Hanover Graduate Rows to Gold Medal
During her four years at Princeton University, late-blooming rowing standout Heidi Robbins traveled the world over with her newfound sport.
Now, she can say she’s a world record holder. A Hanover High graduate who played lacrosse for the Marauders rather than row for the school’s popular crew program, Robbins rowed stroke for the U.S. women’s senior eight boat’s victory in the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland, last Saturday.
Beating second-place Romania by 6.2 seconds, the U.S. boat’s finish time of 5:54.16 was one-hundredth of a second faster than last year’s mark by the same boat. Last year’s U.S. women’s eight went on to capture a gold medal during the Summer Olympic Games in London.
Robbins’ boat took the lead at the start of the World Cup regatta and gained seats gradually through the 500-yard mark over Romania and eventual bronze medalist Canada. By the halfway point, the U.S. had built an open water edge and cruised to the record-setting win.
“It was a dream come true,” Robbins said in a phone interview from Lake Placid, N.Y., where she’s training with the team in hopes of earning a seat for the upcoming World Rowing Championships in Korea. “To be part of a record-setting boat in that kind of setting is something I’ll always cherish.”
It’s the latest in a whirlwind of success in the sport for Robbins, who graduated from Princeton with a degree in biology the day before she joined the U.S. senior team for World Cup selection sessions.
Recruited by Tiger coaches during activities day at the start of her freshman year, the 6-foot-2 Robbins rowed in the third varsity eight boat her first year before sitting four-seat for Princeton’s NCAA national championship team in 2011.
She went on to row with the Tigers at the prestigious Royal Henley Regatta in England the following summer, returning in time to earn a seat on the national Under-23 boat for its bronze medal at the World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam.
Robbins’ Princeton team enjoyed an undefeated regular season in 2012 before a fourth-place finish at NCAAs, and her U-23 team went on to win gold at the World Championships in Lithuania last summer.
With a year of U-23 eligibility remaining, it appeared last year as though she’d likely be gunning for a place in that boat once again this summer. Yet coaches for the U.S. senior national women’s boat — which trains at Princeton’s boathouse — were impressed enough with Robbins, who recently turned 22, to invite her for World Cup selection tryouts.
“I was familiar with (the senior national team) just from seeing them come in and out,” she said. “It was just a few conversations I had (with senior team coaches) that led to the selection (tryout).”
The experience capped a busy senior year for Robbins, a Tigers’ tri-captain who sat six-seat. She led a Princeton team carrying a sizeable roster of 49, including 14 freshmen green to the rigors of Division I athletics.
“Crew is a really unique sport because it’s one where you’re really training year-round,” she said. “For us, in the fall we had a few races, and then in the winter is really when all of the exercise training happens, indoors on ergs (short for ergometer rowing machines) and you really build your strength and stamina.”
Robbins earned Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association All-American, Academic All-American and All-Region honors for a Princeton boat that swept the Ivy League during the regular season and finished fourth at the NCAA meet.
“One of the most challenging parts of the season was probably just trying to keep up with my senior thesis, which is required at Princeton,” said Robbins, who unofficially minored in global health studies with a focus on Africa, where she interned last summer with an organization called Save the Elephants. She wrote her thesis on elephant herpes viruses.
“It was important for me to fulfill my role as captain and stay focused on the team while at the same time stay focused on the thesis, so it was a balance.”
Unlike the year-long grind with the Tigers, Robbins had to jell rapidly with teammates on the U.S. senior boat. After the final selections, the rowers had just one week of practice racing before last week’s World Cup, Robbins noted.
“We expected to do well because of the history of the boat, but there were a couple girls who had never raced internationally and we didn’t have a lot of time to (develop chemistry),” she said.
“The college experience is really about building camaraderie. This was a great group of girls, too, but the time line of getting everything together was a lot different.”
Robbins has taken on a “step-by-step” mentality with the U.S. senior eight boat, determined not to look past earning a spot for next month’s World Championships, beginning Aug. 25 in Chungju, South Korea.
“(The World Rowing Cup) was an awesome experience and I want to feel that again,” Robbins said. “Would I like to see myself selected for the next Olympic cycle? Of course, that would be another dream come true. But right now it’s about getting ready for Korea.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.