The excitement of the commemorative 50th year of the Head Of The Charles, coupled with good weather, brought out the crowds in droves. Just walking from the Eliot Bridge to the Expo Tent took a solid ten minutes, but perhaps the slowdown was worth the while as it was a veritable 'who's who' of the rowing world. Where else can you walk among Olympians, or not feel like you're too tall? Among rowers, no one will ever gawk at your shoe size.
The 50th began like all good fall racing does- sunshine, a nip of chill that spread into warmth and flat waters- though it evolved like every New England day tries to do, from a tailwind to a headwind, some cloud cover and a few sprinkles, but overall, a pleasant day.
Defy the Odds
The words DEFY THE ODDS are painted on the BU Bridge near the starting line, and it resonated powerfully for some athletes today. There were two women who raced today who were tied together not by their club, nor their event, but by their perseverance, determination and incredible athleticism. Today not one, but two women living with cancer defied the odds and won their respective events: Linda Muri in the Women's Senior Masters 2x and Joan Van Blom, in the Women's Senior Masters 8.
Muri and her doubles partner CB Sands-Bohrer won the event last year, breaking the course record, and today finished within ten seconds of last year's record (which was set in especially fast conditions). Muri, who is three weeks into a six-week course of radiation following chemotherapy and surgery for breast cancer, said the treatment had been leaving her a bit fatigued, but onward she marched.
"The conditions were much worse, and the time wasn't too different…which means she's still killing it!" said Sands-Bohrer.
Van Blom, a two-time Olympic medalist, and a member of the (somewhat unfortunately) famous 1980 Crew, had raced the Charles with her teammates from Long Beach to six wins (plus another she picked up in the single in 1975), so when she thought about skipping this year's regatta following surgery on a brain tumor this August, her teammates had to insist that she remain with the crew.
"Joan is amazing and we couldn’t imagine doing the race without her," said boatmate Helen Frykman. "Two weeks ago she said, 'Helen I can't do it' and I said 'Joan, you've got to do it. We need you. You're our heart and soul. You have to come and row with us in this race. Finally she agreed and we won!"
The Long Beach women faced a tough field in their competitive event. Even Holly Hatton, the coxswain for the 1980 Crew that rowed in the same event, commented that the level of competition for Senior Master's women has grown tremendously in the past few years. But the women pulled through their lucky 7 win for themselves and for Joan.
"It was beyond expectations," said Van Blom. "I knew we had a good boat, but it was really fun. I have felt so supported all year by the rowing community and especially here, when I crossed the line."
There were a bunch of records smashed today, and while we're waiting to get you the numbers, here's at least a few anecdotes of some records that were broken.
In the Veteran Men's 1x (50+), Greg Benning, multiple time winner of the Head of the Charles raced a smooth and fast course to a 18:15.16, breaking his own record set last year of 18:15.870.
Benning, a Charles River sculler and Cambridge Boat Club member, knows this river like the back of his hand, but doesn't think his knowledge the winds and turns of the course that give him his edge.
"You get deep into the race and you're pretty fatigued, and you don't execute the turns as well as you think you should, so that's not the advantage," he said. "I think the advantage is really recognizing what's going on with the wind and being able to visualize the race a little bit better. Usually I have guys in the pack pushing me, but for some reason this year they fell back so I was rowing by myself for much of the race."
Another smashed record came from an unlikely place, the Women's Alumni Eight. An event that get's a rap for having a lot of out of shape former rowers who just want to race down the course with some old college buddies, the University of Michigan is able to put together a boat that fits both that criteria, but also goes blazingly fast.
The Michigan crew had five US Senior Team members: Ellen Tomek, Felice Mueller, Sarah Trowbridge, Stesha Carle, and Brett Sickler. Together with their fellow alums, they shaved 19 seconds off the 2013 record for a 15:56.65.
"I've stayed friends with these girls, but don't get to see them very often since we live all over the country, so it's fun when we get back in the boat," said Tomek. "On the row up to the start, we do not get a lot done. We're cracking up and doing crazy things, but pulled it together and had a pretty decent race."
"I like doing the alumni 8 at the Charles because it's a no pressure event," she added. "Of course you want to win, but you're also there goofing around and having fun. Doing the 1x or the 2x, that's what I'm doing during the year, so it's fun to just forget about training and sculling technique, then hop in an 8+ and go really hard."
The Head Of The Charles has many a perennial winner, yet there are some who go out and chase the gold ever year... and just fall short (sometimes over and over). It can be frustrating, antagonizing, but when you get that entry the following year, you hop into bow numbers 2, 3, 4 and try, try again for the elusive win.
Ernest Cook and his men's grand master's 4+ from Riverside Boat Club is one such crew. They rowed for three years in the senior master's 4, then in the grand masters 4, with three second place and one third place finishes. This year, in the 60+ division, they were determined to capture the gold.
"Things worked out really well, when so often in the Head Of The Charles, things don't," Cook said. "One year our stroke got his oar wrapped around a buoy line and we lost a lot of time with that. Some years there have been boat collisions, but this year we had one boat ahead of us that we were in the wake of until we passed it at the one-mile mark. Once we got past that, the water was flat ahead of us so we were able to row our race after that, like clockwork."
Another Mr. Cook took home his first gold early on Saturday morning. Chuck Cook from St. Louis Rowing Club kicked off the regatta with bow #1, in event #1 and finishing #1. It was Cook's first win at the Regatta.
"Winning was awesome," Cook said. "Painful, but awesome. The water was great, the wind was quiet except for coming around the end of the course, and there was no headwind at all. It was great."
In the Championship Men's and Women's single, it was a 50th Homecoming for Cambridge Boat Club—the club that originally started the regatta. Both of the wins went to CBC members: Gevvie Stone and Andrew Campbell. Both were awarded at a Gala commemorating the 50th Regatta this evening, so row2k will catch up with hometown heroes in the morning.
Keep following row2k for photos, features, updates and more as we celebrate #HOCR50.
Notes from the Course
One sculler in the first event of the day had apparently failed to turn on his speedcoach, and stopped to turn it on several strokes into the race. Hopefully he didn't check his texts during the race...
Another sculler in the same event plowed the Starting Line triangular buoy; might as well get the worst of it out of the way, but yeesh.
The Eliot Bridge turn can be tricky, but today we saw a crew swipe the CBC dock, whew. They must have been using the Google Maps voice directions feature, which will cause you to do about the same if you try to use it in Boston.
Team Attager, the crew that includes HOCR Executive Director Fred Schoch, was spotted in new unis with a huge HOCR medal on them...some would call that bad luck, but they won the special grand masters medal in their event, so I guess it worked.
There is now a parent-child double event, but has a parent-child duo ever won their respective singles events? Gregg and Gevvie Stone did it today.
If you didn't see them, you need to check out the drone pics from last night.
For example, check this one; it's not quite the Colorado River Horseshoe Bend, but it is probably rowing's equivalent.
Some course records fell today; if any fall in tomorrow's 17mph NW wind, that will be a serious feat.