by Bianca Pickering
It’s 4:30 in the morning, nightfall is still upon the Hofstra University campus, and for the most part, college students are in a deep slumber. But as for me, I am just starting my day. I roll out of bed wondering why I do this to myself while slipping into layers consisting of shorts, long spandex, sweatpants, a thermal shirt, and a raincoat. If you have been to Oyster Bay, you may know how unpredictable the water and weather can be some days. I am out the door by 5 a.m. to join the large carpool heading to Oyster Bay. The drive consists of music and silence amongst my teammates; I am pretty sure we are all wondering why we aren’t in bed like every other college student at this time. Despite the early morning rise, which my team and I partake in three times a week, we all know we won’t regret practice. It all makes sense when we finally place our boat on the opaque black water and row deep into the bay. By the time we are about five hundred meters in, the sun is beginning to rise. Each morning we are graced with different mixtures of colors in the sky; sometimes it’s purple, other days it’s yellow and orange, but either way, it is beautiful.
The opportunity to row at Hofstra University has given me the opportunity to race the Head of the Charles and become a more independent rower. Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to be one of seven rowers chosen to race the regatta in Boston, Massachusetts. For those who are unfamiliar with the Head of the Charles, it is the biggest regatta in world, other than the Henley. This was a huge accomplishment for me, since I am only a freshman and I am supposed to be considered a novice. Moreover, I actually have been in the varsity four since my second week of crew. This race in particular held immense importance to me. During my senior year at Row New York, I was supposed to race in the varsity eight, but an injury that kept me from my passion for almost a year came back even worse. So, when we arrived on the Charles River Friday evening to practice the course, I took everything in. I was so appreciative to be amongst such elite athletes and to finally experience the Charles. Granted, I really wanted to experience that moment with my lifelong friends from Row New York, but I still enjoyed the moment with my new Hofstra teammates.
The first aspect I admired about the Head of the Charles was the actual race course. While it is mostly starboard rowed, which was dreadful for me, that did not take away from the beauty of the course. The water was a familiar opaque black and seemed endless, the trees were transforming before my eyes with all shades of fall colors and let’s not forget the architecture that surrounds the Charles River. Above all, I truly fell in love with the bridges. The day before the race, I could imagine the tons of people cramming on both sides of the bridge just to get a glimpse of the striking sport of rowing. Additionally, I have always loved the feeling of seclusion when rowing under the bridge. It is the one time I am allowed to truly feel one with the boat and the voice of my coxswain engulfs me. Furthermore, I loved that the start is a huge bay of water, where you can admire the men’s boats, as well as scope out your competition. Then there’s the beautiful boathouses that I had privilege of rowing by; they looked like they were magical and out of a movie. I envied them a little bit, because their boathouses are immaculate and sit on such a huge body of water. They also get to watch the Charles race in their own backyard.
The second aspect of the Head of the Charles that will be forever etched in my mind is the actual race. We launched from the dock about an hour prior to our race time. My boat was very excited and chatty, but I was just zoning in. I thought about how I would pace myself, so that I would not fall apart before my big starboard turn towards the end of the course. I remained timid and focused as we went through warm up sequences until we finally reached the start line. The sight of all the boats at the start makes it nearly impossible not to find rowing exquisite.
Notably, the ages of rowers ranged from young to old and the ratios in each varied, but the poker face was on in nearly every boat. In fact, it was heartwarming to see so many amazing athletes on one body of water, embracing the same sport. The best part about waiting to start was having the opportunity to see the Row New York’s club four warm up. It just so happened I was racing my old coaches and Amanda [Kraus]. This realization made me nervous, since I knew what great athletes sat in that boat, but I was also proud to be worthy to race them. After seeing them, time seemed to have sped up because before I knew it, it was my time to grace the Charles River with all I had. I kept in mind the tedious techniques Nico instilled, the fact that I was still implicitly representing Row New York, and remembered all the times Mike reminded me that I had potential to be great if I only believed. I recall the speaker calling my boat to paddle, the chatter had ceased and all my teammates finally wore a game face faces. My coxswain called a power ten to get us past the start line strong and the rest of the race is a huge blur. I zeroed in on my stroke seats back as my way of remaining one with her stroke; my coxswains voice was all I heard. Before I knew it, I was doing a power thirty to get my boat around the huge turn. After that turn, all that filled my mind was finishing this excruciating race, so that the burning in my legs would cease. The last power ten was truly the best part of the race.
The aftermath of the Charles was a mixture of disappointment, pain, love, and gratitude. My entire body did not stop shaking until twenty minutes after the race, but that made me proud because I knew I left everything I had on the water. Additionally, seeing my family from Boston after I raced was one of the best moments. They had never seen rowing before, even though they lived only thirty minutes away from this race; I was glad I could introduce them to my world. But, even with seeing my family and being proud of myself, disappointment still washed over me when I saw the results. I controlled the controllable, as Mike would say, but I wish it made a bigger impact for the end result. While I miss Row New York immensely, I continue to row for Hofstra because it is my passion and one failure cannot stop that. To be brief, the Head of the Charles was a memorable experience that I hope to repeat one day. I plan on continuing to row for Hofstra throughout my college years and hopefully I can be a part of the path to success for this club team. Lastly, I would not have been able to row in the varsity four if it were not for the impeccable coaching I received for three years at Row New York. Thank you.