Harvard Heavyweight Crew, Just Another Day in the Life

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Harvard Heavyweight Crew, Just Another Day in the Life

The Indy learns what it takes to be a Top-3 collegiate Crew team ahead of the final stages of the rowing season.

By MIMI TARRANT

As an athlete at Harvard, the spare hours in the school day can be few and far between; taking into account time devoted to academic work (both inside and outside of the classroom) as well as team practise sessions, many athletes often find themselves simply pressed for unencumbered time. The impact of this is keenly felt with Harvard’s Crew teams; often found to be the first teams awake in the dining halls for breakfast each morning, Crew has a notorious reputation for being one of the most demanding athletic departments at Harvard. Not only do they have some of the longest team practise sessions on campus each day, but they also train all-year round, a unique feature of the rowing season. While other sports have their hours cut in the off-season by their respective governing bodies such as the NCAA, Harvard Crew doesn’t experience this dramatic decline in team hours. With the Head of the Charles in October providing the incentive for training even in the ‘off’ season, Crew is truly a year-round commitment.

Harvard supports four Crew teams in total, with men and women representing Harvard in both Heavyweight and Lightweight Crews. All four Crews are ranked in the top 20 nationally, the fruition of the strong tradition that Harvard holds within rowing. This element of tradition is even reflected in the training facilities for the Crews; Weld boathouse, where the women practise, has been a presence on the Charles since 1906. This is similar to Newell, the men’s boathouse, which is located just across the river and was a gift to the program in 1900 from the Harvard Club of New York. This charitable donation is one of many from alumni that the Crew programs constantly rely on; as well as providing the roof under which they train, the Crew teams receive generous donations towards other necessities (such as new boats) from their supportive and illustrative alumni network. It is this expansive network that has allowed Crew to be one of the most successful programs within Harvard Athletics for over a century.     

While all teams hold national rankings, it is currently the men’s Heavyweight Crew that sit highest in their relative ranking, coming in at 3rd in the nation. Throughout the season of dual-racing, the team remains undefeated, even when coming up against rivals such as Brown and Princeton. This follows a successful season the previous year, in which the team as a whole were ranked fourth in the country, while also posting respectable results at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) National Championship (the first and second varsity boats placed fourth, and the third varsity earned a silver medal). The team will be looking to earn more medals this year as they travel to Lake Natoma in California for the 2019 IRA Championships on the 31st May, buoyed by their higher ranking and unblemished schedule so far.

Nick Plaut ’20, edited by Andrew Haimovici ’21

While any rower will tell you that a National Championship is the pinnacle of collegiate rowing, the program does not end there for the Harvard men’s Heavyweight Crews. After the IRAs the team will be heading to Connecticut, where they will contest the 154th Harvard-Yale Regatta. With the first contest of this kind being held in 1852, the tradition of a Harvard-Yale dual race has held for every subsequent year, except for in years of major wars. Laden with historical importance, the regatta sees races for various boats in the Heavyweight Crew, with an overall winner being determined from the results of these individual races. History plays on Harvard’s side here, with Harvard leading Yale for the total number of team wins, coming away from the regatta victorious 95 times compared to Yale’s 57. Last year saw the previously top-ranked Yale beat Harvard in both the varsity and second boats, while Harvard’s third boat saw victory. This year, with Yale will coming into the regatta confident from their team victory at Eastern Sprints (the closest rowing has to an Ivy League Championship Tournament), their likely success at the upcoming IRAs and their current ranking as number one in the country has perhaps rendered the Harvard team underdogs in the Harvard-Yale meet. However, a year of preparation, including countless hours spent on the water, in the weights room and on the ergs will no doubt push the Harvard Crews into making the 154th Harvard-Yale regatta a closely fought contest.

In anticipation of the IRAs and Harvard-Yale regattas, we caught up with Liam Corrigan ’19, the senior captain of the Crew team, to learn a bit more about what the team’s preparations have looked like in the run up to these races.

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Indy: When are your typical ‘on’ and ‘off’ seasons?

Liam:  For the rowing team we are always training and competing, but our official ‘in season’ period is roughly from early-April until mid-June. The rest of the school year we are still training and most people train to some extent over the summer.

Indy: How does training differ in these different seasons?

Liam: Honestly, I would say the training is largely similar in the off season versus the in season. We train roughly 20-25 hours a week both in season and off season. In the fall and spring most of the training is rowing a boat on the water, with 3-4 sessions spent weight training or rowing indoors on the ergs. During the winter all of the sessions are either on the erg or weight training as the river is mostly frozen. The only major difference between fall and spring is that in the spring racing season we have races every Saturday as opposed to practice.

Indy: How does training differ heading into big competitions such as Sprints and IRAs?

Liam: Generally heading into the big championship races we will taper for approximately a week, meaning that the intensity and the length of most of our sessions go down. So we will be rowing 12k instead of 18k or will be doing 1 hard piece per session as opposed to 4. That way when race day comes we’re as physically fresh as possible as we don’t have as much residual fatigue from hard training as we normally would.

Indy: How is the team feeling heading into the closing stages of the season?

Liam: At this point the team feels pretty good heading into IRAs and the Harvard Yale race. We got silver in the 1v, gold in the JV [the second varsity boat] and earned bronze medals in the 3V, 4V, and 5V. We were the only program to win medals in every boat, and it’s the strongest team wide performance we’ve had in a number of years. Based on that we’re hoping to win multiple medals at IRA, and win across the board in the Harvard-Yale race.

Indy: How have you found balancing rowing with other aspects of life at Harvard?

Liam: Balancing rowing with work, sleep, and social life definitely requires a fairly high level of discipline. There definitely isn’t a lot of time in the average day of a rower to watch Netflix or take naps, but I think as long as you can stay focused in the academic and athletic areas that you care about, it really isn’t too difficult to succeed in all of these aspects at once. That being said, there are definitely some stressful moments when a p-set that you’ve been working on is due at midnight, and you still have to get up at 6am for practice, on top of everything else you have to do the following day.

Mimi Tarrant ‘21 ([email protected]) wishes all the Harvard Crew teams good luck for their upcoming races, and looks forward to seeing how the teams get on.