This week's row2k Interview is with MIT Lightweight senior Richard Sollee. We talk with Sollee on racing for MIT, setting a 100k erg world record, and more.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing?
Richard Sollee - As a kid I was not into sports and did not do any until my dad signed me up for being a part of a summer swim team in middle school. In middle school, most of my friends rowed and in the spring of 8th grade I figured I would give it a try. I was decent at it and immediately fell in love with the sport and knew I had found an area to put my free energy into. We went through a lot of coaching changes in my initial years but since my Junior year the program has been under great leadership and many of my favorite rowing memories were made during my time at Bolles.
row2k - How did you decide to attend MIT?
Richard Sollee - I always knew I wanted to attend an academically challenging college, where I could also row. This narrowed down my options, but it still left plenty of difficult doors open to decide between. When I came on my MIT official visit, I knew this was the place for me. I loved that the people on the team were very passionate about rowing and could talk about it for ages. However, they also had other interests and projects that they enjoyed working on and could tell you about. Besides enjoying the team atmosphere, I knew I wanted to major in Computer Science and since MIT is extremely well known for their Computer Science program, I knew it would be a great fit.
row2k - You set a 100k world record on the erg, what was that experience like and do you have any advice for anyone thinking about attempting that workout?
Richard Sollee - The whole thing was a surreal experience overall. After we got sent home because of the beginning of the spread of COVID, I decided I would have a go at the 19&under 100k record since we no longer had a 2k season to train for. I had already been eyeing the record since the winter because of how my steady state was feeling and I had convinced myself that it was a very achievable goal. Looking back at it there weren’t too many indicators that it would go as well as it did besides my self-confidence and that I had a relatively strong base. My main training for it consisted of low rate, high power pieces (to be able to do the piece at a relatively low rate to avoid wasting energy from moving up the slide at higher rates) and longer steady state pieces for general base work. The longest piece I did as prep during the buildup was 3x10k with 1’ rest but I had done a marathon distance erg before Christmas, so I had some idea of what it was like to erg for longer.
For the record attempt, I decided to treat it as 10x10k with 1’ of rest in between each to eat some energy snacks so I needed to base the 10ks at sub 1:57 to hit my target of sub 2:00 avg split. During the piece I watched a couple movies and then decided to switch to just music because I was able to maintain my flow better. The energy waffles I was eating made me a bit queasy a while in so I then only had Gatorade chews as food energy (which resulted in me crashing a bit during the last 10k). It is still crazy to me when I think back to the idea of me sitting on the erg that long and that I actually did it and finished in 6:39:30.5 with an average split of 1:59.8.
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Richard Sollee - For me, the big draw of rowing is that it is the perfect combination of a team and individual sport. In team sports like basketball, tracking individual progress can be difficult because your performance in a game can be heavily influenced by the opponent, your teammates, and many indicators of performance are relative instead of absolute. Completely individual sports can be isolating though, especially if you are not the top of your team so you go into events knowing someone else on your team is probably going to win instead of you. Rowing is amazing because the erg allows objective, individual metrics that you can work on improving, but while racing big boats you must work together with your teammates who are relying on you - because the boat is only as strong as the weakest link.
row2k - What has been your most memorable race and why?
Richard Sollee - The Lightweight 8+ at Dad Vail 2022 was extremely memorable because of all the things we encountered leading into the race. The race only had Mercyhurst as another entry so it was a chance to dual against them despite already losing to them twice earlier in the season. We had faced them at the Lightweight Invitational where we lost by a wide margin. Then we faced them again at Knecht Cup where they out-sprinted us for second place. Both these races gave us a chip on our shoulder that we were itching to remove. But to compound the issue, half our port side caught COVID the week before. Their first day cleared to practice was the day to travel and weigh in, so we had not been in our lineup for a while going into race weekend. However, our practices on course the day before were our best practices as a boat that we had ever had and it felt like things were meshing well. On race day, we came together to make a move off of the start and gain a solid margin before the bridge. They started to creep up during the sprint, but we had established a large enough gap early on to maintain around a three-quarters length lead at the finish.
row2k - What are you studying at MIT and do you have any plans for after graduation?
Richard Sollee - I am double majoring in Computer Science and Physics. I came in just planning on Computer Science but after taking one of the intro physics classes I decided to take more physics classes and soon I found myself declaring a double major. My current plan is to continue at MIT for one more year to get my Master of Engineering in Computer Science and continue on the rowing team to get to use another year of my eligibility which I didn’t get to use due to COVID season cancellations.
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