Northwestern crew competes in Head of the Charles Regatta, women’s team qualifies for next year’s event

The men’s club fours team rows in the Head of the Charles Regatta.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Pickles

Northwestern club rowing competes at the Head of the Charles Regatta. The Wildcats attended the event for the first time in nearly a decade.

Nicole Markus, Reporter

Northwestern’s club rowing team sent two boats to the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta in Cambridge, Mass., over the weekend — the program’s first return to the event in nearly a decade. 

The women’s collegiate fours boat placed 13th out of 32 teams, and the men’s club fours finished 30th out of 44. Because the women finished in the top 50% of their race, they automatically requalify for next year’s regatta. The men’s team, however, will have to reapply through a lottery because of the high volume of interested teams.

Communication senior and Crew President Sarah Pickles rowed in the women’s collegiate fours boat. She said the competition helped her build a strong bond with the other members of her boat.

“It was just kind of a blur, in the sense that it’s a pretty long race, but it went by so quickly,” Pickles said. “Our timing as a boat was really good. We were all very much in sync with each other (and had) a good swing.”

Unlike other rowing events with straight courses, the Head of the Charles features multiple sharp turns and bridges, making steering especially important. Each boat’s coxswain, a team member who guides the rowers during the race, navigated the course to ensure the boats didn’t crash or lag behind.

McCormick senior Lillian Chu, a men’s club fours coxswain, said there are many different responsibilities that come with leading the boat. She makes sure everyone’s oars are in sync and calls out the number of strokes the boat is taking per minute.  

“It forces you to make a lot of quick decisions in time-pressured situations,” Chu said.

This was one of the crew team’s first competitions since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Pickles said she enjoyed being back in the “racing mindset” after a year and a half without competition. 

McCormick senior Alexander Jimenez, who competed in the men’s club fours, said the atmosphere felt different from the pre-pandemic race experience. 

“Coming from COVID … you don’t really know how other boats stand, you don’t know how their training plans have been,” Jimenez said. “The fields have changed so much from what people may expect from previous years. Some boats that you think would be better didn’t do as well as we would have thought.”

Typically, crew events have few spectators, Chu said. But the Head of the Charles Regatta draws hundreds of onlookers and participants every year. 

“It was such a cool atmosphere,” Pickles said. “I’ve never seen that many boats and this many people. (In) the course, you go through six different bridges, and all of the bridges are just filled with people cheering.” 

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