1992 Men's Heavyweight Crew

Hall of Fame Class of 2007

Ethan D. Ayer '93, John S. Cooper '93, William B. Cooper '93, Colin Chant '94, Adam Holland '94, Lars Mellemsetter '93, Stephen D. Trafton '92, Didzis M. Voldins '94, David Weiden '94
 

Harvard Athletic Achievements

The 1992 Varsity Heavyweight Crew was the last Harvard crew to win the National Intercollegiate Championships to be held in Cincinnati, Ohio.They won the Championship with a truly exceptional effort to beat a previously undefeated and very powerful crew from Dartmouth, a crew that included two future Olympic medalists. The Harvard crew set an extremely aggressive pace early in the race, rowing a full 39 strokes per minute and continued at that pace for the full duration of the race and beat Dartmouth by the smallest margin ever recorded in the regatta.   

Earlier in the 1992 season, the crew went undefeated in all of its dual and triangular regattas, including the Harvard Yale Race and placed a close but disappointing second to Dartmouth at the EARC Sprint Championships.    The crew was relatively young and several members went on to highly successful seasons in 1993 and 1994, including a record setting performance at the 1993 Henley Royal Regatta in England.
 

Remembering Harvard Athletics

Ethan Ayer ’93 – 1992 Varsity Heavyweight Crew
Two events stand out in my mind as I think back on my four years of Harvard rowing.  One was my first taste of college competition and the other was a quiet moment with Harry Parker three years later.  Both stories shed some light on why Harvard rowing was such fertile ground for my own development. 

As I strapped my feet in for my first freshman year erg test, I should have been nervous, but I wasn’t.  Ignorance is bliss, right?  I remember thinking, “This is where all of the great Harvard teams of the last century tested themselves, and now it is my turn!”  I was lucky enough to have a “perfect storm” of motivators there in the room with me that day.  I had an evenly matched teammate to race against in Bill Cooper on my right, behind me a personal hero and the legendary Harvard Olympic medalist Andy Sudduth and then hovering in the back of the room, the great Harry Parker.  I did not feel like I had anything to prove, but I desperately wanted to impress all of them.  In the case of Andy, I felt like a cellist performing for the first time in front of Yo-Yo Ma.  Andy was an inspiration to many, in and out of rowing, and he will be sorely missed.

I exceeded my target that day by a mile. Bill and I raced side-by-side to an exact tie, and many others also set personal records that day.  We had experienced our first dose of “the Harvard Aura” and it had helped us to perform.  The history, the fierce competition, the community and Harry’s quiet confidence all played their part in spurring us on.  Afterwards, there was no time for celebration or back-slapping; we just got back to work.  It was six months before we learned that three of us had posted better results that day than anyone on the Varsity. 

The second event occurred in the lead-up to the 1992 National Championship race in Cincinnati.  I had a rib injury and Kieran Powers, a very qualified rower from the Junior Varsity, had been rowing in my place in the Varsity.  I remember the moment distinctly; Harry pulled me away from the group to ask me if I was fit to race.  It was the biggest decision of my college rowing career and he was leaving it entirely up to me.  The responsibility weighed heavily on my mind because I knew the consequences of a bad decision.  I like to think that after three years, Harry knew that I would weigh the team’s success ahead of my own and that is why he trusted me with the decision.  In the end, after some deliberation, I did row, we won by three inches, and I feel particularly grateful to be here with the entire team celebrating that race 15 years on.  

I am deeply honored to be a part of the Harvard Hall of Fame, and I thank the college and the Varsity Club for making it possible.  I am also very thankful to Harvard Rowing and Harry Parker for giving me the environment to discover teamwork, build friendships, test my limits, learn discipline and develop my character.  I wouldn’t have changed a thing!    

Colin Chant ’94 – 1992 Varsity Heavyweight Crew
Thank you to the Harvard Varsity Club for this honor, to my family for making my time at Harvard possible, to my friends and boat mates for giving fullness and shape to a wonderful experience, and to Harry, who asked the question to which I am still trying to find a satisfactory answer: “What do you say?”
 

