NH crew teams stay in shape with virtual races

  • A screenshot of competitors in Saturday’s virtual high school rowing competition, featuring athletes from the Upper Valley Rowing Foundation’s Lebanon High club team. Courtesy image

  • O’Meara

  • Duany

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/5/2020 5:06:19 PM

Row, row, row your … erg? In lieu of getting her athletes on the water during the coronavirus pandemic, the Upper Valley Rowing Foundation’s Carin Reynolds has developed a novel way to keep her Lebanon High crew team racing. The past two Saturdays, the Raiders have engaged in virtual regattas with teams from three other Granite State rowing clubs to fill the absence of rowing.

Using Zoom as a medium, teams from Lebanon, two other New Hampshire high schools (Hollis-Brookline, Souhegan) and the Manchester Rowing Alliance produced rosters for fours and pairs. Using rowing machines, or ergometers, the individual athletes recorded times over a 1,500-meter race, with winners determined by the average time of all athletes on a virtual boat.

It’s done from the comfort of the rowers’ homes — or, if the weather’s nice, a deck.

“We need something to make all of this some goal instead of just rowing on a rowing machine in the basement by yourself and doing a lot of body circuits and dry-land stuff,” Reynolds, the Raiders’ coach, explained last week. “I contacted other coaches of quads we usually race, club programs, and I said I was thinking of having some sort of virtual race. … They all thought it was a great idea.”

Reynolds’ rowers have embraced it, too, to the point of doing up T-shirts identifying themselves as the “quaranteam.”

“I think it was an awesome idea to keep the season as consistent as it would have been in the regular season,” Lebanon senior co-captain Makayla O’Meara said recently “As much as doing a race alone is hard, I think it was a good idea to make it seem more normal.”

Reynolds and UVRF keep a supply of ergs for off-water training at the former Seminary Hill School in West Lebanon. When it became clear that the pandemic would prevent a normal season, Reynolds used money targeted for a new shell to purchase more ergs, loaning them to team members who didn’t already own one. With close to 30 machines now, Reynolds can spread them around enough so that everybody on a roster of some four dozen athletes can join at least two races in the four-week virtual season.

“It was kind of like a normal race day,” said Lebanon junior Andrew Duany, the team’s other captain. “As a matter of fact, I had to fuel properly; I was nervous and anxious about it. Then we got to it.”

Reynolds has tried to replicate the on-the-water experience as much as possible.

Lebanon’s fours usually have a coxswain to call out strokes; on Zoom, the cox works for the first minute before yielding. The fans take over from there; Reynolds opens up the Zoom meeting to have friends and family members, once unmuted, to shout encouragement, ring cowbells or do anything else motivational. (With help from the online conference app, Reynolds upped her maximum participation level to 300 people — rowers, coaches and rooters combined — for last Saturday’s regatta.)

While erg races can’t fully replicate the feeling of wind and water, they’re providing the interconnectedness, albeit remotely, that initially drew Duany to the sport.

“This is a nice little substitute,” he said, “and I can still see everyone and be active and be in shape. There’s a sense of camaraderie and stuff.”

O’Meara will row at New York’s Ithaca College this fall. Even there, she won’t have the experience of putting her erg on the deck of her home and having her father and brother root for her as she races.

“I think it’s been challenging at times to find the dedication to practice every day,” she noted. “The team draws me into crew more, but this has definitely made me push myself maybe harder to do this kind of independent thing now. But it’s not for myself. It’s for the team.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.

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