When freshman James O’Connor is not too busy celebrating diversity, the arts, and fashion with Eleganza 2010, he rows for the Harvard men’s heavyweight crew team.
When his older brother, sophomore Sam O’Connor, is not too busy rowing for Harvard, he is making fun of his little brother.
“Sam thinks it’s kind of funny,” said James about his participation in Eleganza. “I have a pretty minor, average role, but it’s going to be a great show.”
All jokes aside, the two New Zealand natives are an essential part of Harvard’s heavyweight crew program. Having raced at the highest international level even before jumping into a Harvard shell, they are anything but inexperienced underclassmen.
“Both brothers are very good rowers,” said senior captain Blake Pucsek. “Both won [junior] world championships before, and they both have the potential to be on the top boat.”
Born and raised in New Zealand, both James and Sam excelled in athletics throughout high school. They tried their hands at a variety of sports but were natural standouts in one above the rest—rowing.
“We both played rugby, and I played basketball and ran track,” James said, “but towards the end of high school, rowing took over once I made the national team.”
“I thought I was a lot better at rowing than I was at rugby,” Sam added, “and I thought I would carry that on to see how well I would do.”
The brothers explained that rowing runs deep in the O’Connor family, stemming from their father and taking root in all their lives.
“[Dad] gave [Sam] little mini rowing shirts when he was a newborn baby,” James said. “We always used to have holidays, going to training camp and rowing together. We always assumed that we were going to row because it was a part of our lives. Rowing was just kind of there.”
Even their two sisters and their mother have experienced rowing firsthand.
“[Mum] gave in about a year or two ago,” James said. “She started rowing with some of the other mothers at our school. Now she’s really into it socially.”
Rowing was a constant in their lives from the start, but the brothers attributed their choice to continue crew in college to their experiences at the world junior championships. Even their decision to come to Harvard was influenced by Coach Harry Parker’s legacy of strong crews.
Nevertheless, moving to the United States was a daunting task, and Sam attributed the relative ease of transition to his supportive teammates.
“It’s not so bad,” said Sam about moving to the U.S. “On the crew team we have a lot of guys from England, Australia, and Canada. It definitely helps getting adjusted.”
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