John Cooper ’93 – 1992 Varsity Heavyweight Crew
I would like to thank the Harvard Varsity Club for this great honor.  Being so far removed from my rowing career, both temporally and physiologically, makes this occasion all the more special.   Nowadays whenever someone brings up my rowing past and offers congratulations, I tend to respond with a statement something along the lines of “but that was a long time ago.”  I suppose I don’t want to be mistaken today for the athlete I was 15 years ago.  Reluctance to accept credit for crew achievements could come naturally to rowers - after all, there are seven other rowers and a coxswain who, by simple math, are due the lion’s share of the credit.  Well, tonight I’m happy to accept recognition without any reservations.

My rowing career began at Berkeley High School in California and continued at Harvard.  Perhaps what made rowing most special to me was that I was able to share the experience through high school and college, not only with great friends who remain so today, but also with my twin brother, Bill.  Bill and I joined the crew team on the same day freshman year in high school and rowed through college together.  Although rowing must certainly be one of the purest of team sports, one must first make the team.  This requires an element of individual competition, which is most often accomplished via a process called seat racing.  My brother and I were competitive enough as it was - I’m truly thankful that we rowed on opposite sides so we never had to compete head to head for a seat.

Rowing at Harvard was indeed a singular experience.  The sense of history and tradition smacks you in the face when you walk in the door of Newell Boat House and find crew photos on the walls dating back to a time when collegiate rowing was one of the most popular spectator sports in the country.  I’ll always remember fondly our time at Red Top training for the Harvard Yale race, a 150 year old competition -- the hot broth waiting on the dock after an evening row, the smell of rust in the shower pipes, and the epic battles with Yale for control of The Rock.  Of course no talk of Harvard crew traditions would be complete without mentioning Harry Parker.  With his 40 some odd years of service at Harvard, Harry is an institution.  It’s impossible to think of Harvard rowing without thinking of Harry Parker.  To have been coached by Harry is truly an honor.  Second only to Harvard itself, Harry has left an indelible mark on every rower who has had the privilege of calling Newell Boat House home during his tenure.

A final thought:  Invariably, whenever I see a long straight stretch of calm water, no matter where I am or what’s on my mind, at least for a moment I pause to admire the glassy surface, and wish I were out there rowing.  Often at times like this, one of those perfect days on the Charles comes to mind.  It’s just daybreak, early summer, and a mist lingers over the water.  I’m in an eight at top speed - that resonant hum coming from the hull, the rhythmic “chunk” of the oars in the locks at the release, and that effortless sensation that comes when a crew comes close to perfection – at least for a moment.  That’s perhaps my fondest memory of rowing at Harvard.
 

William Cooper ’93 – 1992 Varsity Heavyweight Crew
It never occurred to me that our boat might be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  It is humbling to be associated with all of the famous crews that have come before us and all of the other athletes who have received this same honor.

I first saw Harvard race and met Harry Parker during my junior year in high school.  My initial impression of both was one of awe.  After speaking with Harry and watching Harvard race, it became a dream of mine to row for Harry and become part of Harvard’s winning tradition.

While rowing for Harvard, I realized that what drove me was not being a part of a “winning tradition,” but being a part of a tradition that did not lose.  Generations of oarsmen established a tradition of not losing and they instilled in us what I believe to be a motivator stronger than the desire to win: the fear of losing.  If losing is unacceptable, winning comes more easily.

I have often been asked why Harry is so successful.  Harry is a great technical coach, although Harvard crews have not always been as “pretty” as the competition.  Where Harry excels is in motivating athletes to push themselves further than even they believe possible, continually reach new plateaus and accept nothing less than the best.  Harry’s coaching and what he taught me about myself still guide me today.

I believe that the combination of motivated, well coached athletes, a desire not to let previous generations down, and a healthy fear of losing is what has made Harvard great and will continue to make Harvard great for generations to come.  Guided by Harry’s coaching, these factors enabled us to win the National Championship in 1992, by little more than six inches.  We refused to loose.

