- The Junior Men’s 4+ (four-man boat plus coxswain) from San Diego placed third among 86 boats, up from 31st place a year ago.
- It was 18-year-old Charlie Coy’s first varsity race. “I was light-headed at the end of the race,” confided Coy, a towering 6-feet 4-inches tall, 180-pound number-three rower.
- Only four months before, the San Diego Rowing Club scored quite a coup in attracting highly-respected three-time Olympian Bryan Volpenhein as a coach. “Volp,” as people call him, served as the U.S. national team coach from 2012-2016.
Manned by Coy, a senior at La Jolla High, and James Hankee, a junior at Mission Bay High, in the “two” seat, with Bishop’s junior Justin Lobo the coxswain up front, the local boat wound its way to the finish of the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston in a time of 17:54.612 over the 4,800-meter course (the equivalent of 48 football fields).
Their crewmates were Noah Axford, a Point Loma High senior, as the “stroke,” or number four, and Blake Ball, a senior at La Costa Canyon High, in the “one” seat.
“The conditions were really windy and cold” in the brisk Boston October, says Lobo, at a compact 5-feet 6-inches tall, 115 pounds, a mini-version of his boatmates. “Unlike sprint races, in which you row in a straight line for 2,000 meters, this course was winding.”
They had to fight for position to avoid getting stuck at turns behind competing boats on the devilish Charles River course.
Even more, the coxswain paints a picture of having to keep your head in a hectic atmosphere. In the “chaos” of the Head of the Charles race, Lobo says: “There are hordes of people on the (overhanging) bridges, holding up signs and yelling. You just have to face it.”
Because of the high number of entrants in the Junior Men’s race, the San Diego bunch couldn’t go through their normal warm-up on the water.
Body and mind are pushed to the brink. “It’s a pain competition,” says Coy, who took up rowing to stay in condition for the Viking lacrosse team, then got hooked on the sport and gave up his original sport. “I know, when I’m in the boat with the other guys, that they’re pulling as hard as they can and they’re hurting. That motivates me. So I gotta do as much as I can (on my part).”
Coy was, at first, reluctant to give an interview. At the boathouse on Mission Bay, there was evident an ethic of not taking individual credit over others for team success. “I didn’t ask for this,” one crew member called out to others as photos were being snapped.
Lobo, the coxswain who says he measured 5-feet 2-inches tall and a scant 95 pounds when he started the sport in the eighth grade, spoke about his first Head of the Charles race and rowing in general before a recent weekday workout, which go two hours, six days a week, only Sundays off.
It’s his job, as the only one of the five facing forward in the 44-foot shell while the others slide forward-and-back on their tracks and pull their oars facing the stern, to guide the boat on the shortest possible route.
“In the regatta, after one bridge, you’re already getting in position for the next bridge,” Lobo said. “Teams on the side have to power down (if they get caught behind another boat).”
The shortest distance travelled during the race conserves team members’ energy, and everything else being equal, results in a better performance by the boat.