It’s the third week in October, and as it has been annually at this time since 1965, the rowing world’s attention was focused on the winding, bridge-littered ribbon of water that is the Charles River in Boston, Massachusetts, last weekend for the 54th Head of the Charles Regatta.
As much spectacle as it it is a competition, the event brings tens of thousands of athletes and spectators to the city every fall. And while not the pinnacle of rowing contests given the idiosycracies of the course, unpredictability of conditions, limited entries and costs, it is, arguably, an event that should be on the “bucket list” of any rower.
A veritable “who’s who” of rowing, both current and former world- and Olympic-level athletes often participate, leading to a social media avalanche of photos and stories. From junior rowers who “ran into” New Zealand rowing legend Mahé Drysdale or U.S. Junior World Champion Clark Dean, to a reunion of Canada’s 1992 gold-medal winning women’s eight who decided to see if they still “had it” (they did), it is a regatta rivaled only perhaps by England’s Royal Henley in its grandeur and legacy.
“It’s a tricky course,” island rowing coach Richard Parr said of the Charles venue. And Parr, who coaches the rowers of the Burton Beach Rowing Club as well as his Northwest Rowing Center’s high performance athletes, should know, having been the coxswain of a crew that medaled there in 1990, and the coach of many crews that have subsequently threaded their way through the hard turns and narrow bridges of the 4,800-meter race.
This year’s event saw 2,308 entries representing 805 clubs, organizations and crews from around the world, including five Northwest Rowing Center athletes — all islanders and/or VHS graduates — and one Burton Beach Rowing Club junior.
Getting the party started on Saturday for Northwest Rowing Center were Selena Mildon and Kirsten Girard rowing for Marist and Tennessee respectively, competing against each other in the women’s club four event. Coming down to the wire, it was Mildon’s boat winning gold by two-hundreths of a second over Girard’s crew of Volunteers, who headed back to Knoxville with the silver.
Islander Jacob Plihal, who has been a member of the U.S. U-23 World Championship team the past two years, rowed in the men’s championship double event on Saturday, coming in fourth after an outstanding effort — having started last in the field of 20, he and his partner had to overtake seven other crews in the competitive field, and might have medaled but for a “traffic jam” at one of the final bridges that forced them to stop.
Sunday brought hefty headwinds and the Burton Beach Rowing Club’s mighty Mabel Moses to the course, competing in the junior women’s single. Conditions weren’t favorable for the lightweight Moses competing in an open weight event against a competitive field, but Moses powered through to a very respectable 18th place out of 32.
Rounding out the weekend for Northwest Rowing Center were islanders Rhea Enzian, stroking Dartmouth’s championship eight crew to a 20th place against such rowing powerhouses as two U.S. National Team crews, the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford, Princeton and Yale, and Aria Mildon, in Trinity College’s collegiate four, going home with a bronze medal.
“It was such a good row by Mabel, against a big headwind and much bigger competitors,” Parr said of Moses. “The Charles is daunting at the best of times, and Mabel, BBRC’s sole representative this year, was there by herself. Overall, it was a great experience for her, and a great demonstration of her poise and maturity.”
Of his collegiate and senior athletes, Parr had this to say: “It was really pleasing to see those who trained with Northwest Rowing Center this past summer do so well. Three medals for their respective colleges, stroking a number one boat in one of the premiere events and Plihal’s fantastic performance in the double … I’m very proud of all of them.”
The Burton Beach Rowing Club heads north to Lake Samish next weekend for an invitational scrimmage hosted by local rowing powerhouse Seattle Rowing Center.