I would like to thank the Harvard Varsity Club for this honor, Harry Parker for his coaching, Harvard College and Friends of Harvard Rowing for their support, and everyone who was on the water with us, especially the third and fourth varsity rowers who often had no chance of making the varsity boat, but came to the boathouse every day and completed the team because of a love of rowing, competition and the camaraderie that is Harvard Crew.  
 

Jonathan Adam Holland ’94 - 1992 Varsity Heavyweight Crew
The 1991-1992 season, my sophomore year, was one of great tumult for me.  I'd finished my freshman year feeling as though there had been a frightening number of walk-ons who were much bigger and stronger than me, whom I had beaten out for a spot in the first boat only by virtue of my experience.  I knew I wouldn't be able to count on that to defeat them again, to say nothing of the juniors and seniors. 

Consequently, I spent the entire summer of 1991 lifting weights religiously, returning to Newell in the fall almost twenty pounds heavier at a hefty 205 or so.  You'll notice, no doubt, the conspicuous absence of any aerobic activity in my summer training.  Friday race days in the fall took note of it as well. 
   
The Fall was exciting for other reasons, as Concept II had just introduced the Hatchet blades.  Harry, always at the cutting edge, had acquired a set, and we took two even boats out over a few days and seat raced the blades.  We figured that the new blades beat the old ones by about two lengths.  Said Harry afterwards, "Guys, I think we'll just keep these results to ourselves for now, all right?"

It took until well into winter training, and dropping almost all of my newly acquired weight before I felt as though my fitness matched whatever strength I had managed to acquire.   Additionally, chronic knee problems forced me to do the triple erg instead of the regular triathlon, which gave me a welcome new perspective on ergometer workouts.  All of these factors came together to propel me to new personal bests after Christmas, and culminating at the CRASH--Bs when Steve, Bill and I all made the collegiate finals.
 
Later in the winter, I arrived in the new tanks for a workout only to find that there were five starboards -- including myself-- and three ports scheduled to row.

"All right, who wants to switch over to port?"  said Harry.  What the hell, I figured, and volunteered.  It seemed to go all right.  Little did I know the effect this was going to have on my season, and my entire rowing career!   The next day, I went over to Leavitt and Pierce to find that I was scheduled on port. I remained there as we took to the water and began seat racing.   
   
As spring break drew to a close, I was fairly certain that I was looking at a seat in the JV.  It was not until Harry took it into his head to do one final seat race on port, putting people in different seats than usual, that everything changed.  As we got on the plane for the Crew Classic, it still hadn't quite sunk in that I was going to be racing in the Varsity.  The results had apparently been something of a surprise to everyone, since--as Jay Hammond was only too eager to tell me--the names on the plane tickets clearly indicated that I had been slated for a JV spot.
 
We won the Crew Classic, and never looked back.

Using the new, faster blades only against those crews who also used them, we compiled an undefeated record, broke the Adams Cup jinx, and headed into Sprints feeling fast and confident.

A surprisingly fast Dartmouth crew, whom we had not faced, and who had been using the hatchets all season, was in the same situation.  We met for the first time in the final and regrettably, in that particular instance, Dartmouth emerged the victor.

The results were eerily similar to my freshman year, when we had also been undefeated going into Sprints, only to come in second to another undefeated crew we had not raced before. In that case it had been Yale, and we had revenged ourselves at Red Top.  This year, we hoped to have a chance to revenge ourselves on Dartmouth at the National Championship, held at Harsha Lake.  The top two finishers at Sprints and IRAs received funded trips to the competition.

While we were training hard at Red Top, where we would later deliver a savage 39 second beating to Yale, the IRA regatta, due to a referee's decision, ended in a bizarre tie for second.  Inexplicably, the Nationals committee decided to offer funding to three crews from the IRAs, and to withdraw our own.  All of a sudden, we were the outsider underdogs.  It's not a familiar role for Harvard crews, but it was probably one of the best things that could have happened to us.  Now we were on a mission to prove that we had been slighted, and that we were, in fact, the fastest crew in the country.

