VRA sees success at 2017 Head of the Charles

October 25, 2017

Dear VRA Family – 

It is with great pleasure I write regarding the team’s trip to the Head of the Charles this past weekend. In case you haven’t heard the good news—the varsity eight took home gold and set a new course record! Below are all the details from another successful trip up to Boston.

The 53rd annual Head of the Charles set the new gold standard in many ways for Virginia Rowing. I thought I’ve seen it all, but sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s, a plus mild sunburn was a new one.


Collegiate 8+ on the medals podium



Alumni Races

We were lucky to have a great group of alumni in town with us for the weekend. They raced on Saturday, and I’m happy to report all survived both the race and post-race festivities and dancing!

Alumni racing in the Club 4+

Rowing in orange and blue, most unisuits still fitting as well as when they were undergrads, we had an Alumni Eight composed of (bow to stern) Ed Crocker ‘13, Charlie Hanley ‘15, Brian Wood ‘08, Rob Janiczek ’03, Fred Fray ‘88, Ty Saitta ‘14, Sean Fagan ’11, Nathan Heinzman ’17 and coxswain Jake Power ’16. You can see them on the Saturday Stream on the HOCR Cambridge Broadcast around 3:37:00. They took 14th out of field of 50 boats with a time of 15:31.76—the alumni racing field has gained popularity and been getting faster, this time was ten seconds faster than last year’s 12th place finish.

Racing as the Charlottesville Postal Workers (bow to stern) Bert Udler ‘13, Steve Bauer ‘07, Nicholas Jablonski ’02, Andrew Heinzman ’16 and coxswain Valerie Roth ’12 competed in the Club 4+. They overcame their fears of rigging a modern shell and placed 28th with a time of 18:09.34 in a field of 52 boats. They have a brief appearance in the Saturday Streaming around 4:20:15.

Alumni racing in the Alumni 8+

The women’s alumni raced two eights this year, up from their usual one; entering both a fun “friends” boat and a legitimately fast line up that took home gold in the event. Everyone enjoyed the weekend enough to begin training for next year sooner rather than later so next year’s boats promise to be even faster. Alumni can expect Jablonski’s emails about training here shortly….

After a lovely team dinner on Saturday night, the team arrived at the course on Sunday ready to go. I am proud to report that all three boats were models of professionalism and stewards of VRA culture from the moment they arrived – very much focused on the job at hand as well as supporting their teammates. Their preparations and diligence paid off even before the results were posted. All three boats returned to the dock with genuine satisfaction that they rowed to the best of their abilities, leaving everything they had on the water.


Lightweight Four (14th of 17)

For the third year in a row, thanks to a guaranteed entry from last year’s boat, we entered a small but mighty lightweight four. They had two 4th years who have raced the Charles before and three underclassmen up for their first time in Boston. On the Sunday HOCR Stream, they can be seen around 2:07:00. Line-up bow-stern: Jamie Massey ’20, Calvin Heimberg ’18, Connor Burke ’20, Timothy Rodriguez ’18 and coxswain Connor Joslin ’19 placed 14th with a time of 17:03.7, being bested by the country’s top varsity lightweight programs.

Lightweight 4+ looking sharp

Collegiate Eight (1st of 37)

The Collegiate 8+ was next to come down the course, starting with bow #2 right behind Michigan. With the exception of a 2nd year in stroke seat, the line-up was composed entirely of 4th years, 6 of whom raced at Henley Royal this summer. Line-up bow-stern: Grant Janart ’18, Zach Heese ’18, team captain Chris Hastings ’18, Connor O’Brien ’18, Stephen Hayes ’18, Garret Overholser ’18, Frank Vasquez ’18, Alek Blumberg ’20 and coxswain Austin Hall ’18. You can see them around 2:46:07 in the Sunday Stream on the HOCR Cambridge Broadcast.

The boat rowed a spectacular race, pushing the rest of the field behind them. They did a great job of chasing down the wolverines in front of them, so much so that bow seat Grant Janart’s oar scrapped Michigan’s stern deck for a couple of strokes coming into Eliot Bridge. After the scuttle into the bridge, the eight built it back up for the last stretch, beating Michigan to the line. Paddling out of the piece, stroke seat Alek recalls “I felt we had rowed such a good race, and I was so proud of the boys that I didn’t even care about the result.” Read Alek’s impressions on the race, as well as more quotes from rowers at the end (if you can handle goosebumps).

