by Row New York Board member Sarah Bates Johnson
In May I had the pleasure of participating in the Harlem River Classic, Row New York’s annual fundraising regatta which brought together rowers from different teams and clubs. Some boats were united by their alma mater, some by their employer, and some came together as a fusion of different affiliations. My boat, Rad to the Bone, was predominantly Radcliffe alumnae, along with two Row New York coaches who graciously agreed to join us, and our amazing rower-turned-coxswain Alexandra, a Young Executives Board member. We came together on a gorgeous sunny Saturday afternoon at the Peter Jay Sharp boathouse to race against two other women’s boats. This was actually the first year that the event had a dedicated women’s race, a testament to the growth of the regatta and the increased interest of female participants!
Part of what made the experience so unique and special was having the opportunity to connect with fellow Radcliffe alumnae, many of whom I didn’t overlap with in college. But with our shared experience of rowing for Radcliffe, we had plenty to chat about while we eagerly awaited launching for our race. There was a lot to reminisce about our glory days as college athletes. It was neat to come together with women who had rowed out of the same boathouse in different decades, and all shared the same passion for our sport.
After we decided our line-up (luckily it worked out that we had the right number of ports and starboards!) and adjusted our foot stretchers, we set out off the dock to row up to the starting line. Even though many years had passed since the last time I donned the Black and White to represent Radcliffe, I still got the same nervous jitters as we approached the starting line in anticipation of our race. As we took our lanes and got the boats aligned, I couldn’t help but look over at our competition. The ladies from Carnegie Lake Rowing Association (who as a team had made the trip up from Princeton, NJ) looked very intimidating with their matching black and orange unisuits, and our other competition, Ports and Starbroads, appeared to have an average age of about 10 years younger than us. My heart pounded the same way it did 15 years ago at the Eastern Sprints when we lined up against Princeton and Wisconsin. As the race officials instructed us to row up to the starting line, I tried to take deep breaths and stay calm. Once the race started, there was the familiar flurry of activity: blades splashing, coxswains yelling, and the roar of the referees launches zooming to catch up with the boats as we tore away from the starting line.
Despite only being 1,000 meters, the race seemed to take forever. It took us a couple hundred meters to find our rhythm, and with a big push at the halfway mark, we were able to walk through the other boats and take the lead. Seeing the orange finish line buoy out of the corner of my eye (whoops, I guess I just admitted I was looking out of the boat!) was a real sight for sore eyes. Being the first boat to cross the finish line first brought more feelings of relief at being done than excitement of victory, but some things really don’t change – I still had that same iron-tinged cough that I used to get after races, and I looked down at my hands to see two nice blood blisters forming on my right palm.
I think I can speak for everyone in my boat by saying that winning the race was secondary to the chance to get out in a boat and help fundraise for Row New York’s programming. A huge thank you to everyone who made the event such a hit: the incredible Row New York coaches who drove launches and refereed the races, the staff that kept us organized and on schedule from the boathouse and put together an amazing reception with food, beer and plenty of champagne, and the RNY athletes who helped out too! All together, the participants and their supporters contributed over $30,000 towards programming for Row New York – a phenomenal achievement. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!