Seniors Seek Last Hurrah

Chika-Dike O Nwokike and Mandi Nyambi

In their final season together, the seniors on the Radcliffe lightweight crew are seeking the first-ever varsity eight victory at the Head of the Charles.

“It’s not quite as easy as it looks,” Christine Hughes laughs, reflecting on the past three years in which she has watched the Head of the Charles Regatta from the shore. “They’re actually working pretty hard in there.”

This year, the senior walk-on is ready to make her Head of the Charles debut as a member of the Radcliffe lightweight second varsity eight. She adds to an experienced collection of seniors who hope to help the Black and White lightweights make history this year.

The Harvard women’s swimming team recruited Hughes after the Clemson, S.C., native swam the 100-meter breaststroke at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials while in high school. But through two seasons of varsity swimming, Hughes struggled to drop time.

By her junior year, she was ready to find another sport, and she climbed into a shell for the first time. After exploring the possibility of rowing for the Radcliffe heavyweights in the fall of 2011, Hughes became a permanent member of the lightweight team in the spring.

Hughes’ individual strength translated smoothly into success on the water for the Black and White. She surprised crewmates and coaches when she posted the team’s fastest time in her first six-kilometer erg test last season.

“Being so new to the sport, I didn’t have any expectations,” Hughes says of her first months on the team. “There were no limits.”

Also in his second year, Radcliffe lightweight coach Michiel Bartman looks forward to seeing what Hughes is capable of this season.

“I know she’s very eager to learn,” Bartman says, noting Hughes’ focus on perfecting her rowing technique. “It shows me that she definitely wants to make the 1V this year, and we’ll see how well that goes.”

While this weekend will be a first for Hughes, Black and White seniors Emma Lukasiewicz and Elizabeth Hamilton bring a combined eight years of Head of the Charles experience to the table. The Mather roommates sit in the fifth and sixth “power” seats of the first varsity boat, and their veteran leadership may be key as Radcliffe looks to deliver its first-ever Head of the Charles win in the lightweight eights.

“They want to get everything out of their senior year,” Bartman says of Lukasiewicz and Hamilton. “They’ve made a commitment to step up the training for themselves, and hopefully that encourages the other girls.”

As a high school rower, Lukasiewicz found early success, winning four consecutive lightweight eight Canadian secondary school national championships for Toronto’s Havergal College. She is also the only Radcliffe Class of 2013 lightweight to be expected to row four years on the first varsity eight. She served as co-captain last year as a junior.

“[Lukasiewicz] is a talented rower,” Bartman says. “I don’t know what time frame, but if she really wants to make that effort, it wouldn’t surprise me if I saw her name appearing on the [Canadian] National Team roster.”

Hamilton, meanwhile, grew up in the shadow of the Charles in Newton, Mass., and comes from a rowing family. In high school, she competed twice in the Head of the Charles in the youth division for Brighton’s Community Rowing, Inc., alongside her twin sister, Stephanie, who will coxswain Colgate’s club fours entry this weekend. As a rower, Stephanie battled a tendon injury during her junior year, of high school and Hamilton learned to row on the opposite side of the boat in an attempt to lessen the asymmetrical strain on her sister’s arms.

“That was a pretty cool thing for us,” Hamilton said. “If she was having a lot of pain in her arm, we could always just flip seats so I could relieve her.”

After graduation, Hamilton may follow in her father’s footsteps by racing on the British collegiate circuit, which has no four-year eligibility limitations. Lukasiewicz is also considering extending her career overseas. Neither thinks that this weekend will be their last Head of the Charles race.

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