Last week, a womens-eight from Nereus won during a sparring session on the Thames of Cambridge, whom will face Oxford on April 7th in the annual Boat Race. This so-called fixture was organized by the Dutch-trained coach Astrid Cohnen, currently the assistant coach of the ‘light blues’.
“Imagine that our eight in Britain has won all they have started so far. We use the fixtures on the course of the Boat Race to practice competitive situations. Nereus was able to come up with six medal winners from the last World Cup under the age of 23, so I knew for sure that they would have a strong boat. That would help us. “Cohnen explains on the telephone from Cambridge.
“I also hope that this will show Dutch rowers that studying here isn’t a bad idea. Although the trend is to go to the United States with an athletic scholarship, here you can participate in an unique event and ditto program. For example, the women’s group is quite international with a fairly large number of Americans, a Swiss, Danish and a Spanish girl. Everyone who has studied here, will careerwise get to be where he or she wants to be. Companies are standing in line for people who have studied here.”
Her wish for a strong competition came true in London. Nereus-octet annihilated the women of Cambridge in the first part of the two kilometers. “We were not prepared for that and our rowing was bad representation of our current standard. But they recovered well and pushed through. On the second leg they were, despite the less than favorable position in terms of curves on the finish, only a quarter behind. They learn a lot from this, lagging behind can also happen during the Boat Race and then you need the right tools.”
Cohnen, who works in the Netherlands as a paid Skøll and Laga coach, is usually busy coachingthe lightweight men and women rowing a week before their Boat Race against eternal rival Oxford than the official event on April 7th. “I was hired as an assistant to the American head coach Rob Weber. Occasionally I do ergometer training for the heavy women’s team and I am a kind of pastoral worker. I regularly check in with them and see how they are doing, have a cup of coffee here and there. My opinion is also valued with regard to setups and selections.”
Cohnen, born in Germany, is referring to the very ambitious study climate in combination with the heavy training regime. “In the Netherlands people already think that the study pressure is high. However, that is nothing compared to here. They also train twelve times a week. All our rowers are perfectionists and their own worst critic. They are highly focused on rowing, studying, navigating between classes, training locations and home.
According to Cohnen there are quite a few differences from her previous coaching job in the Netherlands. “First of all, a club like Cambridge has a much larger network. From board members to sponsors and influential ex-rowers. Many supporting groups want to help and share their advice about the teams. You must be able to focus on the goal at hand -putting the athlete first- and maintaining this goal. The logistics side is also much larger. In Dutch student associations, a board or a committee does most of the heavy lifting. Here we have to do everything ourselves: from the transport of the boats to taking care of repairs of the boat.”
The former rower of Saurus and Skøll left for England for a fresh start. “I wanted to prove myself somewhere else. “In the Netherlands I had the feeling like some minds were made up about me and I did not want that for myself. I went to find the joy in coaching again. By going to another place with the same skill-set – in which I still have great faith in – I could start over and redefine my way of working and collaborating. Coaching in Cambridge is an amazing experience and I’m very happy that I created and seized this opportunity. If this leads to other opportunities I would be very happy, but for now my rowers and the Boat Race are the highest priority.”
Milan Kamphuis is TopRow New York’s Deputy Program Director, bringing a wealth of positive energy and creative solutions to our programs. We thought we’d help you get to know him.
Milan began his athletic pursuits as a cyclist from ages 12 – 21. While he was sidelined by a knee injury, a friendly stranger in a pub suggested he convert to rowing, given he’s so tall (Milan is 6’7”) and already in great shape. We’re glad Milan took his advice and participated in the 6 week rowing tryout at a university club – he loved the sport, was selected for the team, and has never looked back. Highlights of his rowing career include racing Varsity for 4 years, competing at the Henley Royal Regatta, and participating in the Dutch National Team selection process.
While working as a P.E. teacher in Amsterdam, Milan took a break from rowing before resuming the sport in a more recreational capacity. At the same time, he began coaching a junior girls program. He’s proud of all the work they did while he was their coach and after – one of the girls recently competed in a major European regatta! He also misses getting to run around with the kids he taught – being a P.E. teacher is a great way to stay fit while having fun.
Milan loves sharing the joy of rowing with everyone he can, and bringing his skills as a P.E. instructor to the Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse. He’s passionate about both sports and teaching, and especially the character development people achieve through sports – teamwork, dedication, and mental toughness. Plus, he loves being outside and sharing his knowledge with our rowers!
Milan notes that rowing can be an escape from the stresses of everyday life because you’re so intent on the details of your movement, it makes you feel healthy and strong, and the feeling of swing is just magical. What’s more, once you start rowing, you often find yourself hooked (as he did). Because he wants to share this joy with everyone, Milan is leading TopRow’s partnerships with groups like ClassPass and EngineRm to bring rowing to as many people as possible.
