After sitting out the 2011 spring season due to a shoulder injury, Harvard senior and heavyweight rower Sam O’Connor returned to the first varsity boat this season, and it was like he never left.

“Sam is arguably the best rower on the team,” captain Michael DiSanto says. “It’s great to get your best rower back.”

O’Connor, whose brother James is a junior on the 1V boat, described his injury to The Crimson in a feature published in mid-October preceding his return.

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

O’Connor woke up in the hospital to find that his injury had affected mostly his head and shoulders.  He was treated for a dislocated shoulder in his native New Zealand and underwent shoulder surgery when he returned to Harvard in January.

Ironically, O’Connor took up cycling—the very activity that caused his injury— in order to train when he was barred from the water.  On a team as competitive as Harvard’s, a year without sport-specific training would seem to be a rower’s undoing.

But O’Connor remained positive and disciplined in his training and appears to have emerged stronger than ever. In the spring of 2010, O’Connor was part of a cohort of sophomores who completed the famed “Sprints-Henley double” in the varsity eight.

In his first race back, O’Connor continued to dominate: his boat took the Championship Eight race at the Head of the Charles Regatta.

“[Sam] makes sure that we do the best in our practices,” DiSanto says. “He has a good feel for the boat and a good feel for what’s going on around him.  It is kind of like having a coach, because he knows what’s going on.  If someone is a little off somewhere he can explain it to him in a way he’ll understand.”

O’Connor has rowed in the first varsity eight since his start at the Head of the Charles, and helped kick off the spring season with a win at the San Diego Crew Classic.

The boat defeated not only Ivy rivals but also formidable West Coast opponents. The victory landed him and the rest of the boat a cover story in Rowing News.

O’Connor also contributed to the first varsity’s undefeated dual season and second place finish at EARC Sprints.  He will be a valuable force as the heavyweights look towards the Harvard-Yale Regatta and IRA National Championships in the coming weeks.

—Staff writer Alexa N. Gellman can be reached at