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Rowing is Returning to a ‘New Normal’

STORY BY JAMEY BULLOCH
PHOTOS BY ED MORAN

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. Walking down the dock for the Head of the Charles Regatta Grand Masters Eight, Bets Kent lifts the boat above heads and turns with her crew to place her boat on the Charles River for the 42nd time since 1976. 

Kent had hoped to make the 42nd walk last year. That didn’t happen. The pandemic made sure of that. But this weekend, with the virus under control enough for public events to take place, the Head of the Charles was allowed to return.

And Kent made her 42nd walk down the loading dock.

“We are slower,” she laughed. “Our boat averages 67 [years old], so it’s a bit of a struggle to get that power but you appreciate the friendships more every year.” 

With a cold chill in the air, the second day of racing kicked off with a full slate of master’s events, followed by the first of the championship races including men’s and women’s singles and men’s and women’s doubles.

Among those who would have been racing in the champ single was Gevvie Stone, who retired from international racing following Tokyo Olympics, where she raced the double with Kristina Wagner.

The ten-time HOCR champion didn’t miss a beat and broke the existing women’s master’s single record by 34 seconds.

“I was surprised by how many people were along the banks at 8 am—surprised in a very good way. Made it much more fun!” said Stone.

Sent off first in the headrace, Stone had a significant lead past Cambridge Boat Club and into the final stretch where she claimed gold.

“It’s great to get out there and race. No matter the event. All about doing the best I can,” Stone said.

The Head of the Charles is back and creating a ‘new normal’ for spectators; not quite back to pre-Covid but slowly allowing people to come together again.

“Feels really nice to be back to well, a new normal,” said Amy Griffin with her husband, Sherman. The two were standing on the Eliot Bridge shaking a cowbell while their son warmed up below in the Tufts Club eight.

“We live in Seattle which has a really big rowing community, not quite as big as this but for some of the races you’re getting a lot of good people on the side of the waterway there,” said Sherman Griffin. “It’s fun to be like this.” 

Ben Davidson has raced the Head of the Charles enough times to understand what the Griffin’s were talking about.

Davidson, who won the championship single Saturday for the second time since 2018 said, “It went fairly smooth, I ran into a bit of trouble around Weld turn, just passing somebody who didn’t quite get out the way, but that’s just how it goes. Other than that, it went fairly smooth. I was happy with it.”

“As far as the atmosphere goes, it feels like everything is pretty much back to normal,” said Davidson. “Obviously, no international entries which were kind of a shame but also totally understandable and the right decision to make, I guess that was the only real difference.”

In the women’s single, there was a new winner this year.

“I’ve never had to start in the back of the pack except for the first year I did it,” Maggie Fellows said.

Fellows started from the back of the pack after not competing in 2019 and—despite the positioning—won this year’s event.

“I didn’t race in 2019 so that’s why I had to get in out of the lottery. I was just hoping it would all work out. I know I can row a very aggressive line on this course but the question is: what other people will do? I was only focusing on what I can control.”

Covid forced the world to pause this past year, disrupting many lives. For the athletes on the Charles today, this only made them more determined.

That determination was especially apparent for the Class of 2020. Covid brought them back to the Charles to recapture their senior season lost to the pandemic. In honor of what happened, the Head of the Charles organizers awarded a special medal in the men’s and women’s alumni eights to the class of 2020, provided seventy-five percent of the boat graduated in 2020.

“March 13, 2020. I remember it perfectly, we were training for Oak Ridge.”

—University of Virginia alumnae, Lauren Poland

“March 13, 2020. I remember it perfectly, we were training for Oak Ridge,” said University of Virginia alumnae, Lauren Poland.

The only positive is the extra year of NCAA eligibility granted to their class, allowing Poland to complete a one-year MBA program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. 

Racing at the Head of the Charles will resume tomorrow morning—the final day of racing—with a full slate of high school and youth racing, followed by an afternoon of collegiate and championship racing.

The event is being live-streamed here and results can be found here.


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