Sweat beads on the rower’s skin and soaks her clothes. A coxswain counts off ten strokes to get through this difficult stretch. Despite the burning in her legs and lungs, she continues to push her body to its limit.
This isn’t the famed Head of the Charles Regatta, or even practice on Pittsfield’s Onota Lake. It’s Baxter Lounge, and it’s about three in the morning.
The men’s and women’s crew teams staged their annual Ergathon Feb. 11-12 to raise money for the spring break training trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C. Between noon Friday and about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, more than 60 rowers, coxswains, coaches and alumni rowed 15-minute pieces on rowing ergometers set up in Baxter Lounge. The Ergathon traditionally raises about $10,000 a year for the spring break trip. Local businesses sponsored athletes, who also found individual sponsors.
Although the main purpose of the Ergathon is to raise money, the event also provides a mental and physical challenge for the rowers.
“People really get into it, and there’s a lot of competition to beat your last year’s score or get a good total number of meters,” said Heather Rutherford ’99, now the novice women’s coach and a five-year veteran of the Ergathon.
“For the men it’s always been a very important kind of milestone for the training,” said varsity men’s co-captain Jonathan Kallay ’00. “We don’t do a lot of specific preparation for it, but we still expect people to do as well as they can on it.”
Each varsity athlete erged twice, once on Friday and once on Saturday. “We’ll usually try to have both be good pieces. We don’t just do one hard to get as good a score as possible and do the other just to do it,” said Kallay.
“Each time we go as hard as possible and just hope we have enough time to recover in between . . . A lot of times a person does one piece and they can’t walk, but it’s really important to get on the erg and warm down to get the lactic acid out of their muscles [so they can go again].”
In order to give the varsity athletes time to recover, the novice rowers erged through the night. Suzanne Mathew ’03 rowed at 6:40 a.m. after four hours of sleep. “As opposed to running on normal energy, you’re running on adrenaline,” she said. “Because [the other novice rowers] were there, I was pumped up.”
Despite having to erg at 4:20 Saturday morning, Angus Beal ’03 erged 4438 meters in 15 minutes, breaking the novice men’s record for the Ergathon and falling only 50 meters short of the varsity men’s record. “It was kind of nice to have people experience firsthand the monotony and pain surrounding erging,” said Beal.
Many rowers welcomed the chance to let other people see the work they do. Because practices and regattas take place off campus, Williams students have little opportunity to see the crew team in action.
“People look at [the Ergathon] and they either think we’re crazy and that’s cool, or that we’re crazy and we’re crazy,” said Rutherford. “I think they get an idea of how hard we work.”