Tuesday, September 9, 2014

RR Interview: Harvard's Mike DiSanto in New Zealand for the Gallagher Great Race, 2014

Harvard Crew at Hamilton Boys' School Reception (Photo courtesy of Mike DiSanto)
As we noted yesterday, Harvard Crew will be represented at the 2014 running of the Gallagher Great Race on the Waikato River, New Zealand. Among the Crimson athletes competing is U.S. national teamer and Oxford Blue Mike DiSanto, who is teaming up with a few current students and fellow graduates to take on Waikato University over the 3.8km, upstream course. Here, we catch up with Mike on a few of the particulars so far.

RR: Heading to New Zealand for an athletic event is no small order, even before you get to the starting line. How are you and the rest of the Harvard crew going about coping with the travel? Is that made easier by your prior international racing experience (being that South Korea is a pretty long haul as well)?

Mike DiSanto: The travel portion has been tough. I left from Heathrow at 4pm on Friday and arrived in Auckland on 5am Sunday. With the jet lag, the days start at 4 or 5, not an ideal sleeping pattern for racing, but surprisingly handy for watching the first weekend of the NFL. And even though 24 consecutive hours of flying isn't at the top of my list of things to do, it's been absolutely worth it. The HUBC classes of 2012, 2013 and 2014 were incredibly close, so to be back together with these guys is a real privilege. Luckily, three of the crew have been in the Southern Hemisphere (Matt Edstein studying law and rowing in Sydney, James O'Connor who's been coaching rowing in Christchurch and Sam O'Connor who was back home for a week before the trip) so they aren't too far off a normal sleeping pattern. The rest of the guys seem to be adapting well to the time difference. Ben Lynton lived in Hamilton for a few years when he was rowing for the NZ junior team, so he's been showing us around, keeping us from napping.

RR: From what you've seen so far, has training on the Charles and the Thames—both moody at times—served you well in preparing for the Waikato? We're hearing rumors about very strong currents.

MD: The Waikato River reminds me a fair bit of the Thames, so far as the strength of the current. That being said, this river is a whole lot cleaner than the Charles or Thames. Unfortunately, where the Harvard-Yale Race is done at slack tide and the Boat Race is done with the stream, we'll be rowing the 3.8 kilometers of the Gallagher Great Race against the current. There aren't any stake boats for this race but a "starting area," where the bow pair paddles continuously and the stern six add in once the umpire starts the race. Tactics are quite important and we've been talking them over as a boat. The general idea is to get in front early so that you can stay out of the current as much as possible.

RR: In addition to the racing, will you get the chance to get to know New Zealand a little better while you're there?

MD: As I mentioned, three of the crew are originally from New Zealand and have all spent time in the area (the senior team trains just south of Hamilton, in Cambridge). Ben, Sam and James have been excellent tour guides. Yesterday we went into Auckland and checked out the Viaduct then went up the Coromandel peninsula to Thames for dinner. Today we stopped by Hamilton Boys' School to speak to some of their students about the opportunities Harvard has to offer. Tomorrow we're off to a Powhiri, which is a traditional Maori welcoming ceremony. The Great Race committee has been incredibly friendly and good to our crew. We're hoping to make our way to Rotorua and take a dip in some of the hot springs before the week is up.

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In the meantime, here's a look at last year's race:



Also worthy of note: Six of this boat come from two different high schools. Peter Scholle, Andrew Reed, and DiSanto all went to Belmont Hill School. Sam O'Connor, James O'Connor, and Ben Lynton all went to Christ's College. And, James O'Connor will be joining brother Sam and DiSanto at Oxford after this race.

We'll be checking in with Mike following the main event this weekend as well—more to come from the Waikato River!

Title photo L to R: Andrew Reed (3 seat), James O'Connor (stroke), Sam O'Connor (7 seat), Mike DiSanto (6 seat), Peter Scholle (2 seat), Alex Sopko (coxswain), Ben Lynton (5 seat), Pat Lapage (bow/coach).

-RR

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