A week before the Nationals,  we returned to Newell and rooms in the Leverett towers to train.  Harry finally allowed us to begin using the ultra-light hatchets, and we stormed Cincinnati along with the indispensable Ciaran Powers, who was filling in as necessary for Ethan Ayer, who was slowly recovering from a rib injury.

A ninety minute wait for breakfast at Denny's notwithstanding, our training went very well. Harry made final adjustments,  moving Bill to stroke, and Didzis and me to a 6-7 bucket.  It proved to be the right thing to do. No surprise there.   Harry's pre-race speech, still one of the most stirring, inspiring things I have ever heard, was simply, "Guys, you've done the work. Go out there and revel in your prowess!"
   
 I'll never forget that race.  We simply refused to be denied.  I didn't realize just how phenomenal our start was until after it was all over, and Dave Weiden was going a mile a minute debriefing us over hoagies at Subway.

"We went 15 high off the line, at like a 46, and then I called it down, but it didn't come down, and so I called it down again, but it only came down to a 39-40, so I called it down again, but it just stayed right there, so I said screw it, and just let it ride."

Bill would later explain that he had no intention of settling until we won.  Happily, we were all ready and able to go with him.

Dartmouth was not going to give up easily, though, and--underrating us by four or five-- began to claw back into our one length lead.  Coming into the final 100 meters, the boats were dead even, changing leads every stroke as each crew went to the catch in turn.  Somehow, we found it within ourselves to go up again, to a 42 and then beyond.

As we crossed the line, no one was sure who had won, including the people on shore.  We drifted across the lake, spent, cooling our heels in the water until video review announced us the winners by 0.04 seconds, twenty minutes later.

It was a result that some at the regatta weren't happy about, as the organizers, for the first time ever, awarded the Navy "Great Eight" trophy to a crew --Dartmouth-- other than the winners, and the Dartmouth coach asserted that the result meant that there was "no justice."

We didn't care.

Although I continued to row for ten years after college at the international level, I still cherish my memories of Newell above all others.  It was there, under Harry's guidance, and surrounded by the unwavering competition and support of my teammates, that I was tested, learned the extent of what I was capable, and made friendships that will last a lifetime.

Thanks to the members of the 1992 varsity, to everyone who trained at Newell during my sojourn there --especially the members of the class of 1994 and my roommate and training partner Garth Rosengren-- and to Harry, for making Newell feel like my second home, the only place I have ever really felt as though I belonged. There's still no place I'd rather be.
 

Lars Odin Mellemseter ’93 – 1992 Varsity Heavyweight Crew

Thinking back to my days in Cambridge, I have memories of miserable snowy and biting cold April afternoons with Harry walking into the boathouse, always pronouncing it a "GRRREAT DAY!" To this day I am not sure whether he was ironic or not, but the Jedi mind trick worked every time.  I miss spending time hanging out in the boathouse after workouts, I miss the talks with our friendly boatman Everett Abbott who did so much to make us go fast, and I miss the early morning outings, particularly those with the always cheerful Lawrence Nottebohm.

As a squad we worked hard to be national champions, and fortunately, the harder one works the luckier one tends to get. I am very grateful to have been given the chance to row with such an exceptional group of people. Possibly even more so, I feel fortunate to have been part of the Harvard heavyweight crew program, and I would like to thank Harry Parker who has built a truly unique institution. In retrospect it is quite clear to me that we won not because our competitors were of any lesser talent. Rather, they just didn't have the advantage of being part of Harry Parker's and Harvard's rowing program.

In addition to Harry, I would like to thank the Harvard Athletic Association for the honor, and I would  like to thank Aake Fiskerstrand for his help, patience and dedication in helping me develop further as a rower.
 

Stephen D. Trafton ’92 - 1992 Varsity Heavyweight Crew
I am very grateful that the 1992 heavyweight boat has been added to the list of crews, and teams and athletes of all sports, already inducted into the Hall of Fame.

