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Remembering Harvard Athletics
My memories of the Charles River are incredibly layered, spanning my earliest rowing days as a freshman at Harvard, through four memorable years with Radcliffe rowing, through its many stints as training waters during my nomadic rowing career. I thank Liz O’Leary for keeping the doors of Weld open to me all those years. Some of my early rowing memories include a stress-fractured rib as a freshman, at the time generally thought to be intercostal muscle pulls. Not knowing this was a common rowing injury, I rowed on it until it was ugly. Lesson learned on injuries, and thankfully that was my first and last at least of that kind. I managed as a freshman to be in a four that flipped into the icy March waters of the Charles: a lesson on hypothermia not to mention some details about boats and gravity. In those early years, I also learned to love rowing -- so much so that I would climb up the brickwork of Weld boathouse to get in via the second floor window to erg on Sundays. I hear the window is now nailed shut.
My real lessons as a new rower came from lightweight coach KC Dietz. KC believed in me, and she shocked me when she told me she thought I could make the national team. We all thought KC was sort of clairvoyant, or mystical. She managed to figure out each of us without much digging or analyzing, and she managed to get the best out of us. KC taught us pre-race visualization at a time when it was considered weird, a practice instrumental to me in later years. Since the Radcliffe lightweight team was strides ahead of other collegiate lightweight teams in those days, one might say that all our races were easy. Instead, we learned to approach each race as an internal, personal battle, won only if we thought we expended every possible ounce of effort and executed with precision. I truly think this base helped prepare me for the same execution amid the tight competition I saw later in my rowing career. And maybe this personal journey that is every race is why I am always dumbstruck when people ask me “How did it feel?” about my silver medal performance in the Olympics.
Of course my Radcliffe teammates left indelible marks on me, from the energy and camaraderie of wacky lightweights like Clara Bui, Kathy Cox and Anne O’Brien, to the star-studded heavyweight eight of my senior year where 7 of us were eventual Olympians. I guess “eventual” applies to me most, since all others had raced or were retired or by ’92, and my Olympic race came 4 years later. Though I had World Championship medals of every color, I extended my career for Atlanta, the inaugural Olympics for lightweight rowing. Lightweights the world over prolonged and intensified their careers for the chance to race in the lightweight women’s double at the Olympics. In 1995, we saw 26 countries vie for the 16 Olympic berths and the world record for this event drop by over 15 seconds in 4 years. Since then, it has dropped only by tenths of seconds.
In that finale of my career, I am most indebted to two people: my double partner Teresa Zarzeczny Bell and our coach Kathy Keeler, herself a gold medalist from the 1984 Olympics. Kathy devoted countless hours over 5 years, coaching me in the single and Teresa and me in the double. Without her we would never have walked away with a silver medal in Atlanta. Finally, as my life has swerved and flowed like the river I have known so well, I have two more people to thank: my husband Remi, for being my biking training partner and support crew for my last Head of the Charles win, and my 10-week-old daughter Solange, for being the reason not to race this past year.