “burned more oil than it did fuel,” Brian recalls. But it had the two most important things for a facility of its kind: a broad, beautiful body of water in Lake Natoma, and committed, passionate staff who poured their hearts into building the center into something more.
Sitting on a dock at Lake Natoma under a beaming spring sun, Brian and Cindi are completely in their element, as energetic and playful as the day they first met. Both admit they can’t stand on the docks together more than a few minutes before one or both are pushed into the water.
“We’ve worked together for 30 years,” Brian says. “Most people go, ‘You work with your wife – are you crazy?’ But we’re different personalities, and we complement each other.
“We’re (among) the fortunate few who turned an obsession that we had in outdoor recreation and watersports into a profession.”
Along the lake’s far shore, a stream of yellow kayaks flows by, their young, paddle-flailing pilots splashing across the expanse like a charm of waterlogged hummingbirds.
The Aquatic Center's summer youth programs, which Cindi Dulgar helped shape, now host more than 1,800 kids each year. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone).
It is a common sight at a venue that served more than 50,000 visitors in 2015. In the past five years, the Aquatic Center has doubled in size and now fields a staff of 85 – many of whom are current or former Sac State students. The facility also has grown into a national destination for events.
Today, the crown jewels of national crew competition – the nation’s oldest intercollegiate sport – take place at the Aquatic Center, one of just a handful of venues in the nation that can support such major events.
In Spring 2016 alone, the center hosted the Pac-12 Rowing Championships, the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships, and the NCAA Women’s National Rowing Championships. Each is a significant production that, conservatively, accounts for an estimated $2 million in local economic impact, Brian says.
“Nobody ever lost the vision about what the Aquatic Center is about,” Brian says. “You decide what you want, associate with people that have the same ideas and visions, put the shovel in the soil, and dig like crazy.”
Over the years, Brian and Cindi also have filled every role at the center, and their work ethic is contagious.
“It’s an interesting dynamic with them, because they’ve been here for so long, so they’ve done every single thing at this facility,” says Ashley Langenberg, an Aquatic Center administrative assistant who started working there in 2009 while a student. “They’ve parked kayaks on a hot day, they’ve done rentals, they’ve been out with the youth group, they’ve been in the middle of these regattas shucking garbage. And they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty.
Now with a staff of up to 85 – including many Sac State students – Brian and Cindi Dulgar mentor a new generation of people who share their passion for the water. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)
“They’re not going to ask you to do anything that they wouldn’t do themselves.”
Role models in another respect, the Dulgars aren’t the only couple that had its beginnings at the Aquatic Center: At present count, more than 30 marriages are associated with the facility, though the directors jokingly say it’s not something in the water.
“This Aquatic Center is special,” Cindi says. “We’ve got a great location and beautiful facilities, but it’s not the buildings that are special – it’s the people who are here who make it special.”
It’s been a long time since their first regatta, or when Brian used to coach the ski team while their daughters frolicked in their playpen up on the dock. But they plan to be out on the water — whether in a boat or crossing wakes behind one — for many years to come.