Despite the piling snow and frozen Charles, the women of Radcliffe crew are feeding their competitive hunger with the help of the World Indoor Rowing Championship, the C.R.A.S.H.-B. Sprints, which took place this Sunday.
Held annually at the Agganis Arena at Boston University, this daylong competition brings together over 2,200 rowers from around the world. Participants compete on indoor rowing machines called ergometers, or “ergs,” that simulate the pull of the water by an oar.
Sophomore Mary Carmack and senior Deva Steketee represented the Black and White at this year’s C.R.A.S.H.-B. regatta. No other members from Harvard’s undergraduate squads competed.
“It’s kind of like the Head of the Charles in the winter,” Steketee said. “It’s kind of a celebration of indoor rowing and the camaraderie behind this really difficult machine we train on. It’s just such a great event because of the community.”
Carmack and Steketee competed in the open division for women in the two-kilometer, which is the standard distance for collegiate rowers in the spring season. While Steketee came in ninth place at a time of 7:01.2, her teammate followed right behind her at 7:02.0.
This was the fourth time Steketee had competed in this event and the first for her younger teammate. This year’s finish was a personal best for Steketee.
“I told her she should go [to the regatta],” Steketee said. “We’re very competitive in practice, so it was very fun to have her there and push each other.”
“It was fun,” Carmack added, “My favorite part was the atmosphere and it was great seeing so many people from all over the place competing.”
Training for the spring season, the Harvard rowers have been limited to the indoors and practice on the ergs. The women who did not participate in the C.R.A.S.H.-B. event had to complete the 2k as a fitness test the day before.
“We’re indoors every day on the erg putting in long hours, trying to get faster,” Steketee said. “That’s where we’re at as a team.”
The duo did not travel across the river alone. With them came their assistant coach, Wendy Wilbur, who in addition to coaching the Radcliffe, is a member of the Board of Directors for the C.R.A.S.H.-B sprints.
Wilbur did not start rowing until her junior year of college when she transferred to the University of Massachusetts. Five years later, she made her first national team.
“It says something about the sport,” she said. “If you have the right body type and the physiology and the mindset also, you can become very good very quickly.”
Her success transferred to the indoor championship, which she recalls was always her best performance. When she competed in the mid-1990s, before the NCAA changed its rules, there was an event called the “mixed collegiate double”. In this race, each college sent its top male and female rower to compete as one combined team. In 1995, she and her teammate finished in first, and two years later, she returned to place fourth individually.
“I always loved the environment,” Wilbur said. “I wanted to give back and provide the same for the new generation coming through the pipeline.”
With the help of the Radcliffe freshmen heavyweight rowers volunteering at the event, the 2014 C.R.A.S.H.-B. regatta ran, in Wilbur’s eyes, seamlessly. Four world records were broken, including three in the adaptive division.
The energetic atmosphere of Sunday was a change of pace for the off-season training. According to Wilbur, the Black and White rowers are itching for warmer weather and looking forward to getting back on the water.
Competing in her last C.R.A.S.H.-B regatta, Steketee shared what she will miss the most.
“Erging has a maniac quality to it,” she said. “You really have to go out there and put your body on the line. You know what’s coming, you know you’re going to hit that wall, but everyone is there, they’re there for the pain, and we’re all kind of enjoying it together.”