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"My Head of the Charles"

posted Nov 16, 2010, 4:25 AM by GT Crew Alumni   [ updated Nov 16, 2010, 4:36 AM ]
As we grow older and the number of years between now and college get larger, I find it more and more important to document the special moments of our life. I wish I could remember exactly how I felt in those college races, I wish I could remember the exact thing my coxswain said to make me pull like my life depended on it... but truth is... those memories start to fade after a few years and the exact details get blurry. So I've started asking our alumni to write up a little something about their big moments to share not only with us, but to help them capture it forever. So here is Sarah's story of her Head of the Charles. Obviously, winning an event like this is a BIG deal and she won't likely forget it, but perhaps the little things about her journey will be saved here too. Enjoy.

My Head of the Charles 2010
by Sarah Schwegman


The deadline (August 1st) for The Charles singles entries was approaching quickly and the debate was on - Do I enter the club single or do I wait another month for the September 1st team boat entry deadline? I needed to make a decision, but there was one small caveat - I had mono...since February. Well, I guess there is nothing like the Head of the Charles to get back in the game.

The draw is posted! Phew - I was not on the list. I just bought myself a few more months to ease myself back into training. Then on September 28th, less than a month to the race, Elizabeth Diamond sent me an email with a subject line reading, "HOCR Club SIngle Entry." You guessed it, my name made it to the top of the wait-list. Good thing I didn't wait until then to get back in a boat.

To get in some last minute race preparation before the regatta our team participated in the last installment of the annual Head of the Kevin in-house regatta. Basically, it is a 3-part racing series for the locals to get some race-pace work in on the Charles course. So on the last Sunday before the race, we slapped on our make-shift bow numbers and headed toward the basin for the start. I figured that if I could get down the race course at a 26 stroke rate, I would be in presentable shape for THE race the following weekend. With the HOK and a little bit advice from Kevin himself, I was mentally prepared and had a race plan.

Saturday, October 23rd finally rolled around, and I was greeted with a swirly mess when I walked outside of my apartment. Up until this point, the weather in Boston had been mild and calm, but it wouldn't be a proper Charles weekend if the weather gods didn't stir up a little something special to serve up to the out of town visitors. Needless to say, I completed the entire warm-up inside.

Launch time had arrived. The boat was in the water with oars, seat-pad, speed coach and water bottle, but there was one very important item missing...the sponge. Why you might ask? Word had passed down the river that the basin was quite turbulent and I didn't want to take any chances with having to race with a cockpit full of water. Once in the warm-up area, the safety launches began corralling us pretty early to get us out of the rough water. We sat in the starting chute for several minutes waiting for the starting official. Then I heard my name - "Miss Schwegman, on the paddle." There was room for a couple strokes before taking the cadence to race pace. After I crossed the line, the starter quipped about my number being impeccably taped. This was a little inside joke regarding my volunteer job the previous year - I had to put tape on all of the stern numbers. This year the job was outsourced.

Within 20 strokes, I was on top of the BU bridge. The wind had blown me a little closer to the abutment than I was comfortable with on a normal steady state day. With the threat of careening into a bridge, the race jitters immediately passed. The next obstacles were the buoys around the Magazine Beach turn that set you up for the powerhouse stretch, the first of three straight-aways. Sometimes there is a sneaky buoy that sits a little wide of the others, but at this stage of the race I was less worried about the buoy and instead more concerned about the 2nd bow barreling down the course after me. The straight-away and direct headwind afforded an opportunity to bump the rating a couple beats to try and open a gap. Unfortunately for me, we maintained our spacing through the River Street and Western Avenue Bridges. After the Western Avenue bridge, the conditions started getting a little bit more dicey. The wind shifted from a direct head to a cross-head which added an additional degree of difficulty to the Weeks Footbridge turn. Regardless of how proficient you are at taking the turn, the difficulty truly lies in how you handle the conditions on the other side. They are never the same after the turn as they are before the turn. On this particular day, we were met with a boat stopping wind gust that sent hands and oars flying in all kinds of unexpected directions. I am sure the people watching from above were enjoying the spectacle. From the Weeks footbridge through Anderson bridge and on to Cambridge Boat Club it was a constant fight to keep pushing through the wind and to stay along the buoy line.

Finally once through Eliot Bridge, we received a reprieve. The wind subsided and the sun was out from behind the clouds. It was like the conditions of the first 2.5 miles of the race never existed, and the only thing left to do was to sit-up and go and hope that another sculler in the back of the pack didn't post a faster time.
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