C.R.A.S.H.-B. Sprints has come a long way since group of rowers from Boston convened in the erg room at Newell Boathouse and pulled a 2k (well, actually, a five-mile effort on the original bicycle-wheel odometer ergs) just for fun 33 years ago. Not only has the venue grown tremendously, but the group of athletes has changed dramatically from the Charles River All-Star Has-Beens; many of the competitors have never stepped foot in a shell and never held an oar. Believe it or not, some of these people don't just erg to win races on the water.
With over 2100 athletes, 250 volunteers, and a lot of people watching both live and on the Web, the World Indoor Rowing Championships attracts athletes from all around the globe and of all ages. And although many rowers dread the erg, it is an event on the rowing calendar that breaks up the monotony of winter; for many competitive folks, C.R.A.S.H.-B. makes winter training worthwhile.
Row like Paul
The most celebrated athlete racing yesterday wasn't an Olympic gold medalist, or an international superstar; it was 96-year-old Paul Randall, who was racing his ninth C.R.A.S.H.-B. after qualifying Indianapolis Indoor Rowing Championships last month. As he raced to his winning time of 11:47.0, the crowds went wild watching this inspirational man. He came to rowing not too long ago, all thanks to a free erg.
"About 15 years ago I won a machine at a contest and the woman told me 'You better take that thing home because I am going to sell it if you don't it out of here!'" he said yesterday. "So I ran to the telephone and called up my buddy with a pick-up truck, and said 'Hey get over here; I don't care if you are over here in your underwear, get here and help me move this thing.' So he did and I took it home, and my wife said, 'I hope you're not going to keep that thing in the garage,' and I said 'well I plan on doing exactly that,'" said Randall.
There aren't a lot of indoor rowing races in Randall's home state of Indiana, but it wasn't long before Randall qualified for his first C.R.A.S.H.-B. ten years ago. The former distance runner and WWII veteran is a modest, hardworking rower who isn't so keen on his celebrity status, but does have advice for his younger fans who are taking to Twitter to hashtag #belikepaul and #rowlikepaul.
"It's awful!" said Randall. "Everybody knows your name and people say to me 'I've seen you on TV!' And I haven't even seen the thing. Everybody that would talk to me about it, I would tell them, 'don't quit.' Whatever it is, don't quit. You'll be sorry for sure if you have done anything to accomplish something and it got away from you. You've got to do something worthwhile to inspire the younger generation. Give yourself a pat on the back, then run like crazy several days a week; that starts it."
Though he has qualified for ten races, it's his ninth in Boston, and despite the long journey, Randall still finds joy in racing.
"It feels really wonderful to be here; I see some familiar faces, people who have come a long way so it's worth the trip," he said. "I've planned it for a long time, and sometimes I think its more trouble than its worth, but that's not true. I tell people 'I really have to win - either win, or expose myself to the possibility.' It's got to be worth it, work hard so you win it, and pretty soon you're glad you came."
No less inspiring were the adaptive athletes whose contingent continues to grow dramatically each year at the regatta. With thirteen events each for men and women, including the functional electric stimulation (FES) race which allows paraplegics and those with extensive injury to compete, there was a tremendous range of athletes, from young high school students with physical or intellectual disabilities to those who are using rowing as rehabilitation for injuries.
Presenting the hammers to the adaptive athletes were Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, who were both injured in the Boston Marathon bombing, and have recently starting rowing at CRI.
"We were both runners before we were injured at the Boston Marathon Bombing, and we were looking for ways to get back to being active that didn't involve the parts that were injured," said Kensky. "It didn't matter if we were having a bad day with our legs or couldn't get our prosthetic on; we were looking for ways to be fit, have fun and get outside. We had heard about Community Rowing and we checked it out; it was a welcoming group, and we didn't feel self-conscious. I think we both found being on the water to be very therapeutic. It was fun to try something new; I had rowed a little bit in high school, but my husband hadn't rowed ever."
"It's also a good couple's therapy session on the water for us to both be in the same boat," said Downes. "We would argue, 'left, no right!' It helped us get through a lot of those hurdles as well."
For the young married couple, rowing allowed them to get away from all the difficulties of day-to-day life, and the new equipment that help them with their injuries. Being on the water made them feel able-bodied.
"We are the most mobile we have been since our injuries, and we are looking forward to getting back on the water," Kensky said. "It's been inspiring to be here today and see everyone else."
Three world records were set in the adaptive events: Melissa Pavlicic from Victoria city rowing in LTA physically disabled, at 3.35.6; Ukranian Dmytro Ivanov in Open Men Trunk and Arms at 3:28.2; and Susan Murray, a family physician who set the bar for LTA (above the knee amputee) women at 3:58.3.
