Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

The Story of Rad Rowing

          Rowing is a sport that requires an intense commitment by each athlete to their bodies, their team, and time management. For centuries, rowing has been regarded as one of the most elite sports to participate in. In fact, rowing was the first popular intercollegiate sport (Rivera). In the 1840s, Harvard men’s rowing was established and 1852, the first Harvard- Yale Regatta, and first intercollegiate competition ever, was held. Centuries later, in 1972, Radcliffe rowing was established as is the first women’s rowing program in the Ivy League (Tucker). The long history of rowing at Harvard yields an expansive and supportive alumni group known as, “the Friends of Harvard- Radcliffe Rowing."
          When Radcliffe college became a part of Harvard University, the women’s team chose to maintain the Radcliffe name. Today, both the Harvard- Radcliffe Varsity Heavyweight women’s team (RVH) and the Harvard- Radcliffe Varsity Lightweight team (RVL) operate out of Weld Boathouse at the corner of John F. Kennedy Street and Memorial Drive. The women’s rowing teams train exclusively out of Weld boathouse while the men’s teams train across the river at Newell boathouse. Throughout the institution of Radcliffe rowing at Harvard, gender discrimination issues surfaced: men’s coaches would not allow Radcliffe women to use their equipment, women were deemed less capable than men and granted shorter racing distances, and general disdain for female athletes by men made it difficult for the program to develop. However, as women’s rowing programs at Harvard ventured past recreational sculling to form distinct and successful teams, Weld boathouse became a sanctuary for Radcliffe women (Tucker). Radcliffe alum and former coach of the lightweight team, Cecile Tucker, described the transition in Radcliffe rowing towards female leadership that allowed the team to flourish. She writes that, “… beginning with the appointment of Carrie Graves in 1978, Radcliffe had women as coaches and models, women who were exceptional rowers. Weld must have offered a respite from the sexual politics that female students and rowers faced inside and outside of the classroom in the 70’s and 80’s — a nurturing environment for women’s rowing to grow and thrive.” Our boathouse was and is our playground and our opportunity to succeed at rowing with the same resources as any men’s team on the river. The old mindset and energy to prove oneself on the water in world where female athletes were reprimanded for their efforts remains critical to today’s teams. Radcliffe rowers are a fiery bunch.

           Lightweight rowing is a unique faction within the sport of rowing. Lightweight women and men are subject to weight restrictions for racing. Women must be under 130 pounds on race day and men must be under 160 pounds. Although only some people can naturally be successful lightweight rowers due to these weight restrictions, sometimes, issues arise when heavier athletes attempt to compete on a lightweight team. Incidentally, leaders on lightweight rowing teams are faced with the daunting task of uniting a group of athletes who are competing with one another for a limited number of seats in a boat and are often very hungry.‚Äč
"Identification of Key Factors Student- Athletes Perceived to be important to the College Student Athlete Retention Process" Dissertation by Christina A. Rivera
"Blade on the Feather: An Overview of Lightweight Rowing at Radcliffe at Forty Years", Blade on the Feather, a periodic publication for the Friends of Harvard- Radcliffe Rowing by Cecile Tucker

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