row2k Features
Bates' Charlie Berman
May 28, 2024
John FX Flynn, row2k

Bates's Charlie Berman, wearing a 'Berman original' bucket hat

As we gear up for coverage of the collegiate championships this weekend, we have one more college athlete interview to share. We chat with Charlie Berman, a senior at Bates about to race in his last IRA.

We caught up with Charlie about how he got started in the sport, his side gig as a manufacturer of pretty sweet bucket hats, and what it has been like to row at Bates over the past few years as the IRA introduced the DIII Men's Championship.

Berman won a bronze meal in the Bates 1V in last year's IRA DIII Championship final; racing for this year's DIII crown starts on Friday, with full row2k coverage here.

row2k - How did you get your start in rowing?

Charlie Berman - My family had always been adamant that I participate in some form of athletics, and I had never displayed aptitude in any sports. I was lucky enough to attend a public school with a rowing team, and going into my freshman year at Lower Merion High School, my dad recommended I give it a try.

He reasoned that I was tall and would be starting at the same level as everyone else. It was an added bonus that no hand-eye coordination was required. I started with the other novices that spring and it became the first time in my life that I felt like I could succeed at a sport. I've stuck with it ever since and while I have since discovered I'm not actually that tall for a rower, or wildly successful, I couldn't imagine spending the last eight years doing anything else.

Berman at 7 in Bates 1V at 2023 IRA
Berman at 7 in Bates 1V at 2023 IRA

row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?

Charlie Berman - I love the friendships that you develop with your teammates. You end up spending so much time with the guys on your team that it's almost impossible not to love (or at least respect) all of them. When I was in high school, my closest friends were all on the rowing team and I knew that I wanted that community when I went to college.

While I imagine this sentiment isn't uncommon in most team sports, I feel that it is more significant in rowing because of the importance of working together. When one person fails to uphold the standard, it can't really be covered up. When you see everyone working at the same standard and raising that bar collectively, it instills a really close camaraderie among the team. I imagine this is the reason a lot of people stick with the sport, because rowing tends to be pretty rough without really close friends to do it with.

Berman and Bates' strokeman George Fauver
Berman and Bates' strokeman George Fauver

row2k - Can you tell us a bit about the research you are doing for your senior thesis at Bates?

Charlie Berman - At Bates, all seniors write a thesis. It's a great opportunity to engage in independent research and spend a semester working through a single project. I've been researching the effect that subsidizing rideshare rides have on public transit ridership. I've actually just finished it (stay tuned for "Assessing the Impact of Public Transit-Rideshare Partnerships"...! It's more interesting than it sounds) and have really enjoyed the process.

I found a nearly 5% increase in transit ridership when subsidized rideshare rides were used in an urbanized area. Since the dataset was created with pre-COVID years, it is difficult to assert that the same treatment effect will occur post-COVID. However, it was still a great opportunity to work with real world data and run some econometric analysis that I hadn't used before. It was also great to be able to work with a very supportive and knowledgeable advisor, Prof. Kyle Coombs, who helped me complete this work without too much anguish.

row2k - We hear you are the guy to talk to if we want a bucket hat...can you tell us a bit how you started your side business in rowing head gear?

Charlie Berman - One of my teammates had a terry cloth bucket hat (from Scots College if I remember correctly) that I thought was super cool, but I didn't want to buy my own.

I figured it couldn't be too tough to make my own so I spent about five hours hand sewing a bucket hat out of a towel that I 'borrowed' from the locker room. It turned out really lousy, but I found a sewing machine and the next couple turned out much better. From there, I ended up giving one to my coach, who wore it to the NIRC coaches meeting, and that's where it kicked off! Things have quieted down a bit as I've turned my attention to graduating, but if anyone is in the market, I can be found @buckets_by_berman on Instagram.

Berman with IRA Commissioner Gary Caldwell and Bates coach Peter Steenstra., presenting the commish with a Berman Bucket Hat at the IRA
Berman with IRA Commissioner Gary Caldwell and Bates coach Peter Steenstra., presenting the commish with a Berman Bucket Hat at the IRA

row2k - Your time at Bates has coincided with the beginning of the DIII Men's Championship at the IRA. In what ways has that championship changed your experience as an athlete?

