Head of the Ohio races bring some of America's best rowing teams to Pittsburgh
September 27, 2009 8:00 AM
The Taylor Allderdice novice team paddles along the back channel of the Allegheny River at Washington's Landing during a practice for the Head of the Ohio Regatta on Oct. 3.
Taylor Allderdice novice rowers from left Genesis Bola, 15, Mara Greenberg, 14, and Chelsea Biefeld, 13, practice on the Allegheny River.
By Cicely Gilbert Special to the Post-Gazette
On Oct. 3, people from all across the country and Canada will come to row their boats through Pittsburgh as the Head of the Ohio Regatta kicks off another year of competition.
More than 60 races will be packed into the eight-hour event and are geared toward competitors of all skill levels, from high school and college athletes to corporate rowing teams to individuals with disabilities.
As one of the largest rowing competitions in the country, participants from more than 100 organizations across the United States and Canada are expected to compete.
"More and more fall races are popping up across the country, but we've remained strong in our numbers and have a consistent group of racers who keep coming back," said Rick Brown, newly appointed executive director of the Three Rivers Rowing Association.
Traditional for fall, the regatta is a head race in which boats take off approximately every 10 seconds, racing against the clock instead of against other boats on the water. The course stretches across a 5,000-meter span of the Allegheny River, running from the Washington's Landing Boathouse to Heinz Field.
"The river really lends itself to be a great race course," said Brown.
Pittsburgh's beloved bridges set the Head of the Ohio apart from the rest. Spectators can watch from above while boaters use the unique aesthetics as reference points.
"The racers can gauge how far they have to go and stay more focused to the finish," said David Geiger, head rowing coach for Mercyhurst Prep School in Erie, Pa.
The event relies heavily on the help of volunteers. Linda Lang, who stumbled upon the sport while on a nightly walk, has been participating in the event for more than 15 years. She assists in setting and cleaning up the courses, and this year, along with her daughter, is in charge of distributing the awards.
"It's a big undertaking and a lot of work and volunteers, but everybody pulls through to make it a success," said Lang.
Lang's mixed masters team has traveled to competitions as far as Ireland and Amsterdam as well as across the East Coast and Canada.
Fun mixes well with fierce competitiveness, especially for high school and college athletes. Sarah Travato, a Quaker Valley High School senior, looks forward to sizing up the competition she will be facing through the year. Travato, who earned a rowing scholarship from the University of Michigan, compares the regatta to having home court advantage.
"All the rowers I know race with the determination to win," said Travato. Still, they are able to enjoy the day and fellow rowers after their races are complete.
The regatta, considered the TRRA's signature event, will coincide with the non-profit's 25th anniversary.
"It's a huge part of what we bring to the rowing community," said Brown.
To celebrate, a touch of history will be added to this year's event with displays and memorabilia inside the RiverQuest Explorer, "kind of like a museum inside of the viewing boat," said Brown.
The first-of-its-kind model hybrid boat will be docked at the finish line and offer climate-controlled seating areas as well as food and beverages. Open to the public, tickets can be purchased online and at the vessel for $50 per person. Viewers can also take in the races from the Great Lawn on the North Shore, where vendors will sell food and crafts.
"The races are all mixed through the day," said Brown. "So people can come down on their own accord and are bound to find something exciting."