Fate and False Starts
Postcard from Cambridge, England
We, the Harvard Men’s lightweight crew team, faced our fate as most would: at first with denial (“they won’t really make us race Cambridge first, right?”), then with anger (“this is just ridiculous”), next with resignation (“there’s absolutely no way we can beat that crew”), and finally with small glimmers of confidence (“maybe we can surprise them”) interspersed with vain hopes of spectacular reversals (“maybe they’ll have a breakage.”)
Six days later, we found ourselves heading up toward the course for the race, amid a breathtaking spectacle of pleasure boats, fancy women’s hats, and Pimms-indulged cheering. A varsity lightweight boat with an in-season average of 155 pounds per man, we found ourselves facing off against the better part of Cambridge’s reserve crew—average weight: somewhere around 200 pounds. Our competition included several post-graduates, as well. The team had set a record in the reserve race against Oxford several months before. We were collectively outweighed by around 240 pounds, a fact that rendered meaningless any comparisons between our race and last year’s epic showdown between Harvard’s and Cambridge’s varsity heavyweights. This race was more David-and-Goliath than Ali-Fraser.
“Harvard. Cambridge. When I see that you are aligned and ready I will start you in the following manner ‘Attention, GO.’ Get ready please.” We readied ourselves, knowing that the only chance we had would be to run with Cambridge level off the start and try to fluster them into rowing with bad rhythm; if we let Cambridge get a lead, they were a talented and mature enough crew to pull away for good.
“Attention...GO.” Instead of the normal SWOOSH of eight blades releasing and the smooth hum of the slides working quickly back up the tracks, I heard a distinct CRASH and then a THUNK. From that sound, I knew, instinctively, that the race was over. There is no breakage rule at Henley. In domestic regattas, if something breaks within the first 150 meters, the race is restarted. Not so across the pond. If anything goes wrong, as it did, our regatta is over.
I’m still not sure what to make of our experience. The dissatisfaction that comes with seeing a month of hard work lost in a few seconds is hard to describe, much less deal with. We were David; we were supposed to get the lucky breaks. Fate, and the elements, were supposed to be under our control. But life doesn’t always work like that, and history will remember our encounter with Cambridge—only the sixth time that Harvard and Cambridge have ever rowed against one another at Henley—the way it appears in the official results: “Cambridge over Harvard—five lengths.”
Mark A. Adomanis ’07, a government concentrator in Eliot House, is an editorial editor of The Crimson. He is proud to say in writing that he is the coxswain of the Harvard Men’s Lightweight Crew Team.