COLUMN: 49th Head Of The Charles Regatta
Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 19:10
Golf has the Masters, tennis has Wimbledon, and rowing has the Head of the Charles. These events don’t just represent elite levels of competition in the sport, but carry with them an added symbolic significance, a romantic snapshot that captures something basic about the sport. And while it may be inconvenient to go to Augusta National in Georgia or the All England Tennis Club in London, the Head of the Charles takes place only a few T Stops away from Boston College.
This coming Saturday and Sunday mark the 49th Head of the Charles Regatta, the world’s largest competitive rowing event. It features both sculling (each rower has two oars, one going out to each side) and sweep rowing (each rower has one oar, which goes out to one side of them) events. There will be over 9,000 athletes making their way down the Charles’ 4,800-meter (three-mile) race course. It goes from Boston University’s boathouse (just shy of the Charles River basin) and stops after the Eliot Bridge, which lies between Harvard’s and Northeastern University’s boathouses. The course snakes sharply, with 90-degree turns and razor-sharp corners, leading to inevitable crashes between crews and high drama on the river.
I am a member of the BC men’s varsity rowing team, and am proud to be rowing in my first Charles on Sunday. This event is not just the major event of our fall racing calendar, but of the worldwide racing year. Rowing is not a sport where you race every weekend. Since returning on Aug. 28, the team has trained between 16-20 hours a week. On an average day, we wake up before 6 a.m. and go to the Harry Parker Boathouse for two hours of practice on the water. We have trained hard for this weekend and are all very excited about the Head of the Charles. This will be our first major race, and it is on our home river.
Rowing is hard work, and the rowing stroke taxes every major muscle group in the body, starting with the legs, then transferring to the back and shoulders, and then finishing off with the arms. But rowing is so beautiful. It requires eight bodies to power the boat, and in the morning light it resembles synchronized smokestacks, breathing hard in the cold air, gliding across the glass-like water. Rowing challenges you to push past the limits of exhaustion and self-doubt. It teaches you to confront fear—the fear of losing and the fear of pain. It fosters camaraderie and trust, and like all great sports, allows you to discover reservoirs of courage and power in yourself that you dared not dream existed. And the Charles is the ultimate place to see this.
The Head of the Charles features competitors of all ages and skills. This year the 61 events will include adaptive rowers, Olympians, high school freshmen, and 84-year-olds. They all have a common goal: to push themselves to be their best. The United States National Team, which is coming off of a successful World Championships in Chungju, South Korea, will be competing in a variety of events, including the Men’s Championship Eight—arguably the banner event of the entire regatta. Another notable entry in this year’s field is Mahe Drysdale, the 2012 London Olympic Gold Medalist, and five-time World Rowing Champion. The New Zealander is perhaps the most notable international entry from a field that includes Brits, Canadians, Eastern Europeans, and Mongolians. It is truly a global event with a global reputation. And it happens only a short walk from your door.
At the Charles, there are vendors, fitness expos, and world-class racing. You do not need to know the first thing about rowing to appreciate this sort of activity. Every year nearly 400,000 spectators converge on the Charles River just to watch the racing and enjoy the atmosphere of the fall air. College students from Harvard, BU, MIT, and Northeastern all flock to the banks of the river in order to cheer on their men’s and women’s teams and BC rowing needs similar support for our program. This year has produced one of our fittest and most motivated crews ever, and we are looking forward to achieving one of our best results ever at the Head of the Charles.
The BC men’s team’s weekend begins on Saturday at 2:04 p.m., with the Freshmen/Novice Eight competing in the men’s club eight event. On Sunday, varsity takes to the water in the Collegiate Eights category. The two Varsity Eights will be going off between 3:40 and 4:00 on Sunday afternoon, competing against 40 other boats from schools including Washington College, Duke, and our rivals, Trinity.
The women’s team will be representing BC as well. On Saturday the women will be racing in the Club Fours event, and they have two entries in the women’s Club Eight category. On Sunday at 3:06 p.m., the women’s Championship Eight will go off and BC will be racing downstream against some of the best boats in the country.
Rowing has become such a huge part of my life at BC. But it is also a huge part of life in Boston. For the world’s premier regatta to be held in Boston is both fitting and incredibly fortunate for all of us. I encourage everyone to go down to the river this weekend and see what an amazing experience the Head of the Charles is.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.