Two new events were introduced at this year's C.R.A.S.H.-B.'s, the youth 4 minute race for 12-13 year olds, and the team relay in which teams of four race 1000m simultaneously, while their split is averaged. In the latter event, the winning Q-Power team smashed the rest of the field with a time of 3:01.5. Many of the teams wore fun unis, or matching shirts, and came up with creative names for their teams (with the win for most creative name to the makers of the machine, Concept II Factory Seconds). As the last event of the day, many of the athletes were racing for the second time, for a fun race. Because of the fun nature of the event, the winners won giant squeaky hammers, in tribute to the gold medal hammer.
A Spectator Sport—Open and Masters
It would be impossible or just crazy to attempt to summarize every event from the C.R.A.S.H.-B.'s (see full results), but it would be equally crazy to not mention some of the most exciting races of the day, and some of the most dramatic wins.
The close races are especially fun for spectators, and with over 6000 seats in the arena, there is plenty of room for friends and family to cheer (and the new flooring at the arena was a bit less sound absorbent than the old rubber floor, making the crowds sound extra loud this year).
Karen Oprea, whose son William finished second in the Open Lightweight category and won the U23 and Collegiate divisions, has been to eight regattas over the years to watch her three sons race.
"It's a very exciting event because of the screen where you can see the boats progress" she said. "One of the problems with watching on the river is you travel three and a half hours and you only see them for a brief period, and here you get to see their progress on the jumbotron."
Austrian National Team rower Florian Berg took the overall gold, while Brendan Harrington finished two seconds behind Oprea for the bronze.
It wasn't just parents cheering from the stands, many of the master's rowers came kids-in-tow to show them how it's done. Eric Jensen was one of those athletes, who was trying to acquire his bronze medal with two wiggly kids looking up to their dad. Jensen, who had rowed for UMass from 1987-91, recently got back on the erg thanks to Crossfit.
"I did an [erg] event on the Cape and took first place a few weeks back, and that gave me the oomph to come up to C.R.A.S.H.-B.'s," he said. "Getting back on the erg felt good, believe it or not; I like the pain, but it's a hard event."
After years without rowing, he was pleased with the bronze medal finish of 6:17.4.
"I went out strong and settled a little bit later than expected. I tried to keep it around 1:35-36, and my goal was to drop my split with 325 meters to go. My goal was to beat 6:15, which I knew I would be a little bit off of first place, but I knew I could put in a good run for top three."
The mix of new rowers, non-rowers, Crossfitters, and the old guard kept things dynamic in the master's and open categories. In the Women's Open category, it was a new name, Maddie Turbes, who took not only the U23 and Collegiate wins, but the overall win as well. (Usually, when there are international or senior team athletes competing in the event, it is not a single athlete that wins all three categories). Turbes, a sophomore at Gonzaga University, came to her first C.R.A.S.H.-B. a year and a half after she began rowing, just hoping to make it on the podium.
"I am super excited, I have been visualizing this race since last year when I found out about it," she said. "I tried to picture myself here thinking 'you're going to take it away from someone in the last 500.' It's an energy I'm not used to in erg testing."
Racing stroke-for-stroke against Maddie was Josie Van Veen who placed second, followed by Katherine Ashton in third.
In the lightweight women's category, Erin Roberts, who found her call to rowing from her 2013 win at C.R.A.S.H.-B.'s took home the hammer once again, six seconds ahead of Michaela Taupe-Traer and Mary Foster (Roberts' teammate from Riverside Boat Club.)
The top ten finishers in the Open Men's category finished under 6 minutes, with the winner, Andrew Stewart-Jones of Peterborough Rowing Club coming in at an impressive 5:47.7; Semen Yaganov placed second, and coming in third, but taking the U23 and Collegiate titles was Kyle Peabody of Boston University; maybe he felt at home in Agganis surrounded by Terrier memorabilia.
Some of the loudest, and exciting events of the day are the junior races; there are more parents, teammates, and coaches present for these high school aged athletes than any other event. And more so than in any event, these kids wear their hearts on their sleeves (or on their unis), and their successes and failures are dramatically felt. None expressed it better than Dana Moffat who won for the second year in a row. Moffat battled it out with Concept2 Team Germany athletes Juliane Rebecca Faralisch and Lena Maria Seuffert, who finished one and two seconds, respectively, behind Moffat.
Winning the junior lightweight women's race was Leonie Sahlmann, with Geena Fram finishing second, followed by Adrienne Bielawski in the bronze medal spot.
On the boys' side, Jordi Jofre Senciales won just 0.7 seconds ahead of Sky Leland, with Ben Davidson in third.
Kenneth Michalec topped the podium for lighweight junior boys, with Nicholas Kochanek earning silver and Carson Hake, bronze.
Many of these juniors, medalists and beyond, posted some great times, and it's these championship events that bring out the future NCAA/IRA, National Team or Olympic Champs. It wouldn't be surprising to see these names pop up again in the future.
Now that C.R.A.S.H.-B.'s is over…can someone make it stop snowing?