The eight made us all proud setting a new course record of 14:24.21, almost 20 seconds faster than the previous record set by FIT in 2010. Second place St. Joe’s was less than a second behind finishing at 14:25.08.


Collegiate 4+ on their way down the course

Collegiate Four (3rd of 40)

The Collegiate Four raced (bow-stern) Charlie Thompson ’18, Team Captain James Kyne ’20, Webster Thompson ’20, Dan Weihs ’18 and coxswain Pearl Risberg ’18. Stroke-seat Dan and coxswain Pearl have raced the Charles before, but James and the Thompson Brothers were racing the Charles for the first time. They can be spotted around 3:38.04 of the Sunday HOCR Stream.

They were warming up as the eight came down the course, and stopped in a narrow spot, against officials’ directions, to cheer for their teammates. Their good deed didn’t go unnoticed by the eight’s stroke seat “right when we were entering the depths of the pain cave, we passed the heavy four and when they started shouting and rattling their oars in their oarlocks we dropped three splits. Considering the margin of our victory and the positive response to that encouragement, that could have been it.”

The four went on to come down the course in 16:29.37 taking home bronze behind UNC and Vermont who both put their programs’ top athletes into their fours. Three seat Webster Thompson shares “making a boat for the Charles as a second-year, with my older brother and brotherly teammates, and then leaving Boston with a medal has made this past weekend completely unforgettable.”


Other UVA crews

The “lone woman rower” on the men’s team, Ashley Gale ’18 placed a very respectable 13th in the women’s club singles, against mostly older and more experienced athletes, definitely a good preparation as she attacks her fourth consecutive ACRA gold medal this coming spring.

The women’s team raced two eights on Sunday in the Championship Women’s 8+ taking home 9th and 20th (4th and 15th amongst collegiate crews). Women’s Team Boatman Roger Payne in the Men’s Veteran single placed 40th, and PhD student Andrew Neils in the Men’s Master single took home a bronze.



Rowers’ Quotes and Impressions (goose bump alert)


Pearl Risberg, ’18, coxswain of bronze medal Collegiate Four:

The Charles is fun from the second you get there to the minute you leave. I feel so lucky that I got to represent the team and be part of this year’s Charles crew. Very proud of everyone for performing so early in the season.


Aleksander Blumberg ’20, stroke seat of gold medal Collegiate Eight:

“I had a unique perspective because from stroke as I could see the second speed coach that Austin [coxswain] had strapped to his leg, giving me stroke rate and split, even when Austin didn’t call it. On the way to the start we had a pretty stiff headwind, and at one point did a 20 at race pace into it. Even though it felt heavy, we were hitting fast splits considering the conditions, which I took as a good sign. For most of the warmup it felt like people were just holding back a little bit, maybe to conserve energy for the race, but I think it was also a little bit of nerves. Those butterflies went away as soon as we started to build speed at the start. We decided as a boat beforehand that we would settle at a 33 off the start. When we got to speed we were at a long 34 that felt lighter than anything we’d done in practice up to that point. The splits were fast and they stayed there. After the race, I remember someone mentioning they thought our start was conservative before I told them the rate and split. We held steady at pace for a while keeping WPI steadily behind us and taking Austin’s word that Michigan seemed slightly closer. Right, when we were entering the depths of the pain cave, we passed the Heavy Four rowing to the start, and when they started shouting and rattling their oars in their oarlocks we dropped three splits. After the race, I found out that the four disobeyed the orders of officials not to stop in a narrow area to cheer us on like that. Considering the margin of our victory and the positive response to that encouragement, that could have made the difference. Coming through all the bridges was painful. But the splits were still pretty fast, and we were holding a solid 34 consistently. Austin had been telling us that we were inching up on Michigan, but I figured we started so far apart it could be optical illusions and we wouldn’t really know how we were relative to them until the end. That was what I thought until I could hear their blades behind me and Austin screaming at them to yield. Oh yeah, and by this point WPI was gone and I had even forgotten about them in my focus on catching Michigan. Under Eliot Bridge we came so close to ramming UM’s stern that Austin called us down. At first, I didn’t want to do it, but then he repeated himself and told us to trust him, so I did and brought it down to a 31. Once we got through the bridge, he regained a point and we built it back up really quick. At this point we had less than 900 meters left, and had closed water on Michigan. We went full send, up to what I think was a 35. As we were passing them with about 500 meters left, Garret shouted “Yeah Brooks!” which is nothing more than an “inside joke” [referring to the British crew Oxford Brookes which we admire as competitors], and we dropped another split. In the last 200 meters, we just took it home. After the race everyone was overcome with joy, and at that point I felt we had rowed such a good race, and I was so proud of the boys that I didn’t even care about the result. The biggest takeaway though was the intense feeling of meaning and pride I got when I saw all the people that tuned into the live stream, commented on the results on social media, and loudly sang the Good Old Song at the award ceremony.  Even 24 later I’m still hearing congratulations from all sorts of people, and it’s really something to know that what we did wasn’t just for ourselves, but for the entire Virginia Rowing community. I’m proud to have worn those colors on Sunday.”


