BY JAMEY BULLOCH
PHOTOS BY ED MORAN
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – For the past two years, Covid-19 has disrupted the pattern of training and racing. Athletes have been separated from their teams and working individually to strengthen mentally and physically, as well as stay connected to their teammates as best they can.
Coaches searched for ways to make this easier. Princeton’s heavyweight men’s team stayed connected through weekly check-ins via Zoom that occasionally featured guest speakers. Keeping in touch made the slow transition back together easier.
Now, at the Head of the Charles, teams have turned these challenges into triumphs.
“This is the first step in getting there, and it brings some normalcy in the sense that (the Head of the Charles) is always on our calendar, and we’re getting to do this stuff now,” Tigers’ heavyweight men’s assistant coach Joe Gartland said.
Gartland was one of the thousands of athletes and coaches that gathered this weekend at the 57th Head of the Charles Regatta. Gartland’s crews raced Sunday, the final day of racing. Princeton’s crews finished 5th and 8th in the Men’s Championship Fours and Eights events, respectively, Sunday afternoon.
Over the last three days, crews in Boston have proven that they are both resilient and happy to be back and on the water. And so have the parents, friends, and fans of rowing that came to cheer them on.
From the very first race, crowds gathered on the bridges and banks to cheer youth on crews down the Charles River. Today’s events started off with men’s and women’s youth events, and at midday switched to the men’s and women’s championship and collegiate races.
The day opened with the youth singles event where Isaiah Harrison stormed down the course, breaking the men’s youth single record by 24 seconds.
“Coming through Eliot bridge I felt really good, and so coming around that last turn I just held it tight and went as fast as I could through the finish,” Harrison said.
Harrison last raced the single at the 2019 Head of the Charles regatta where he placed second.
Following this result, he was determined to return in 2020 and get his gold. However, due to the pandemic and subsequent cancellation of the regatta, Harrison used the extra time competing in erg competitions and on his local waters in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and finally returned to the Charles where he claimed his title.
For Harrison, and many other high school athletes, the pandemic challenged their resilience. Their determination at the Charles this weekend, however, made it clear they took every opportunity they could in lock-down to make themselves stronger.
In the women’s youth single, Narragansett’s Emma Mirrer finished first followed by Autumn Crowe from Ridley Crew and St. Catherines’ Cait Whittard.
Jean Schnorr, a mother of a Hingham High school athlete recalled her daughter’s strength during the pandemic and hard work that allowed her to race the youth women’s four event as a senior.
“I think they still felt connected because of the rowing,” said Schnorr. “The Hingham High team had a real rally where they were doing 24-hour erg sessions to just challenge each other. They made the most of it, they were making it fun.
“I think rowing was a lifeline for them because it gave them an escape and an opportunity,” said Schnorr. “You can feel the energy and see their joy out here.”
The Head of the Charles this year has provided a release for these athletes to feel their work paying off. Even for those who picked up rowing during the pandemic, the itch to get on the water and compete was palpable.
“My sisters both rowed when they were in high school, so I have been so excited to row at this regatta and now that I get my chance. I wasn’t going to give it up for anything,” said Brookes High School student Zeb Stewart.
Stewart rowed in the men’s youth four and used his first Head of the Charles regatta to show off the hard work he’s put into his new sport for the past year.
In the championship events—which finished out this year’s iteration of the regatta—there were many familiar crews atop the leader board.
In the Women’s Championship Four the U.S. Training Center finished first followed by Vesper Boat Club and Brown University. In the women’s eight Standford University won, followed by Princeton and then Yale.
In the Men’s Championship Four, the U.S. Oakland Training Center entry took first and second place, followed by Dartmouth. And finally, in the men’s eights, Washington finished first followed by Dartmouth and Yale.
The Canadian women’s eight raced in the Women’s Championship Eight event with seven out of the nine women from the Tokyo Olympic gold medal crew.
“Obviously, we wish we had performed a little better,” two-seat Morgan Rosts, said. “Without full-time training these last three months, it really showed.”
The crew finished sixth overall.
“It was a lot of fun just being back at the Head of the Charles and in that atmosphere, having everyone cheer you on,” said Rosts.
A full list of results can be viewed here.