Mary Whipple: Head of the Charles is ‘One of a Kind’

Written by Patrick O'Rourke

By Patrick O’Rourke
BU News Service

Mary Whipple’s rowing career has taken her to Athens, Beijing, London, and Munich. She’s competed in the NCAA championships, world championships, and the Olympics. But Boston and the Head of the Charles is unlike any of those venues. It’s a ‘one of a kind event’.

“The Head of the Charles is so iconic,” said Whipple. “It’s the largest two-day regatta in the world, basically. Everyone knows about the Head of the Charles, so you always have to put it on the calendar.”

Whipple, who won Gold Medals in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics competing in the women’s eight, leading a boat of eight rowers, has participated in the Boston regatta ‘on and off’ since making her debut on the Charles in 2001. She was a member of the 2007 US Rowing team that set a course record of 15:26.572 in the women’s championship eights.

While known in the rowing world for her success in the eights, Whipple decided to make a change in the 2015 regatta. She will take part in the women’s championship fours, serving as the coxswain on a five-person team, as opposed to the nine she’s become accustomed to.

“It’s a slower-moving boat [in the fours],” said Whipple of the difference between the two events. “The eight is faster, so you have to really be on your game to turn that boat.”

The Head of the Charles is a coxswains race, according to Whipple. The coxswain is to a boat what a captain is to a ship. It’s their job to lead the crew. Tell them when to make turns. Command them to make a move.

“When something goes wrong, or there’s a technical problem, I love problem solving,” said Whipple, “and I love offering the solution.”

The nuances of the course makes Whipple’s position crucial, with a number of turns along the 4,800-meter course, in addition to a number of low bridges. Low bridges such as the River Street, Western Avenue, and Eliot Bridges aren’t challenges faced on other regatta courses. Traditional courses are linear, unlike the curvy structure of the Charles River course.

“It’s a lot of strategy,” said Whipple.

Whipple will team with Lindsay Shoop, Sarah Zelenka, Sara Hendershot, and Esther Lofgren in the championship four race, set to take off a 2:16 p.m., on Sunday. The group decided to come together about a month ago. Zelenka and Hendershot, who are training for the women’s pair in the 2016 Summer Olympics, wanted to race, but their event wasn’t being held. So they assembled the team.

The team is seeded 11th in a 19-team field. Kendall Schmidt has coxswained the last two champions in the event, and will be back looking for a three-peat as she leads the US Women. Varsity teams from Syracuse, Yale, Virginia, Notre Dame, and BU, among others, will offer the team competition. When Whipple take the Charles, it’ll be the first time the group has been in the same boat.

“It’s going to be fun,” said Whipple. “We just called each other up and said ‘lets hop in a boat and race.’ Not sure how it’s going to go, but it’s going to be fun.”

Whipple, who grew up in California and currently lives in suburban Seattle, considers Boston to be a major rowing city. Many rowers reside in Boston, and the entire sport unites in the city for one weekend every October.

“The who’s who of the rowing community basically lives [in Boston],” said Whipple. “So it’s fun to meet up with old friends and get out on the Charles.”

Pat O’Rourke is the sports editor for BU News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @patorourke_29.

Leave a Comment