After a one-year hiatus, I was back in action for Dartmouth’s alumni women’s 8+ at the 50th annual Head of the Charles Regatta (HOCR; sometimes referred to as “Rower’s Christmas”). There were over 11,000 rowers competing this year and hundreds of thousands of spectators - the energy was palpable!
I was rowing with seven other alums (plus the cox’n!) in an 8-woman boat. We arrived in Boston ready to rock! The alumni race is always a blast, because everyone is competitive and prepared to crank her guts out, but there’s no pressure outside of what we put on ourselves.
It’s funny how good our muscles’ memories are. After going through our warm-up of rowing by 4’s and then by 6’s, we went to all 8 rowers going at once. The first few strokes were tentative, but we slowly started to gel, and by the time we got up to the starting line, we were starting to find some pop in our stroke.
I had some crazy butterflies fluttering around as we sat ready at the start. Memories flashed through my head of so many races in the Charles River basin. Being back on the water almost felt like a dream. Because of my injury, I did not have many races this season. In fact, the last race that I went to in full health was in June of 2013, so it felt a bit foreign to sit ready at a starting line with nothing on my mind but finding that painful place and cranking for the next 6k (approximately 17 min).
HOCR is a head race, meaning that boats take a running start, with a few boat lengths between each hull (as opposed to the racing you see in the spring and at the Olympics). We were hull #4…. And that’s where we stayed the entire race (see here for results and here for Event 15 race footage). We left hulls #5 and on in the dust, but couldn’t seem to make up ground on hull #3. It was probably the most uneventful Charles I have ever had! But Jamie Chapman ’12 - our stroke - set a strong rhythm, and we did not let off the gas for a second. Our cox’n, Alex Stein ’06, also did an amazing job of keeping us on it from start to finish, even if we didn’t have a boat next to us to race.
Speaking of cox’ns, many have asked me, “what does a cox say? Do they just yell “ROW FASTER?!” This may be true with new cox’ns, but not with Stein. She and other good cox’ns are able to get in the rower’s head. My mind was pretty much blank throughout the race aside from her words, calling power 10’s, 10’s to focus on a particular part of the stroke, power-up on one side of the boat to get us around a sharp turn. At the end of the race, I often have a difficult time discerning between something my cox said and a thought that crossed my mind.
But I digress…back to the race… all our muscles were screaming by the time we crossed the finish line, but that’s part of why we race! That strange feeling of exhaustion and exhilaration is so satisfying. I would say we had some moments when all eight rowers were exactly in sink – when this happens, the boat FLIES almost effortlessly through the water. It’s one of my favorite parts of rowing, and I have yet to experience a feeling as glorious as that (as much as I love swimming, biking, and running!)
Since moving to Chicago, I have been constantly pushing my myself to go outside my comfort zone in order to grow, and last weekend (while the rowing certainly brought some discomfort) was like going home! Although I have been less involved than I would like while out in the Midwest, the Dartmouth Rowing Club is like family. It’s a bond that lasts for life. It was so wonderful to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and remember why I love racing so dearly. Already counting the days til HOCR 2015!