Cancer In Remission for Rowing Coach

Published: 8/4/2016 9:44:19 AM
Modified: 11/27/2015 12:00:00 AM
Hanover — Like so many other Boston-area residents, Linda Muri vowed to run in the 2014 Boston Marathon after the 2013 bombings. She didn’t realize at the time the type of personal battle she’d need to overcome while training for it.

Muri, then the men’s lightweight rowing coach at Harvard University, was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma — the most common form of breast cancer — six weeks prior to the race.

Muri responded like she had so often as a nine-year member of the U.S. women’s lightweight rowing team: with intense perseverance. Thrust into 16 weeks of chemotherapy treatment, she continued to both coach the Crimson and train for the marathon, which she finished in four hours, 57 minutes, 35 seconds (26,995th overall).

Now the women’s rowing coach at Dartmouth College, the 52-year-old Muri is in full remission and, a shorter haircut notwithstanding, appears totally recovered.

“I decided I wasn’t going to make my life about the cancer; I was going to keep coaching, keep rowing, keep being with my friends,” Muri recalled at the Dartmouth boathouse earlier this month. “I was going to keep doing the things I loved.”

Muri had always been a fighter, first as a rower for MIT — where she earned a degree in aeronautical/astronautical engineering — and later for the U.S. rowing team, with which she corralled three world championships and 18 national titles in various individual and team boats from 
1991-2000.

Muri developed a reputation as a fierce, no-nonsense competitor, traits she brought first to Cornell University as the Big Red men’s lightweight coach for three years before taking the same job at Harvard in 2001. While in Cambridge, she guided the Crimson to seven Eastern Sprints medals and five podium finishes at the IRA National Championships while specializing in recruiting and injury prevention.

Sam Frum, a Harvard senior recruited by Muri, said she handled the breast cancer diagnosis the way he and most of his teammates expected given what they knew about her personality.

“Linda was a bit of a cult figure on our team,” Frum said. “We knew she was a fierce rower and that she could lift a lot more weight than we probably ever could. She really taught all of us about being tough as rowers and established a culture of no excuses.

“When she was diagnosed, she was awesome about it. I think she only missed five days (of practice) because of treatment and adjusted our schedule to make the rest. She’s the type of coach you’d do anything for. If she said practice was at 5 a.m. so that she could get to the hospital in time, you had no problem getting up and getting there because you could never stand the idea of disappointing her.”

While keeping things as routine as possible, naturally there were challenges associated with her treatment. Determined to compete with masters doubles partner C.B. Sands-Bohrer in the 2014 Head of the Charles Regatta — the pair had set a course record of 19:17.9 in the senior masters 50-and-over category the year before — Muri was hampered at times by the side effects of chemo.

“There were times when I didn’t feel very good, like getting nauseated on bus trips or (experiencing) extra fatigue,” Muri said. “I tried to keep my workouts the same, so I might go for an hour and have four to eight minutes’ rest, but never feel fully recovered. There was also neuropathy, which made my fingers and toes feel like pins and needles. That makes it a little harder to row.”

Muri turned to her own campus for inspiration, knowing the story of legendary Crimson men’s rowing coach Harry Parker, who maintained his post after being diagnosed with blood cancer in 2011 (Parker died in 2013). She also received advice and counsel from Kathy Delaney-Smith, a breast cancer survivor and Harvard’s women’s basketball coach.

Muri started a blog she titled “I hope they caught it in time,” using it to share updates and converse with friends and family about her treatment.

“The rowing community and athletic community has been tremendously supportive, which has definitely helped me through the process,” Muri said. “Everywhere I go, it seems there are people who inspire me.”

Muri’s story has certainly inspired her athletes, including Sabrina Bohrer, the daughter of training partner C.B. Sands-Bohrer. Sabrina Bohrer was recruited by Muri’s predecessor, Wendy Bordeau, before Bordeau left prior to her freshman season.

Already familiar with Muri and her story — she’d joined her own mom and Muri for periodic training outings while rowing for the Cambridge Boat Club as a high school student — Bohrer was thrilled to learn Muri was coming to Hanover.

“The fact she kept training after being diagnosed and having to go through everything with her cancer treatment, to me, is incredible,” said Bohrer, whose coach and mother repeated as age group champs at the Head of the Charles both last year and this year. “A lot of people would have backed out but she kept pushing through it. To have someone like that as a coach, that’s someone you’re going to look up to a lot and want to work hard for.”

Muri is focused on improving the Big Green from its seventh-place Ivy League finish a year ago in what she called “the epitome of a building year,” with eight freshmen in the top two boats. Dartmouth’s limited fall competition this year has been promising, particularly in Muri’s return to Boston at the Head of the Charles Regatta. The Big Green’s first varsity eight boat placed 15th and the second boat was 11th.

“The younger athletes on the team got some great experience which seems to be paying off now, so far,” Muri said. “Even though spring results don’t always correlate with the fall; we did have a better fall season than last year. We’re still on a very steep part of the learning curve, but I am optimistic for the spring racing season.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.




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