When asked about their shared duty in the No. 1 Harvard heavyweight varsity, Crimson seniors Aaron Holzapfel and Malcolm Howard adopt what seems to be practiced sarcasm.
“Basically,” says captain Holzapfel, “since freshman year, Malcolm and I have been the same person.”
Howard, the team’s master protocol, answers with the perfect synchronization required in the timing-obsessed sport of rowing.
“Yeah,” he nods with no trace of a smile, “exactly the same person.”
They jest, but few fans of collegiate rowing could blame anyone for being unable to distinguish one’s accomplishments from the other’s. They have done everything together—at least on the Charles River.
Everything but lose.
Together they have won four Eastern Sprints titles, three national titles, and were part of a 2004 crew that defeated the British and French national teams at the Bearing Point World Rowing Cup Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Since dropping two dual races their freshman year, Holzapfel and Howard are a perfect 18-0 in varsity dual races over the past three years. All of those wins have come in radically different boats.
“We can never compare the eight of this year to last year.” Howard says. “They’re very different. The same is true for comparing [the 2004] crew to the one from our sophomore year.”
Comparisons may be moot, especially among three boats that have had thoroughly dominant seasons. One thread, however, weaves these champion crews together: Holzapfel and Howard have rowed in each one, and they’ve never crossed the line in second place.
“If you have a couple guys who are experienced, are willing to push the entire program and have a nose for the line,” Holzapfel says, “you can do amazing things.”
The duo has made a career of such things. In 2003, Holzapfel and Howard were the lone sophomores in a boat rumored to be one of Harvard’s fastest ever.
“We were young,” Howard says. “We were hiding in that boat.”
They looked to two senior leaders—Mike Blomquist and Justin Bosley—throughout that season, one of the most dominant in Harvard history.
“We were spanking everyone,” Holzapfel says. “And after every race, [coach Harry Parker] said, ‘You guys aren’t fast. Don’t look into it—it doesn’t mean anything.’”