There are a few notable differences between rowing in the Netherlands and the USA. There’s a much stronger rowing culture in the Netherlands, particularly Amsterdam – there are clubs everywhere and people of all ages are constantly coming and going from the river. Rowing clubs often function as much as social clubs as actual athletic groups, and many have 600+ members at a variety of levels! Here in the states our cities and boathouses tend to be more spread out (with a few notable exceptions like Boathouse Row in Philly), which can make it harder to get to practices. This often means that Americans who chose to row are “all-in, 100% dedicated,” which makes them tons of fun to coach! Milan is excited to work with such committed rowers while bringing some of the relaxation and appreciation of rowing as a casual, fun activity to New York as well.
Milan moved to New York with his wife right as TopRow New York was beginning operations, and we’re thrilled to have him leading our programs! He agrees that New York is the best city in the world, and loves getting to work in such a diverse place. He brings a vision of rowing that is accessible to all people at any level of experience or commitment and a desire to expand the New York City rowing community for many years to come. We have no doubt he’ll be able to do just that.
Welcome aboard, Milan!
Would you like to know more about TopRow New York?
Last summer in London, TopRow opened a rowing centre near the river Thames. Amsterdam based coaches Willem Crul and Caitlin Smith were given the important task of setting up the first rowing lessons. A big undertaking for the young students.
“We took a leap of faith and it was worth the risk” says Caitlin excited in the cafeteria of Rowing Centre Berlagebrug (location TopRow Amsterdam). It was by chance that the 21-year-old Artificial Intelligence student came to London. “My original plan was to go to New York to pursue a minor and teach rowing classes as a side-job. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances that fell through. Jasper (Smink, owner of TopRow red.) offered me the chance to work in our newest London location for about a month or so. I tend to say ‘yes’ to a lot of things and good things happen when you say yes.”
Caitlin had a leg up on her colleagues since she lived in London until the age of 8. She was raised bi-lingual and could reside with her family in London whilst she was working there. The young history student and colleague of Caitlin, Willem, didn’t have the resources or benefits that Caitlin enjoyed. “Caitlin informed me about the opportunity and I was looking a summer side job” he says happily, continuing “In rowing, I noticed people share the same passion and interest. If I can help people and put a smile on their face, I have reached my goal. And the added bonus is that I get do this in London ha-ha”, he says smiling.
“The strong current on the Thames river proved to be quite the challenge” says Caitlin. “Making the necessary preparations and giving the first lesson wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.” She continues “In the beginning I made the mistake of not knowing how far I could go down the stream before I realized it was time to turn around and head back. Also another challenge arose when I did not take the water-level into account which resulted in me hitting a sandbank. The rules of the water are a lot more complicated than in Amsterdam” she closes.
The challenges weren’t just on the water. “In Amsterdam we make use of, what we call, a rowing tank. Eventually we found a way to replicate this by going into the water ourselves and holding the boat on each side. This gave our learners a chance to get familiarized with the stroking techniques without the added pressure of making speed” says Willem.
Aside from the challenges we faced on the water, the administrative part proved to be a challenge as-well. “The person responsible for this part went on his honeymoon as soon as we set foot in London. We received cancellations through e-mail which went to our Amsterdam location. By the time we would receive the information here in London, it was already too late. But we overcame this obstacle as-well by working closely with the London Rowing Club. This is also where our boats are stored.”
The rowing courses proved to be popular. “If you have never rowed in your life, you will not be able to join a rowing club like in The Netherlands. Here in London, the existing rowing clubs only take new members who are experienced rowers. TopRow fills the void for beginners and everyone wants to learn to row. Since then, other clubs have began offering rowing classes for beginners but its usually on a small scale and its hard to find these places. We started promoting our courses on a large scale and even got mentioned on the radio” says Caitlin.
Both Caitlin and Willem trained the new staff members before leaving London. “We wrote a standard protocol for new staff-members. I think the company runs smoothly now. Looking back on it, I think we were pioneering!”
Caitlin and Willem look back on their experience feeling fulfilled. “It was quite the undertaking for me being in London by myself. It has helped me be to become more independent. Near the end of our journey, I resided with a couple of students, which was a lot of fun” says Willem smiling. On the other hand, Caitlin enjoyed the solitude. “I have especially enjoyed learning first-hand how to set-up something and making it work. I know have more knowledge of how a company is built. That is something I will take with me for future references.”
This year rowing centre Berlagebrug organizes the Amsterdam Light-festival tour for the fifth time. Every edition more than 1000 rowers have participated. TopRow spoke with one of the participants, Marie-Jeanne Diederen (51), from the Maastricht Watersport Club (MWC).
How did you become familiar with the Light-festival tour?
