Just about the time much of the city of Boston will be waking up Saturday morning, Tom Bishop will be paddling up the Charles River and into his spot at the start of the 55th Head of the Charles Regatta.
Rowing into the chute to start one of the 71 events that will run on Saturday and Sunday on the Charles River is not that unique. Every one of the 2,263 crews that make it to the start line in front of the Boston University DeWolfe Boathouse will do the same exact thing.
But Bishop, of London's Quintin Boat Club, gets to be the very first. As the winner of the last two Senior Veteran men's single events, Bishop earned the right to call himself number one.
"It's amazing," Bishop said Thursday, just after getting to the course and tending to his rental equipment. "It's a great privilege, and great fun. There is no one to hit," he said. "I did ask whether we needed a light the first year, but the organizers told me that it will be light by the time we are afloat."
This will be Bishop's sixth Head of the Charles, and like a majority of people who will be racing this weekend, he has a history in rowing. Bishop's story goes back to his youth, when he was a member of the British National team and rowed in two World Championships and the 1976 Olympics in the quad.
His rowing involvement was halted when he gave up the sport at 40 to run a small company back home in Great Britain. The work kept him busy, too busy to either row or stay as fit as he would have liked.
But when he turned 50, Bishop said he looked at a picture of himself and decided he need to make a change. But he still did not take up rowing again. That didn't happen until his knees his knees began to hurt.
So, with a desire to keep moving, Bishop took up bicycling and - yes - rowing. And he could not be happier that he did. When he began rowing in the annual Boston fall classic he worked his way up from the Senior Master's single (the 60 plus group), finishing seventh and then sixth. When he turned 70, he moved up an age division and won his first title.
Being first means that Bishop will have a clear path through the six bridges, and the long twisting, three-mile course. He won't have to do a lot of looking over his shoulder, at least he is hoping not to.
He will be keeping an eye on bow number 2. That number scheduled to be on the bow of another former Olympian, Jim Dietz, who rowed on two US Olympic teams, 1972 and 1976. Bishop said he is well aware of the threat to his place at the start.
"This year, there is a big beast coming into the age group," Bishop said. "It should be a good race. I'm looking forward to it. I raced (Dietz) in the 70s in the double sculls at the Henley Royal Regatta. He was rowing with a guy called (Larry) Klecatsky and they thrashed us.
"So, yea, I'm looking forward to the race."
(Saturday update: Bishop won, beating Dietz by one second.)
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