To me, perhaps the best measure of the extraordinary Harvard crew program is my sense that if I had been told, as a freshman novice, that I would someday be inducted into the Harvard Varsity Club Hall of Fame, the half of me in awe of my predecessors would have dismissed the notion as impossible, but the other half of me, the part that rejoiced in the knowledge that at Newell Boat House anything was possible, would have accepted the thought with delight but without demur.

The boathouse spirit manifested in that other half of me drove our 1992 crew. We were not pretty to watch, we were neither rude nor smooth, and we did not always get along with each other particularly well. I do not believe that great things were expected of us. But we won, again and again, and my chief memory of those races is of unsurprised happiness. About halfway through our season a race spectator observed of us to my father, also a spectator, that we didn’t know how good we were. I know that I didn’t realize it until I lay on my hotel bed in Cincinnati, the afternoon before the national championship, and knew that if we didn’t win the next day it would not be because there was a faster crew than ours, but because we had done something wrong.

Rowing was at the heart of my Harvard experience. My closest friends in college were my crew friends (they remain so today), and I devoted far more time to rowing and friendships than I did to my studies. I have no regrets; as I recall those days I am reminded of a line from Evelyn Waugh, describing, through a fictional protagonist in a novel, his days at Oxford: “I remember no syllable of them [his texts] now, but the other, more ancient lore which I acquired that term will be with me in one shape or another to my last hour.” 

No piece of writing of this nature would be complete without recognizing Harry Parker. In the spring of 1992 I told a reporter after a race that Harry was the greatest teacher I had had in four years at Harvard. I don’t know that I had Waugh’s words in mind when I said that, but I do know this: A tired and wet young man absorbs immutable “ancient lore” on a winter afternoon when Harry tells the coxswains to “Turn ‘em around!” for yet another set of “Basin shots,” our term for rowing the long length of water between the BU Bridge and the Science Museum. That learning will never leave me, nor will my gratitude to the teacher.

I feel lucky to have been a part of the 1992 heavyweight varsity, and humbled to be a part of the Varsity Club Hall of Fame. Thank you.

 

Didzis M. Voldins ’94 - 1992 Varsity Heavyweight Crew
I am truly honored to be recognized by the Harvard Varsity Club among the athletes in attendance tonight and the past Harvard athletes that are members of the Hall of Fame.  I would like to thank my parents and family – without their love, attention and support, I would never have had the fortune of becoming a member of the 1992 crew.  I would also like to thank the Friends of Harvard Rowing for their support of the crew program and the privileges that they made available to us while training and racing for Harvard.

I will resort to a Harvard oarsman’s cliché simply because I can not think of an original way to say it – I came to Harvard so that I could row for Harry Parker.  I believed that I would benefit greatly from Harry and his rowing program, both as an athlete and as a person, and today I can say with sincerity that I was not let down in either regard.  Through training off the water, I learned about hard work, preparation and good sportsmanship.  Through competition on the water, I discovered the value of hard work, preparation and good sportsmanship, as well as how to up-the-ante when those attributes are not enough to insure success.  I thank Harry for these lessons, which far surpassed what I would acquire in the classroom in terms of practical knowledge for “real life” after Harvard.

As for the 1992 racing season, I will pare the storytelling down to my most significant memory – taking the boat for a practice run down the buoyed course on Lake Harsha prior to the National Championships in Cincinnati.  It would be the last race of a dominant season.  We had recorded an undefeated head-to-head campaign and a 37-second margin over Yale in the classic four-mile race.  There was only one remaining challenge before us – to avenge a close and heartbreaking second-place finish to Dartmouth in the Eastern Sprints.  Paddling the boat down that flat water on the day before the race, we took a few practice tens and Bill cranked the rate up to 40-42 strokes per minute.  As the boat surged and moved farther between each consecutive set of puddles, I remember being overcome with a sense of power, calm and confidence.  I realized then that our crew had reached the goal that every crew hopes for – a unified focus and determination that originates in the collective and feeds and strengthens each individual, not the other way around.  We went on to beat Dartmouth the next day to take the National Championship.

