O'Connor Brothers Reunited in Harvard's Top Boat

Brothers bounce back from injuries sustained in bike accidents

Kevin H. Lin

Brothers Sam and James O'Connor haven't raced together since they won the Tail of the Charles together last fall, but they will race together again in Harvard's top boat at this weekend's Head of the Charles.

What is it with the O’Connor brothers and bikes?

Bicycles seem to bring misfortune to senior Sam O’Connor and junior James O’Connor, top rowers on the Harvard men’s heavyweight crew team.

“There’s something about those O’Connors and bike accidents,” junior Josh Hicks said. “We need to keep them away.”

After each rower sustained a bicycle-related injury last year, Sam and James are finally healthy and ready to compete this coming weekend at Head of the Charles.

Not only will the brothers be competing, they will be competing together in the Crimson’s top boat. Sam and James will be rowing in the same boat for the first time in almost a year.



The O’Connor brothers grew up in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Coming from a rowing family, Sam and James each competed in high school.  The brothers excelled and went on to compete together for New Zealand at the World Junior Rowing Championships.

At Harvard, the brothers’ legacies have continued.  Sam rowed in the first varsity eight all spring of his sophomore year, helping his boat to win eastern sprints and the Ladies’ Challenge Plate at the Royal Henley Regatta.  In addition, his boat finished in fourth place at the IRA National Championships.

James also rowed in the first varsity eight his sophomore year, in the bow seat, after rowing in the first freshman eight the previous year.  His boat went undefeated in the dual season, winning the Sprints championship and taking silver at the IRA National Championships.

In the 2010 season, the first time that both O’Connor brothers were enrolled at Harvard, they rowed separately.  It is a team convention that rowers spend their first year competing in freshman boats.

Last year, when the duo was anticipating a full year of rowing together, a shocking incident changed the rowers’ plans for the season.


“I was bicycling at home over winter break, approaching an intersection,” Sam described. “A car ran through a red light pretty fast and hit me side-on.  I crashed into the windshield and went flying.”

Sam has only a vague memory of what happened between the crash and waking up in the ambulance.  This freak accident affected mostly his head and shoulders.  Sam went to the hospital in his native New Zealand and was treated for a dislocated shoulder.  When Sam returned to campus in January, he underwent shoulder surgery, causing him to sit out all of the spring season.

Ironically, Sam turned to cycling—the very activity that caused his injury—to help stay in shape when he could not row.  Sam explained that cycling and rowing involve similar engagement of the leg muscles.


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