Easton-Based Freedom Rowers Compete at Regatta in Boston and Finish Strong

Four team members from Easton-based Freedom Rowers recently attended the C.R.A.S.H.-B. Sprints World Indoor Championships in Boston.

The 29th annual C.R.A.S.H.-B. Sprints is recognized as the premier indoor rowing regatta in the world and was held on Sunday, February 14 at Boston University’s Agganis Arena with a record spectator crowd of 6,000. The event began in 1982 when a group of Boston rowers, many of whom were members of the U.S. National and Olympic Rowing Teams training out of Harvard University’s Newell Boathouse, named themselves the “Charles River All-Star Has-Beens” and organized the first indoor meet of its kind in the world to break up the monotony of winter training. A special feature of this year’s C.R.A.S.H.-B. program was the inclusion of mentally and physically challenged athletes for the first time.

Over 2,000 rowers competed from around the globe, including World and Olympic medalists, to vie for the famed “Hammer” trophy on Concept2 Model D Ergonometers, otherwise known as a rowing machine.

Freedom Rowers is an Easton-based youth rowing team for sixth through twelfth graders that was established in 2004. Currently the team has 36 rowers and is led by head coach and veteran rower, Diana Lobien. The Freedom Rowers that were invited to Boston are (in alphabetical order):
o    Robert (Bob) Billings, senior at Easton High School
o    Zackary Halverson, sophomore at Easton High School
o    Katherine Mackenzie, coxswain, sophomore at Saints Peter and Paul High School
o    Taira Sullivan, junior at Kent Island High School

Lobien remarks, “It’s a great accomplishment and honor for these high school athletes to have had the chance to compete with the world’s best rowers. College coaches view the times posted at the event and recruit rowers for their organizations. To have the opportunity for our rowers to be at the event is an unbelievable life changing experience for them.”

Katherine Mackenzie, coxswain says, “Coxing a 2,000 meter erg race is completely different from a race on the water. We had to sit a few feet behind the rowers, something I am not used to. I am usually yelling directly at their face. If I moved our rowers were disqualified. It was hard to judge their level of exhaustion not being able to see their faces. Overall it was a great experience, I have never worked so hard trying to keep rowers concentrated and on time.”

Taira Sullivan agrees and continues, “It was not only mentally tough but actually exciting when my coach and team mates were yelling supportive words to me, I had to filter that through all the other languages that were being used around me while watching my ergonometer readings and constantly adjusting my pace. There were over 30 countries represented at the regatta so in the heat of competition there was a lot of yelling going on at the same time in a bunch of different languages!”

Robert (Bob) Billings, the only graduating senior that went to Boston states, “Racing against future Olympians and beating THEM feels great, because you know you are beating the best and it does earn you more respect in the rowing community.” Billings plans to continue rowing at the intercollegiate level next year as a freshman when he attends Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.

Zackary Halverson continues, “It really was an awesome experience to race with all the greatest rowers from all over the world. There was a spirit of camaraderie in the air, even between the people who had never met before. Everyone was willing to voice a congratulations on a time, even if they had no idea who you were or where you came from. It was an amazing thing to be there, among all these greats, in the company of my team, shouting encouragement and suggestions from the sidelines. We all screamed ourselves hoarse by the end of the day, just cheering each other, and anyone else racing, onwards towards the best we could do.”

Halverson, Billings, Sullivan and Mackenzie have resumed a spring training schedule with Freedom Rowers with their first outdoor regatta of the season being the Baltimore Invitational on Saturday, April 10th, followed by the Maryland Championships on Saturday, April 24th in Baltimore. The St. Andrews Invitational in Delaware on Thursday, May 8th will be the final race of the season.

About Freedom Rowers
Freedom Rowers (http://www.freedomrowers.org) is an Easton-based youth rowing team for sixth through twelfth graders that was established in 2004. Currently, the team has 36 members from seven Talbot and Queen Anne’s Counties schools and is led by head coach, founder and veteran rower Diana Lobien. Indoor training takes place each winter at the YMCA of Talbot County with spring training being on the water with launches out of Evergreen Cove Holistic Learning Center in Easton. Freedom Rowers welcomes rowers from Talbot and surrounding counties. A strong competitive team, Lobien instills a sense of teamwork, pride, challenge, success and community support and partnerships in all the rowers. To learn more about Freedom Rowers or the team’s experience at the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’s contact Mary Ann Henker of The Henker Group, at 410.253.7023 or mahenker@thehenkergroup.com.

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