I feel privileged to have shared the 1992 season with such remarkable and talented individuals.  The personality of each member of that crew – David, Bill, Adam, Steve, Ethan, Colin, John and Lars – is etched indelibly into my memory.  In addition, I believe I speak for all nine of us when I say that it is an honor to serve as the representatives of a much larger team of Harvard oarsmen – all of whom put the same “blood, sweat and tears” into their training and racing that year but were not selected for the Varsity boat.
 

David Weiden ’94 - 1992 Varsity Heavyweight Crew
15 years.  A long time by some measures, but relatively short in the history of Harvard Rowing.  And as with many truly defining experiences, it still feels like yesterday to me and I suspect always will.  Looking back, here are a few highlights:

Keep it simple.  My high school crew team used elaborate race strategies and we won most races.  In college we regressed.  For example, the pre-race strategy plan for one race that season from legendary coach Harry Parker wasn’t even delivered in person, but was in writing, the same to all crews, and was four words: “Row Hard.  Go fast.”  We won more in college.  But of course that’s why Harry’s a legend.  I’ll always remember the strategy talk before the national championship finals which was a little more involved, but was comprised mostly of: “Picture yourself winning.  Picture yourself losing.  And make up your mind what the outcome will be.” 

Tradition.  Some know the Harvard-Yale crew race is the longest running inter-collegiate sporting event in the country.  That simple fact really can’t convey much about the depth and uniqueness of the Harvard crew experience, particularly of participating in the Harvard-Yale race itself.  For several weeks, prior to the race, the two teams retreat to private estates in New London, Connecticut maintained for the sole purpose of hosting the teams for the race.  At 4 miles, the race is over four times as long as what has evolved to be the standard college racing distance.  I am proud that we won the national championship, but I am even happier that I was undefeated against Yale, including in the “coxswains race” where four coxswains from each team row and the team captains cox, and that I was able to be a part of the tradition of that race and staying at Red Top. 

The 1992 Championships.  In case it is not captured elsewhere, I wanted to note several aspects of the race itself as it was truly an exceptional event. 

Harvard was undefeated in the regular season, as was Dartmouth, and when the teams met in the finals of the “Eastern Sprints”, the east coast rowing championships, Dartmouth won easily by approximately 3 seconds. 

Harvard then went to train for the Harvard-Yale race at Red Top.  Harvard won by 37 seconds and maintained a very high “stroke rate” of 34 strokes per minute the entire 4 miles, both remarkable.

In the National Championships final, the race started and went on for several hundred meters (out of 2,000 meters total) before being declared a false start.  Harvard did not get off to a good start, and in particular Washington had a very strong lead, before the race was called back.

In the second start, Harvard, building off the Harvard-Yale race the week prior, maintained an unusually high stroke rate, going the entire race at a rate crews generally only do at the start and finish of a race.  Harvard built a significant lead by halfway through the race.  Dartmouth had an excellent team that year and was rowing a very controlled race at a much lower stroke rate and eventually pulled even and then passed Harvard with several hundred meters to go.  In my own experience before or after, any crew which built a large lead and then lost it, particularly relatively late in the race, went on to lose.  The loss of momentum late in a race is a killer. 

Harvard somehow came back.  It’s hard to describe the type of effort required to do this, in fact I can’t.  I’ve never been part of anything else like it.  However, Harvard was still somewhat behind at the finish, and immediately upon the crews crossing the finish, Dartmouth celebrated and Harvard …did not.

But the results were reviewed by video with no official result given yet.  Some time went by, perhaps 5 minutes, and the third place winner was announced.  Then in second place … Dartmouth!!!  It turned out that the finish line was right at the point, within a single stroke of the oars, of Harvard’s surge when a stroke was finished and at the point where Dartmouth was slowest when they were just about to start a new stroke.  Harvard won by inches.

A few years later I worked with Fred Malloy, captain of the Dartmouth team.  Others may disagree, but I told him I wouldn’t have wanted to race them again.