Now and then, we hear a camper story that is too good not to tell. Ruth Berenson learned to scull at sixty and subsequently entered the Women's Veteran Single (60-69) at the Head of the Charles to close out her second full season of sculling. Jim Washburn talked to her about her memorable fall season, and suggested that she pass her story on to us. A couple of emails and a phone call later, here it is:
CSC: We heard that the Charles was your first real race aside from the Head of the Hosmer. Is there any truth to that?
R.B.: Truth be told I became very nervous about the HOCR and decided to row the Green Mountain Head also, and I'm glad I did because I navigated poorly there and the Charles went better. So the HOCR was actually my third official race and my best time.
CSC: What made you decide to enter? How did that all transpire?
R.B.: I did my week at Craftsbury back in July, and had a great time doing the Head of the Hosmer. When I went back to my home club (Naragansett Boat Club) my coach there, Albin Moser, asked me "Ruth, how old are you?" I said sixty-one and he said "Why don't you do the Head of the Charles?" I thought he was crazy, but I sent my entry in, thinking I wouldn't get in the first year, but I did. My immediate thought was "Oh no, what have I done?" but I decided to go for it, and I'm glad I did.
Anyway, I think the credit for motivating me to do it is twofold: the experience I had at Craftsbury of sculling and being around scullers all day every day is something you just don't get at a club. It gave me the confidence to go back to my club and just row every day. And of course Albin's question really got me thinking. He'd never push anything on me, but when someone has confidence in you, it's infectious, so I credit both Albin and Craftsbury for that. It really did all come down to confidence.
I don't think I really knew what I was getting into when I started sculling, and especially when I entered the Charles, but somehow I felt "I can do this." For a lot of women of my generation, there's this conflict around being competitive - we're pre-Title IX, and it just wasn't the fashion. As children, some of us were so athletic, we were such tomboys, and when we hit twelve or thirteen that had to go underground. So there was a conflict over owning your competitiveness, and it was learning to scull, being at my club and at Craftsbury, that started to turn that around for me. I got the sense that it was okay - it was okay to enjoy competing.
CSC: Tell us a bit about your specific preparation for the Charles, and the race itself.
R.B.: Training was hard. I don't think I ever worked so diligently on anything. I credit my coach for most of the pain and suffering and fun. He is a master teacher and I can't thank him enough even though there were moments when I really questioned my sanity. Nightmares, blisters, and hitting the water at barely dawn - it was well worth it, especially now that it is over. I still can't believe that I did it yet once I was on the water that Sunday it felt right.
The weekend of the Charles, I met up with Ric Ricci on the Saturday prior to my race and had a valuable conversation with him. Sunday, I believe it was as I passed CBC, I heard a voice yell out, "Go Ruth, you are looking good." I looked up and found Troy (Howell, Craftsbury fleet manager) with a big grin on his face. It was the best! He appeared at just the right time. I was rowing exactly the same boat he had assigned me during camp, color and all.
I have gotten this sense of family and support through rowing. People were rooting for me to succeed. I wasn't going to medal at the Charles, but people wanted me to do well, and that goodwill meant a lot.
As for the race, I achieved all my personal goals. I didn't fall in, didn't hit a bridge, didn't hit another boat and didn't come in last. My starboard oar dug deep for the HOCR and most of my best rowing technique fell apart, but navigating went well and I did keep the power on.
Truthfully, the last year or so was the most remarkable year of my life. I accomplished something that, if someone had told me at the outset "you're gonna do this," there's no way I could have even related to it. Sculling set me on a course where I had no idea where I was gonna go, but it started at the Hosmer and ended up at the Charles.
Please give all my warmest regards. It has been quite a rowing season.