2011-11-03 / News

Island rower wins gold at Head of the Charles

BY MARGO SULLIVAN

Jamestown’s Carol Browning counts her blessings differently than many other people. Near the top of her list, she puts waking up at 4:30 a.m. for a trip to Providence’s East Side.

Her destination is the Narragansett Boat Club on River Road where a dozen or so rowing buddies wait. She likes to put the boat in the water and cruise past Angell Street by around 7:30 a.m., she said.

“Truly been blessed to wake up and row at a time of day that is most beautiful with sun shining and with some very wonderful people,” she said.

Of course, that 4:30 a.m. business does sound like the middle of the night to more than a few friends who’d rather let the sun beat them out of bed. But Browning’s made the seven-days-aweek effort pay off.

Over the weekend, for example, she won silver at the Head of the Fish Regatta in Saratoga, N.Y.

“What an adventure this weekend, being in Saratoga at the Head of the Fish,” she said. “I went up Friday, as some of us did, and my partner who was to arrive Saturday cancelled due to the predicted bad conditions. I was fortunate to find a woman from a club in New Hampshire who rowed with me in the lightweight women’s double. We had never rowed before and we fortunately clicked and went on to win a silver medal.”

Two weeks ago, in the Head of the Charles regatta, she rowed the boat home and won gold.

Browning, 57, and her team completed the 3.2-mile course from the Charles River Basin in Boston to the Henderson Bridge in Cambridge in 20 minutes, 35 seconds.

That time was good enough to take the first-place medal in the Women’s Over-50 Senior Masters Four event.

And that made her team the comeback kids, she indicated.

“It was a sweet victory this time,” she said. “It was a thrill.”

Browning and her crew came in fourth last year after medaling the three previous years. Three years ago, she won bronze. Two years ago, she won the gold medal. Now, this year they captured gold again.

Browning was the eldest in the shell. She has rowed sweep, meaning the crew members use one oar, with the same “lineup,” she said all four years. She sits in the bow because she’s the smallest, she said. Robin Gross, who rowed the stroke position, set the pace, she said, while Anne Fleet and Joan Brush sat in the two and three slots, dubbed the “engine room.”

The coxswain, a Harvard student taking a semester off, steered.

“She did a phenomenal course,” said Browning, who fed her information along the way, alerting the coxswain about boats gaining on them.

“The coxswain can make it or break it,” Browning said, and this regatta, the crew found itself in a duel with rivals from Connecticut.

Browning said they had traded victories with the Connecticut crew a few times.

“It’s like the Yankees and the Red Sox,” she laughed. So when the race started with the Connecticut boat going off 15 seconds ahead of Browning’s crew, the immediate hope was they could catch up to their rivals. As it turned out, Browning’s crew did even better.

“We passed them,” she said. And they also passed the endurance test and lasted the course.

“You can’t let up,” she said, no matter how bad you’re hurting.

Browning’s crew entered as the Orleans (Mass.) Sweeps. The women also belong to the Cape Cod boat club, and they had to enter under the Orleans club because the Narragansett Boat Club several years ago lost a race in that event and relinquished its automatic entry. Without an automatic invitation, clubs have to win a lottery, and that’s a tall order, she said.

The Head of the Charles, socalled because it’s a timed race with boats starting every 15 seconds, is the world’s biggest twoday rowing event.

This year about 8,900 people competed, she said, and 24 boats were in her event.

She first competed in 1995, she said, and it took her until 2007 to medal.

Browning has won medals in other events and competed in the nationals, she said.

But they didn’t come quickly or easily. Browning took up rowing in 1991 after seeing the crews from the Washington Bridge. She noticed them one day while driving her son, Zachary, to the Gordon School. She had always wanted to row and she called a friend to find out where she could take lessons.

“It’s become a wonderful part of my life,” she said, especially because when she was growing up, she missed the opportunity. But she has made up for lost time. Browning’s now a vice president of the boat club. She’s served on the club’s board for 16 years.

Browning grew up in Providence, daughter of retired city police officer William Hodgson. He now lives in Charlestown. Her mother is deceased.

She graduated from St. Mary’s Academy of the Visitation and Rhode Island College, where she earned a nursing degree. She is a public health nurse at the state Department of Health.

Browning moved to Jamestown six and a half years ago, she said, after meeting her lifepartner, Robert Tormey. He had lived in Jamestown before, and the couple liked the town.

Tormey sails, doesn’t row, but supports her passion for rowing, she said. So does her son, now 29. He was just “11 or 12” when she started leaving the house before the crack of dawn, but he set his alarm and got himself to the school bus.

“He was very instrumental in my being able to row,” she said.

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