On Saturday and Sunday, October 23 and 24, the men’s and women’s rowing teams competed in the Head of the Charles Regatta (HOCR) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The annual HOCR is the largest rowing regatta in the world, drawing over 11,000 competitors. Athletes hail from all over the world, boasting impressive athletic resumes and diverse backgrounds.
“We saw the Canadian women’s national team that won the gold medal [in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics] rowing down the course on the same day we saw sophomores in high school rowing for the first time,” men’s captain Ben Ross ’22 said. “[The HOCR] really brings [in] this broad range of people. I think the oldest competitor was 85 years old.”
Due to the event’s magnitude and the elite skill set of many participants, the competition is fierce.
“To medal at the HOCR is a big deal,” Head Coach Doug Welling said.
Both the men’s and women’s teams did medal, however, despite the high level of competition. Four of the eight boats that Bowdoin sent to the competition finished in the top ten overall, including the men’s and women’s collegiate fours, who finished third and seventh respectively.
“[Our boat’s third place finish] was very exciting, and it was honestly something I hadn’t processed as a possibility,” Ross said.
The boat that carried Ross and his teammates to the podium is named Free Speed, a tribute to Henry Zietlow ’22, a rower who lost his life in a car accident during his first year at Bowdoin.
“We were going around the Eliot turn, and our coxswain [Brandon Schuster ’23] said ‘You are pulling for the six of us, you know why you are here, you know whose boat you are in.’ I teared up at the end of the race. It was emotional to bring that boat across the line,” Ross said.
Additionally, Saturday marked the first time Bowdoin fielded a women’s eight-person boat since 2012, finishing twenty-third overall.
“They had a really strong race, but the act of having that boat together was symbolic of the depth of the team,” Welling said.
Elizabeth Thomas ’24 echoed Welling’s sentiments.
“The women’s side has typically been in the shadow of the men’s side, but now we have four different women’s boats on the varsity side and a ton of different novice boats,” Thomas said. “The growth on the women’s side has been huge.”
In a special division created to compensate for the HOCR’s cancellation last fall due to COVID-19 and to commemorate the return of the event, the Class of 2020 men’s alumni four-person boat finished second, trailing Columbia University.
“[This year’s HOCR] was a bit of a celebration for the whole rowing community,” Assistant Coach Ry Hills said.
But the celebration did not come without difficulty. All this success occurred on a race course known to be strenuous and intimidating.
“This race is a coxswain’s greatest nightmare and their greatest challenge. It’s known to have many crashes,” Thomas said.
As the boats jockey for position through the bends and under the bridges of the Charles River, teammates must understand each other’s signals and move as a well-oiled machine.
“It takes a lot of communication with each other and with other boats and being careful to avoid collisions,” Ross said.
The College’s rowers also experienced a previously foreign level of intense competition, facing athletes from elite Division I institutions such as Columbia University, Dartmouth College and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
“It was definitely nerve-wracking, but it also gave us a lot of energy, because you have to meet this challenge,” Thomas said. “It’s amazing to be around rowers at the elite level.”
Editor’s Note, 10/29/21, 1:35 p.m.: In an earlier version of this article, it was stated that the women’s eight-person boat placed 28th overall while, in reality, they placed 23rd.