The fall rowing season for the Boston College men’s crew team progresses in an unusual fashion. The season starts in early September, but to say that the hours of training and lifting begins then doesn’t do justice to the team’s offseason preparation in the heat of a Boston summer.
On a typical summer day, members of the varsity boats will run crosstown to Cambridge from Community Rowing Inc., the boathouse that has housed one of BC’s biggest club sports teams since 2008.
Winding along the banks of the Charles River, the team reaches their halfway point: a few hundred foot-and-a-half-high steps that are the seats of Harvard University’s Coliseum. It’s not so much a test of endurance as it is a sprint.
The running part of the workout concludes with a loop back to the BC boathouse, and that’s just the beginning. The team hops into scuttles and rows for another hour on the Charles River — all for the focal point of the fall season.
Typically, seasons in other sports like football and basketball culminate in a national championship at the end of a year. Rowing, at least in the fall season for collegiate teams, is the exact opposite.
The Head Of The Charles is arguably the biggest stage in the rowing world, and it is BC Crew’s first regatta of the year. With over 9,000 athletes and close to 300,000 spectators in attendance, it is the Super Bowl of rowing — the World Series of an internationally-beloved sport. Nothing comes close to it in North American rowing, and it is rightfully analogous to the Marathon and the Beanpot — sporting events tied so deeply into Boston’s culture and identity that April and February just wouldn’t be the same without them.
The leaves change. The Sox are in full swing. The Head Of The Charles kicks off. You don’t have a quintessential Boston fall without all of the above.
Tom McShane, a senior on the BC rowing team and a member of one of the varsity boats set to race on Sunday, embraces the race as a tradition and an honor above anything.
“With the traditions that we have as a team — eating dinner with the women’s team the Friday of, making the freshmen wear SuperFan shirts for their first-ever race — it’s really a special point in the season,” he said. “It just has that feel to it that makes it a little more special than other races, which is interesting because it’s not necessarily a ‘national championship.’”
The Head Of The Charles is far from ACRA’s, the national championship regatta that BC attends every spring. But that doesn’t mean a medal in the event carries less meaning.
“Our V1 boat this year has a strong chance at making BC history and medaling in an 8-man boat,” an optimistic McShane said. “We are the tenth entry this year and if we have a good showing we have a shot.”
Besting storied programs like the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan is not an easy task, but McShane acknowledged that the team is improving times and performances consistently every year.
The course itself, holding competition aside, is a challenge to navigate too.
“Between Weeks [Bridge] and Anderson Bridge, a lot of people flock to that area, and it definitely amps you up,” McShane said. “But you have to keep your head in the boat. You can’t waste those seconds looking up and catching the thousands upon thousands of people cheering you on.”
If BC is to medal in the men’s collegiate eights division, those distractions, ranging from the massive crowd at Weeks and Anderson to the raucous audience by the final turn at the Cambridge Boat Club, must be non-factors.
“The bridges and other weird turns that you pass during the race are really not a challenge because we train on the course every day, and we feel like we can really put BC Crew on the map this year with a possible medal,” McShane said.
The men’s collegiate eights are scheduled to start at 3:41 p.m. on Sunday.
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