A pandemic, border closures, and both local and countrywide lockdowns have ended any hopes of a 2020 racing season for most American rowers. About one week before the USA’s first spring racing was about to take place both domestic and international 2k racing was canceled entirely. However, a few lucky Americans were training in the Southern Hemisphere during the American winter and escaped that fate by participating in the New Zealand summer racing circuit which culminates in the NZ National Championship in mid-February. While other rowers stateside were erging in the cold or escaping to warmer parts of the US for training, one particular rower out of the New York Athletic Club, Charlotte Buck, used New Zealand’s summer weather and racing opportunities to propel herself onto the world stage. Charlotte recently competed against the world’s best in the finals of a global indoor rowing tournament.
“Spending the (US) winter at West End was nothing short of spectacular!…I felt so excited to be at practice. That’s the mentality and energy that I feel is so vital to bring to training, it was easy to have that feeling every day at West End.”Charlotte Buck – NYAC sculler
Charlotte recounts her trip to New Zealand as: “Spending the winter at West End Rowing Club (WERC) was nothing short of spectacular! At the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) in the winter, we can only go on the water with our coaches, and only when it isn’t too cold. We’ve gone out and broken ice with our singles so anything to get me out of the cold was a welcome change. In addition to enjoying the summer weather training at WERC, Connor, Veton [her NYAC teammates] and I were able to explore Auckland after practices. We loved spending the afternoons on Mission Bay beach, looking out at Rangitoto. Every morning that I woke up to a sunrise, or watched the sunrise with my hands on the oars, I felt so excited to be at practice. That’s the mentality and energy that I feel is so vital to bring to training, it was easy to have that feeling every day at West End.”
When asked about her experience transitioning from training as a high-performance club sculler in the US to joining in with the WERC club squad, Charlotte had positive reviews. “Being at West End allowed me to have water sessions twice a day, and have a fantastic group of athletes to train against. It was particularly wonderful to have the quad of Mallory, Amy, and Maddie [fellow West End Senior 4x gold medallists] to train and race with at the NZ National Championships.”
At home in New York, Charlotte was mostly focused on the single and without many other strong women to train with she found West End to be a fantastic opportunity to train with some like-minded and skilled athletes. Charlotte found quick success at the North Island Club Championships with wins in the Senior 1x and Senior 4x so she decided at that moment to cut her NZ trip a few weeks short and enter in the USA’s Olympic 1x trials back home following NZ National Champs.
“The entire six weeks of training were very rewarding and getting to race at NZ Nationals was so special, especially after coming home and having a canceled race season. The disappointment of being at Olympic trials only to have them canceled from the pandemic was cushioned by the fact I got to race at all this year. Being able to land in Auckland and turn around a week later to race at North Island Championships was amazing. I had only been rowing in the single for a year and a half at that point, so I wasn’t expecting much going into my first race. Leaning on my erg training and those few sessions on the water, I was able to win the Senior 1x at North Island Club Champs. Not all of my races in NZ went perfectly and I learned each time I raced down the course, but Nationals was an amazing experience.”
For any rower to line-up against some of the best athletes in the world, especially in a domestic race, it’s going to be a pretty special experience and for Charlotte that was no exception.
“My last row of the course before the Premier 1x B final, was particularly memorable. I had a shaky row the day before and was determined to end my racing on Karapiro on a high note. The sun was rising over the end of the lake and on the last lap, I found myself warming up with Mahe Drysdale in the lane to the left and Emma Twigg in the lane to my right. After years of watching them both race, it felt almost surreal to be on the water right next to me. As I did my warm-up tens, it built my confidence up for my coming race to feel like I could even be in the same space as them.”
While Charlotte didn’t get another opportunity to race her single this year, a company called Rower’s Choice sponsored an international erging tournament with prize money that included some of the best rowers in the world signing up. Charlotte had already experienced something similar while in NZ and was motivated to keep racing and see how she could stack up.
“I didn’t enter thinking I would get to the final, but I just wanted to see how I would do against other American national team members. My first hurdle was racing Kara Kohler, the USA 1x and bronze medallist from World Champs last year. During the 6:08 piece quarterfinals, I was absolutely motivated by the fact I was making up for not getting a chance to race against her at US Trials. Once I was in the semi-finals, I tried to keep it internal and just be motivated by trying to put out my personal best. I was absolutely the underdog as the only one not on a national team but my university racing experience at Columbia University prepared me for being in that position. As a walk on at Columbia, I had to fight my way into boats against far more experienced athletes and once on the race course, we rarely had an easy win. I can’t say I wasn’t intimidated about racing Olena Buryak [world record holder] in the final, she’s so strong and has over a decade of international experience. With Nick’s data analysis, I took what I learned on the 6:08 piece to try and execute the best 5:54 minutes I could. If there’s anyone to be proud of coming in second to on an erg, it’s Olena.”
West End Rowing Club is proud to have supported Charlotte’s training in New Zealand and provide her a stepping stone to international level racing and performance. Border restrictions currently prevent foreign rowers from entering our country, but we often welcome gap year and other overseas rowers into our clubhouse every year and hope that we are able to do so again soon. Charlotte and her teammates are forever welcome back and will remain a part of the West End Rowing Club community.