The Cornell rowing teams will join over 8,000 athletes and more than 300,000 spectators at the annual Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston this weekend. One of the largest crew races in the world, the racing spans two days and attracts international competition. Each of the Cornell men’s and women’s crews will send its top rowers to compete with a different strategy.
The lightweight men will compete for the first time under the direction of head lightweight coach Chris Kerber. The three-time defending national champions will try to pick fellow Ivy League competitors out of the crowd.
Feeling a little like Simba before a herd of wildebeests, I spent homecoming pacing the strip of turf that separates the sidelined Cornell football players from the field. Aside from the fact that I was paid to be there and despite the obvious danger of stampede and trample, the sidelines are a spectating ideal. The rusty foldout chairs at the top of the crescent where the trustees almost stay dry and get free chocolates are far my spot’s inferior. Super Bowl XLII in high-def on a 64-inch flat screen didn’t even come close. The reason it’s the best place to watch football here is because you don’t have to rely on the game for entertainment, which can get pretty risky in this league. The horde of players bobbing up and down the sidelines provides most of the fun.
If slow and steady always wins the race, things are looking good for the men’s cross country program. In the past five seasons, the team has climbed from eighth to seventh to sixth to fifth to second place at Heps, the Ivy League championship.
Last year’s runner-up finish was the best for the squad in 15 years, and the men enter the 2008 season on a tremendous wave of momentum with many experienced legs.
“Every year that I’ve been here we’ve been better the next year,” said assistant coach Robert Johnson. “It took a long time to get there, but hopefully that trend continues. The better you get, the harder it is to be satisfied.”
I dug my teeth into my lower lip to keep from smiling. Tsunamis of joy, originating deep in the pit of my grumbling belly, rolled upward and lifted my spirits. I stood on a scale with a stomach full of water and a hospital gown draped over my shivering frame.
The sliding weights on the scale rested three pounds to the left of where they’d been two weeks before. My mother’s frown sank to the floor and her brow buried itself in furrows of worry.
I glanced at the doctor’s notepad as he scribbled out his diagnosis in an ominous scrawl: anorexia.
This past June, long after the rest of us had packed up and sped away from Ithaca for the summer, the men’s lightweight rowing team lingered on the Cayuga Inlet in hopes of making a little history before leaving Ithaca for the second, third, or last time.
In 2007, the Cornell lightweight rowing program became the first ever to win back-to-back national titles at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships. With only two of those two-time champions remaining in the varsity boat this past spring and struggles on the road early in the season, rewriting the history of lightweight rowing with a three-peat win hardly seemed in the stars for these Red rowers.
Three long, short years ago, standing awkwardly on North Campus amidst an onslaught of “what’s your major” inquiries, I had less of an answer to that question than to what was in the cup of “Class of ’09” flavored ice cream in my hand. The same question has surfaced so many times in so many different places the past couple years. And though my awkwardness has endured, the answer has transformed and blossomed into a thing of beauty. Since I’ve spent so much energy figuring it all out and gotten so much joy out of having it figured out, I feel like sharing.
Ask anyone what a coxswain is and the response, if not “a what?,” will be something along the lines of “stroke, stroke, stroke!” The purpose of the coxswain on a rowing team is not well-known but, unlike the individuals themselves, is quite colossal. Many tight races come down to the ability of the coxswain, and they often separate the best crews from each other.
Settled in a tiny seat in the back of the shell, the coxswain serves as the eyes of a team that never faces the actual direction they are moving. Steering and monitoring the opponents are two of the basic tasks designated to the seeing-eye of the crew.
The weekend was a mixed bag of emotions for the Cornell rowing teams, as the women finished triumphantly with a trophy in hand and both men’s teams fell to the competition.
The Red women earned the Class of ’89 Points Plate defeating both Penn and Rutgers on the Cayuga inlet this past Saturday. However, Syracuse took the Goes Trophy from the heavyweight men on the same waters. The No. 1 lightweight men suffered a loss to No. 4 Princeton in New Jersey Saturday morning and a loss to No. 2 Yale in Connecticut Saturday afternoon.
The Cornell women’s gymnastics team put the cherry on top of an incredibly sweet season this weekend at the USAG College Nationals. When the dust finally settled after three days of competition, the Red ended up with seven All-Americans, four school records and a USAG Coach of the Year. As a team, Cornell was the national runner-up, which is the highest place ever scored at a national meet by a non-scholarship school.
The competition commenced on Thursday, where the top-2 teams in each session of the preliminaries advanced to Friday’s team finals, and the top individuals in each session advanced to Saturday’s individual finals.
Though a brilliantly sunny morning and glassy water on the Cayuga Inlet may have been a rare occasion, solid performances by both the men’s and women’s rowing teams are a growing trend. The lightweight men cruised to a victory in their home Ivy League opener against Harvard and Penn on Saturday morning to claim the Matthews-Leonard Cup, while in Boston, the women finished third behind Princeton and Radcliffe.