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Hanover Native Rowing for Team USA

Saturday, July 12, 2014
Hanover — Heidi Robbins travels the world with the U.S. women’s rowing team, yet continually finds herself in familiar surroundings.

Robbins, 23, works and trains at Princeton University, where the Hanover native graduated last year with a degree in biology. The U.S. crew is headquartered at Lake Carnegie, sharing a home with the Tigers.

Now Robbins is back in Hanover, staying with her father, Kris, at her childhood home on Old Lyme Road while her team trains for two weeks out of the Dartmouth College boathouse.

Following a World Rowing Cup win in France, and a stint at the Holland Becker Regatta in Amsterdam, the crew is using Hanover as a stopover point before heading back to New Jersey. Its 20 members arrived last Sunday and are lodging with host families. They’ll participate in the Prouty today — taking part, naturally, in the rowing event — before staying to use Dartmouth’s facilities for another week.

The interval is quite welcome for Robbins, a 2009 Hanover High graduate.

“I was just exclaiming to my teammates all of the things they need to do (for fun),” Robbins said after Thursday morning’s practice on the Connecticut River. “I already brought them to Lou’s, and they know all about the gelato place and King Arthur Flour (in Norwich). I kind of had to remind myself that this is a training trip.”

Robbins is hoping to earn one of 18 spots for the U.S. team at next month’s World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam. She earned a spot on the eights boat for last year’s World Championships and traveled with the team to South Korea, only to suffer an acute back injury just three days prior to the opening races. The U.S. team went on to win its sixth consecutive gold medal at the event while Robbins sat out.

It was a challenging injury for Robbins, who’d rowed stroke on the team’s world-record-setting eights boat at a World Cup race in Switzerland last July. The crew’s mark of 5 minutes, 54.16 seconds remains the standard.

“It was hard to watch from the sidelines and it’s still hard to think about,” said Robbins, who’s been catching up with her father while training in her hometown this week. “It was my first year (on the U.S. senior boat) and after setting the world record, I was kind of on a high where everything was rosy colored. I knew there was going to be a lot of hard training to get back to where I was. It kind of gave me a new perspective.”

U.S. women’s coach Tom Terhaar thinks the setback to Robbins ultimately helped her. Terhaar has been remarkably successful in his 14-year tenure, winning eight World Championship gold medals, a gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics and silver at the 2008 Olympic Games.

“I just think it was a good thing for her to step back and identify weaknesses that she could work on,” said Terhaar, a Buffalo, N.Y., native and former rower at Rutgers University. “Rowing is a long process, and I think (the injury) kept her focused on the long-term.”

The team normally trains at Princeton’s Lake Carnegie, the same place Robbins began rowing as a freshman. She played lacrosse at Hanover High rather than row for the Marauders’ popular crew.

Having studied abroad in the realm of global health — she spent the summer two years ago studying elephants in Africa and wrote her senior thesis about herpes viruses affecting the species — Robbins landed a job as a research assistant for Princeton’s biology department.

“I kind of feel like I haven’t gone anywhere (after graduating last spring) because I’m working with the same professors I had in , and the lab is right next to the dorm I lived in for two years,” she said. “Luckily, my supervisors are really supportive of the rowing and a lot of the work I do can be done remotely, by computer.”

Robbins isn’t the only one happy to be in Hanover this week. Her teammates and Terhaar gushed over the section of the Connecticut River, which is largely protected from wind by surrounding trees and hills and is well-suited for lengthy distance intervals. Plus, the summertime heat and humidity is much less oppressive in the Upper Valley than in central New Jersey.

Coxswain Katelin Snyder has been enjoying the setting.

“It’s so much cooler and dryer here. New Jersey is a hot box right now and there are a lot of people on the water there, between high school camps, the U-23s and the men’s team,” said Snyder, a two-time NCAA national champion while competing at the University of Washington. “I absolutely love being able to go six (kilometers) out at a time. We could go 12-K out if we wanted to here, which is really beneficial because you have no choice but to be super efficient. It’s a big difference than being on lakes where you’re going in 2-K loops.”

The team is excited to take part in today’s Prouty, which will send members back onto the Connecticut River with droves of other rowing enthusiasts to raise money for Norris Cotton Cancer Center. The team has found donors to support its $150 minimum donation per individual adult, Terhaar said.

“It’s a great event for a great cause. We’ve been hearing a lot about it,” said Terhaar, whose family is staying in Eastman while the team trains in the area. “It’s something we’re happy to contribute to.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at or 603-727-3306.

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