A five minute walk from the front door of BB&N Upper School is the site of the largest rowing regatta in the world. In late October, the Charles River is swarming with teams from areas ranging from Cambridge, Mass. to Australia. In previous years, a four person boat had been selected from a group of approximately eleven elite BB&N rowers. In my freshman year, I began to train with the eleven rowers who were competing for a seat in the HOCR boat. That year, the team had four seniors, nine juniors, one sophomore, and one freshman. The sheer talent of the older rowers impressed me from the first practice, and I became increasingly more advanced in my own rowing by watching their technique.
After two years on the team, the fall season of HOCR 2019 arrived. Before the first practice, I knew that we would have significantly fewer team members than in previous years, because nine senior rowers had graduated. Upon my arrival at the boathouse, my coach informed us that we would only have four rowers and one coxswain on the team that year. My teammates and I exchanged mixed glances; some excited, as this meant that all of us would be racing in the boat this year, and some concerned, as this meant we had no alternates and all of the pressure would be on us.
In the following weeks, I found myself amazed by the amount of hard work that my teammates and I poured into our technique, fitness, and stamina. Whether it was rowing six or seven miles at six a.m., mirroring each other exactly on an erg machine, or completing a dreaded 5000m erg test, there was never an off day as we strove to refine our skills.
As the HOCR drew closer, the team came together in a way that was unique from teams in the past, in that the small number of girls on the team made it easy for us to work as a unit. Small details became second nature to us as we rehearsed the motions that we would carry out on race day.
On the day of the regatta, I woke up before my alarm. I realized that in three hours I would be hearing “BB&N, you are on the course.” After packing on as much warm clothing with the BB&N logo on it, my teammates and I set off for the boathouse with the sun barely coming up.
The team and I arrived at the boathouse shortly before seven a.m., with the sun not yet clearing Eliot Bridge. Even at this early time, a crowd had started to gather on top of Eliot, and the Cambridge Boat Club next door was close to packed with early risers and regatta officials. The river, however, was completely deserted, with only a few official HOCR launches zooming between boathouses for last minute checks.
As the sun gradually rose, we warmed up on rowing machines lined up to form a model boat and we watched the boathouse gradually fill with family members, friends, and other members of the BB&N community. At 8:15 a.m., we lifted our boat, the “Light it Up,” onto our shoulders, and walked it down the ramp toward the dock. Fans applauded and shouted for us as we got into our boat and checked our foot stretchers. Our coaches walked the length of the boat yelling encouragements and doing last minute checks.
After the final count off, we pushed off of the dock and began the fastest turn I’ve ever experienced in a crew boat. As we rowed around the Eliot turn away from our boathouse, it was clear that my teammates and I were as insanely nervous as we were excited. As we watched the masters quads racing by on our way up to the starting line, we realized just how many rowers partook in this regatta each year. This year alone, 10,000 rowers from 2,200 clubs and schools raced on the Charles in one weekend, ages ranging from 13 to 91.
The river became gradually more crowded as we made our way to the starting line, until we were surrounded by boats from all over the world. The officials drifted through the sea of boats, barking orders and directing coxswains. Our coxswain meticulously weaved our boat through the crowd, telling us to row lightly, then quickly, then slowly, and suddenly stop abruptly as she navigated the small spaces between boats. Finally, we found ourselves in a long line of boats, between bow number 37 and bow number 39. We crept up to the starting line as the announcer repeatedly called a club name followed by “you are on the course.”
Suddenly, our cox yelled “all right pick it up, start to build” and we began to pick up speed as we headed for the starting line. We flew through the pair of yellow buoys marking the beginning of the course, just as the announcer called “BB&N you are on the course.” Our coxswain called a power 20, beginning with three very short, very fast strokes to jump start the race. As we had practiced this very course almost five times a week for eight weeks, the turns and straightaways felt like second nature. However, this time we had a boat with bow number 40 speeding past bow number 39 and trying to overtake us.
On the Anderson Bridge straightaway, right before we rounded the corner past BB&N, our boat was taking seats back on the other boat, meaning we were getting closer to overtaking them. As we took the inside of the Eliot Bridge turn, we saw bow 40 falling further and further away from us as the cheers from BB&N and CBC reached us. The other boats had fallen completely away from us, and only bow 40, BB&N, and bow 37 were on the turn. As we passed our boathouse, we heard a roar from our fans and coaches with their megaphones. Before we’d passed under the bridge, we had widened the gap between us and bow 40 and were beginning to threaten the boat in front of us.
The last 500 meters of the race were when we took some of our hardest strokes. As we passed over the finish line, we were aware that we had set a personal record by more than 30 seconds, as well as held off bow 40 for the whole course. We could see our families and friends on Eliot, as well as packing the boathouse. For the rest of our day, we were in good spirits knowing that we had broken our previous record, but more importantly, we had been part of the reason that the BB&N community had come together for a world renowned event taking place right in our backyard.