I suppose the best way to describe rowing for BB&N in the Head of the Charles (HOCR) last Sunday is as a mix of extremes: the paralyzing nerves stretching from Saturday afternoon to the call of "BB&N, you are on the course"; the excited jitters upon our arrival at the boathouse as the sun rose behind the rainclouds; the pain and tension of the actual race; the momentary panic after a not-so-good start; the disbelief once we passed the finish; the victory of learning we re-qualified for next year's race; and the pride we radiated as we brought our boat back home through a melee of parents', friends', and BB&Ners' cheers.
At the beginning of October, I learned I was in the lineup along with three other senior rowers and a junior coxswain–I couldn't believe how lucky I felt to be able to row in the world's largest regatta. But a couple of days before the race, I was terrified, my inability to know what to expect mingling with stage fright and sending me spinning into a ball of knots.
When I woke up at 5.45 on Sunday morning and looked out the window, my heart sank; unlike the previous day's mild weather, we would be facing blustery wind and drizzling rain. Nothing we hadn't faced before, but not ideal.
Nervous yet excited, I arrived at the boathouse an hour later with a slightly crazed smile. We headed into the team room, made a race plan, and argued over sartorial decisions (tech shirt or leggings?). After some last words from our coaches, we brought the boat onto the dock, walking past the posters our teammates had made and our cheering family and friends. For the first time, I thought to myself that this HOCR thing might actually be really fun.
On our warmup row down to the start line, we had to remind ourselves to be calm, especially in the wind. One deep breath at a time, we made our way to the basin, where 84 other boats (that's 425 girls total) were recoiling from the rain and darting nervous glances at the scene. I don't get cold, so I decided (somewhat recklessly) that I would race in just my uni, which if nothing else provided a source of laughter for my teammates. We turned and inched our way to the start.
Finally at 9.04, the first boat started to row. The nerves came back in full force, making my cold and wet fingers itch. I stared straight at my teammate ahead of me, trying desperately to calm down, as I heard the race marshals call Winsor, CRLS, Exeter, and then BB&N. Stroke by stroke, we brought the pressure up until we heard, "BB&N, you're on the course."
The race itself was not easy: I was cold and wet, everything hurt, the wind kept pushing against my oar, and two boats passed us before the first bridge. Nonetheless, we kept going, and 17 painful minutes later we rounded the Eliot Bridge turn and came in view of the BB&N boathouse. The Cambridge Boat Club announcer called our names as we passed, but the applause, screams, and enthusiastic cowbells of the BB&N boathouse crowd drowned her out completely. Buoyed by the cheers, we straightened up, pulled a little harder, and 750 meters later we were done.
Still gasping for breath, we turned downstream and rowed slowly towards the turning point by Harvard's Newell boathouse, where we could finally stop. Exhausted and overwhelmed, all we could focus on was the loss of feeling in our frozen toes. Eventually, the race marshal signaled for us to return to BB&N, and as we neared the dock, we picked up the pace in excitement. Our coxswain docked the shell perfectly, and we were all laughing when our coaches pulled us in. "Good job, girls!" they told us. "You re-qualified!" We had finished 39th out of 85, ensuring that the BB&N girls will again race a boat in HOCR next year!
As we walked the boat back in, the crowd swarmed around us in a blur of photos, hugs, smiles, laughs, shivers, and congratulations. Next thing I remember, my teammates and I were indulging in our post-HOCR tradition of eating steaming hot mac and cheese in a bread bowl. It was some of the best food I'd ever had.
I still can't believe that I rowed in Head of the Charles, but I couldn't feel prouder. I got to do what I love, with some fantastic teammates, in front of family, friends, and thousands of others cheering us on–what's better than that?