Webster Thompson ’20, 3 seat of bronze medal Collegiate Four

“Having never been to the Charles, the opportunity to go to one of the biggest regattas in the world representing VRA was unimaginably surreal. To make a boat for the race as a second year, in a boat with my older brother and brotherly teammates, and then leave Boston with a medal, has made this past weekend completely unforgettable.”


Chris Hastings, ’18, VRA Captain, 2 seat of gold medal Collegiate Eight:

“The results are just the luster on the hard machinery working beneath the surface. All athletes are doing more to prepare themselves, and upward trends in fitness and strength rationalize the intense training program. Fire burns in our hearts, and the sweet smell of victory, not easily forgotten, wafts over our bow. The boathouse atmosphere is ecstatic as we look forward to the challenges ahead.”


Stephen Hayes, ’18, 5 seat of gold medal Collegiate Eight:

“In the eight we had eight 4th years racing. However, our stroke seat, Alek Blumberg, is a 2nd year. It was special to have all of the senior members of the team being led by a young, fearless guy, who just kept attacking the race relentlessly. We backed him up with our wisdom and experience and in return he stroked a hell of a race.”


Garret Overholser ’18, 6 seat of gold medal Collegiate Eight:

“Winning the Charles in the Collegiate Eight has been a goal of mine since I’ve been at Virginia. Whether I was aware of it or not, this goal has, in some form or another, structured my life for the past three and a half years. As such, I am thrilled and proud to have achieved it, especially alongside eight of my best friends. However, I am especially grateful that in that time Frank, in between colorful language, has helped us all keep sight of the fact that while achievements help structure our lives, the bulk of our time is spent between them, and we remain largely unchanged when we do finally achieve them. The person who dreamed of Charles Gold every night might be scared when afterwards they to go to the same bed and find themselves now dreaming of ACRA Gold. Thanks to Frank, and our donors, we look forward to the process of working for ACRA Gold even more than we do to the satisfaction of achieving it in May. That’s what I’m most grateful and excited for.”


Alumni happy to be back on solid ground after racing!



Videos & Live Streams

HOCR Saturday Stream from Cambridge


Alumni 8 at 3:31:76

Alumni 4 at 4:20:15


HOCR Sunday Stream from Cambridge 


Lightweight 4 at 2:07:00

Collegiate 8 at 2:46:07

Collegiate 4 at 3:38:04


The Final stretch of the Collegiate 8+ race to the finish line:



The Medals Ceremony and Good Old Song: 




We’re already back to training here in C’Ville for the Head of the Schuylkill, The Princeton Chase, and the Bald Eagle Collegiate Invitational; all happening in the next two weekends!

Hope to see you all at Class Day Races & Alumni BBQ here in Charlottesville on November 11th!



Frank G. Biller

Director of Rowing | Head Coach     

Virginia Men’s Rowing                                                                                                                          

Thomas Temple Allen Boathouse

276 Woodlands Road

Charlottesville, VA  22904

Mobile: 267-237-7027


P.S. We’d love to have you join us in a few short weeks on November 11th for the annual Class Day Races and Alumni BBQ—fun for all with a morning of entertaining racing, good BBQ and fun reminiscing. New this year, we’re hosting a Brewery Tour and luckily it’s not too late to join us for a fun afternoon with good company and even better beer. Please let Sarah Healy (sarahhealy4@gmail.com) know you’re game to join us ASAP.