Hammer Time

Harvard captain Mike DiSanto was first among collegiate rowers at the C.R.A.S.H.-B. regatta, adding the event’s hammer to his full trophy case

Emily C. Wong

Picking up rowing midway through high school, heavyweight captain Mike DiSanto has already racked up numerous awards—his most recent being a first place finish of the C.R.A.S.H.-B. regatta.

In the C.R.A.S.H.-B. honor row, there’s nowhere to hide. And that’s how Mike DiSanto likes it.

The Harvard heavyweight captain finished first among collegiate competitors and second overall in the openweight division at the world’s largest indoor rowing regatta.

“It can be really challenging to row a great piece at C.R.A.S.H.-B.s: partly the adrenaline, partly the air’s very dry,” said Chris Richards, DiSanto’s high school coach. “From my perspective, Michael rowed just about a perfect piece.... He really was just spot on.”

It was just the latest of DiSanto’s big stage successes, which include two Eastern Sprints titles, two silver medals at the IRA National Championship, first place in the Ladies’ Challenge Plate at Henley Royal Regatta, a grand final appearance at the U23 World Championships, and a national championship in high school.

DiSanto attributes his racing success to his experience from wrestling at Belmont Hill.

“We worked really hard in wrestling and a lot of the stuff you learned in wrestling you could apply to rowing, not so much physical aspects, but more mental: pushing yourself through the pain and putting in the extra hours once practice was over,” he said. “In wrestling it’s you and another guy out on the mat, so you don’t want to get embarrassed. There’s no one else to blame it on in wrestling, so you really have to make sure you’re pushing yourself every time you step in there.”

It was DiSanto’s toughness in wrestling that initially caught Richards’ eye.

“The wrestling coach came to me and said, ‘You’ve got to come down and watch this kid,’” Richards recalled. “I was very impressed. He’s very tough, very determined, very competitive. I thought, ‘Gosh, this guy could make a pretty good rower.’ After one of his matches, I said, ‘Mike, can I speak to you? I’d love you to come row.’”

But DiSanto was a baseball player who had already put down his deposit for the baseball team’s Florida training trip.

“I thought, ‘I’m not going to give up on this one,’” Richards said. “I spoke to his parents—his parents were loyal fans, would come to the wrestling matches—and said, ‘I really think Mike could be a good oarsman.’ They got intrigued by the idea.... At the 11th hour, he decided he would come down and row and forego the baseball.”

DiSanto progressed quickly. After racing all spring in the third boat, he managed to earn a spot in Belmont Hill’s Henley-bound eight, which was when he decided to stick with rowing.

The following year he won a national championship, and he graduated a year later with erg records at every distance.

“Mike is a great story,” Richards said. “He came to Belmont Hill and was a soccer player, a downhill skier, and a baseball player. He graduated as captain of football, captain of wrestling, and captain of crew. You don’t see that every day to be sure.”

DiSanto has continued to thrive on the Charles River, making the IRA silver-medal-winning first freshman eight in his rookie campaign and the first varsity eight in the following two seasons.

But for all of his successes, DiSanto and the rest of the senior class won’t let themselves forget the race they fell short: the Grand Final at the 2009 Eastern Sprints.

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