“I only started rowing five years ago because of my son who really enjoyed it. Not long after I started, this trip was offered via MWC ‘s Touring Activities Committee. I just got my license, so it was super exciting to suddenly row on the narrow Amsterdam canals. Our rowing location on the Maas gives plenty of challenges with the current, but it is a completely different dynamic. I thought it was a fantastic experience and it made such a big impression that I returned every year since. Meanwhile, I organize it myself within the club.”
How do you organize the trip?
“Partly because we obviously have to come from far away, we really make a trip out of it. We leave early in the morning so that we can be in Amsterdam at noon. Then they split up into groups for different activities. Especially for us it starts half an hour earlier than normal, so we can still eat together before we go back to Maastricht afterwards. The first time I went, we were with 20 people.
Now the number increased to 40, this is the limit though. It has been fully booked within half an hour registration was opened. This year we even had 70 applicants. This is enormous on a membership number of 400 – of which 100 are active. People are very enthusiastic about it and recommend the trip to others. Even now we had something between ten to twelve beginners. I share the boats and mix everything together. Young and old. From race rowers, to beginners and other enthusiastic members.”
How did the trip this year compared to previous times?
“It is always a bit different every year. The first time remains the best, because of the combination of the artworks and the fact that it was new and exciting. Last year’s edition wasn’t; it came across as chaotic. This edition, the artworks were significantly more beautiful again. One of the highlights were twenty enlarged illuminated fluffs that dangled above the canal. I also liked the ‘Stars of Van Gogh’. This involved an artificial version of the starry sky that Vincent van Gogh once painted for the famous painting ‘The Starry Night’. The artists try to remind us that we no longer see such a thing – especially in a city like Amsterdam where the night air is permanently polluted.”
How does the collaboration with the Rowing Centre go?
“That went very well. Each boat is accompanied by a coxswain who knows the route, including the ins and outs of the artworks. It is also important that there is good manoeuvring, because it is quite busy on the water between the large tour boats. That always goes well. Of course, some are more enthusiastic than the other. For the first time, I was lucky enough to meet someone who pointed out the beautiful book called ‘The Boys in the Boat’. You have to have that luck. However I would recommend it to anyone. I now know friends from other clubs that also come every year.”
On a crisp, cold Saturday, December 8, scores of rowers – from kids who could still show their ages with just their fingers to a couple of septuagenarians – all gathered in the airy, erg-filled gym at DREAM Charter School in East Harlem. Among the throng were TopRow and Former Row New York Masters rowers Carl Taeusch, myself (Jessica Sabat), and our team organizer, Michael Kohlhaas. After anticipating a team of six, we three comprised the remaining tiny trio, self-named “We Master Faster”, who were able to make it on the day for Row New York’s 90 minute fundraising ergathon: The Jingle Mingle.
One of the great points of pride when I began rowing with Row New York in 2016, was joining this amazing organization that stroke by stroke changes the lives of its participants, physically, mentally, socially, academically. Carl, Michael and I feel strongly about supporting its mission. Each Row New York rower in every program does the sport’s hard work, giving it their all, but each will also tell you that they get so much more in return.
Leading up to the event, our team had successfully raised over $1000 to benefit Row New York’s athletic and academic programming for teens, as well as their adaptive and veterans rowing programs, which felt great. But what was less fantastic was the prospect of relay rowing the next hour and a half with just the three of us. Other teams had as many as eight or more rowers. A quick look around proved to us we were by far the smallest of the 27 teams. Committed to seeing it through, strategy was going to be key.
Michael explains, “During the race we opted for slightly longer pieces at steady state, and fewer changeovers than some other teams.” We hoped that this would allow each of us to not only bring our maximum sustainable power to each piece but also give us enough rest between segments that we’d jump back in refreshed and ready to crank out the most meters possible.
The horn sounded and we were off and rowing. It was quickly proven that youth isn’t everything. Shockingly, we found ourselves immediately in 7th place. Having staked our turf, we dug in hard and stubbornly refused to yield until the very end when we were edged into 8th by a team that pulled ahead by just 29 meters. “Our strategy paid off and we were surprised that we managed to keep up as well as we did with the larger teams” Michael rightfully observed. “Another Jingle Mingle, another great experience!”
Carl, a five-time Jingle Mingle veteran, summed it up this way, “I was a little disappointed only three of us could make it, but that added to the drama. Daunted at first by the thought of competing for 90 minutes against bigger (and much younger) teams, in context, it was really little more than a head race (for each one of us), but with rest stops along the way!” He added that he was “motivated by the opportunity to get together with the masters for a good row and a cause. And at the end, the satisfaction of a challenge well met!”
P.S. Congratulations to Engine Room, our TopRow winter training partners, and their team led by Michael and Chris Ives. Throughout the 90 minutes they were in a tight battle for 1st, fending off teams that were nipping at their heels. But their 8 rowers were unflagging and finished in first place!