Charlie Berman - It's changed the entire focus of the year. Previously, we would compete at NIRC, with the best placing crew among the NESCAC schools being considered the "NESCAC Champion." While that was a cool thing, the men's team didn't have an opportunity to test themselves in a true championship, or be able to claim the title of "Division III Champion." During the same time, our women's team was coming back to the boathouse after NCAAs as the best in Division III on an annual basis.

With the introduction of the DIII Championship, we now have an opportunity to compete for the championship and title that comes along with it. That brings a whole new focus and energy to the team. Instead of being limited to "NESCAC Champion" or being a top finisher at NIRC, we now have a chance to claim the title of the very best in the division.

Racing the DIII Grand Final in 2023
Racing the DIII Grand Final in 2023

row2k - You are a captain as a senior this year, how do you view that role within your team?

Charlie Berman - Most of what I do as a captain falls into one of two categories. There's the administrative/coordination tasks like planning gear orders, communicating practice times and changes to the schedule to the rest of the team, and answering questions from the younger guys. We also meet with Coach Steenstra to make sure the team is on the same page as Coach and doing what he expects from us. The biggest job in this category is writing the winter training plan. Since we are DIII, we can't be with our coaches over the off-season, so all winter related tasks and coordination fall to the captains.

There's also the more intangible tasks that fall into the category of cheerleader. I believe that training and practice is significantly more effective when morale is high, and in order to promote this, no one should be more confident or excited than the captains. If a captain isn't confident that things are going well, people notice and mirror that. The same goes for being really enthusiastic and excited. We do a lot of morning sessions, and by bringing up the energy and acting really excited to go rowing at 5am, it can bring up the enthusiasm of the other rowers. This is especially important over winter training. In Maine, the sun sets as early as 4pm and it can be really tough to be motivated to go do hard intervals when the sun is already setting as you walk over to the erg room. By creating a positive and happy environment in the erg room, it makes people more excited to show up.

The role can be a lot of work, but I'm very lucky to have Andrew Frey as a co-captain. He is very proactive in handling the administrative tasks, but he's also a really positive and go with the flow type of guy. He does a really great job of keeping everyone upbeat as well as making sure I'm staying the course when things get a bit rocky. I'm sure that if I wasn't able to share the load with him, I'd be a broken mess right now.

row2k - What has been your most memorable race and why?

Charlie Berman - My most memorable race has to be last year's DIII IRA final. We had experienced disappointment through NERC and NIRC, and there were questions over how competitive we could be at the IRA. We also had a new lineup that hadn't raced together before the previous day's heats.

Bates in the final 500
Bates in the final 500

Despite the unknowns, we raced a really strong heat, giving us confidence and a good lane assignment in the middle of the field going into the finals. We came off the line in last, as we had done all year, and were--at best--bow to stern with second place Wesleyan. Our coxswain, Aidan Braithwaite (Brady), kept us on the race plan and at 800m, we had drawn even with WPI and Tufts, and were challenging Trinity for 3rd. At 1000m, Brady called for a move and we walked even with Trinity and were only half a length back on Wesleyan for 2nd. I still remember hearing Brady yell "You're even with Trin!" followed by "You're walking on Wesleyan!" We traded seats with Wes through the last 500m, but couldn't get through them and ended up missing 2nd by 0.08 seconds.

While it would have been great to secure silver, this was the best placement we had all year, the best we had executed our race plan, and the first IRA medal in program history. For the two seniors in the boat, Brady and our bow seat, Ben MacDonald, it was also the first medal they had gotten in their collegiate career. I was roommates and close friends with the two of them and it was an amazing feeling being able to send them off with an IRA medal.

The 2023 DIII bronze medallists
The 2023 DIII bronze medallists

Checkout some other interviews below from our 2024 Collegiate Athlete series with folks racing this weekend at the 121st IRA National Championships.

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