Jenna Thompson ’16 and Riley Spain ’15 were two of the eight rowers on the Marina Aquatic Center’s varsity boat that raced at the 50th Anniversary Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston Oct. 19. The races took place on the Charles River near the campus of Harvard University. This was the first time a team from MAC was accepted to this world-renowned regatta, the largest two-day race in the world.
More than 10,000 athletes in a variety of age and skill groups, including professional and college rowers, competed in different races at the Head of the Charles event.
“Rowing isn’t a sport that you do for crowds and for cheering,” Thompson said. “It’s relatively solitary. It’s not a spectator sport, but at this regatta, there were actually cheering spectators along the entire course, which was a nice change. [The cheering] was a really great experience because it is so rare in our sport to have people come out and actually cheer for us.”
Thompson’s and Spain’s boat competed in their age group’s head race, which is a specific type of race in which boats start one at a time with 10-second gaps.
Head races are scored based on time.
At the head race, there were sharp turns, bridges, abutments and the omnipresent river banks.
“The Head of the Charles is the biggest head race in America for any age group,” Thompson said.
The position in which a boat is set to start in a head race indicates the boat’s expected final place at the end of the race.
The MAC boat started the race 59th out of 85 boats, but Thompson and Spain were able to perform and finish in sixth place.
All of the rowers from MAC train six days per week for three hours each day. A typical practice involves a three-mile run followed by a two hour rowing circuit on the water. The rowers also lift weights twice per week.
“What I love about crew is that it’s such a team sport,” Thompson said. “You have to be in sync with everyone all the time. You have to know what position they’re at at every point in the stroke.With every team, the team is only as strong as its weakest link, but that’s especially true with rowing.”
Thompson’s goal for the future is for her boat to make it to nationals again.
“We made it last year,” Thompson said. “We did pretty well. We got ninth in the nation. We did that in the semifinals, so my goal is to make it to the finals of nationals.”
Because MAC can only qualify one boat for nationals, its goal as a program is to get every boat to medal at regionals.
The Head of the Charles marked the end of the fall rowing season, so rowers are now in winter training, which Thompson called an intense buildup to spring racing season.
MAC’s next big race is Cal Cup, which will take place in February.
“In rowing, eight hearts have to become one in the boat,” Thompson said. “That’s my favorite part about rowing: the teamwork is so tangible, and it’s a great feeling. That’s why I keep coming back.”