Set against the
neatly trimmed lawns and well-kept buildings of Harvard's business school,
Newell Boathouse, with its decaying gingerbread cupolas and bald shingles,
looks like the misplaced summer pavilion of some mad king. Its appearance,
however, is deceptive, for inside are some of the fastest racing shells in the
world, and the best collegiate crew in the U.S. trains there under Harvard
Coach Harry Parker. But the athletes who pull up to the boathouse at 6 a.m. on
a spring morning are not the Crimson youth of crewing fame, but a motley bunch
wearing sweat suits and warmup jerseys, for there is no women's locker room in
Newell Boathouse. One of them is 6'3", 170 pounds, the size of Russian and
East German women rowers, and she's a 25-year-old computer saleswoman named
Maggie MacLean. The others average 5'8" and include Jane Lanning and Kathy
Rexford, both 21, from Boston University's women's crew. Both of them competed
in last year's world rowing championships at Lucerne. Sheila Dugan, 25, a
Barnard graduate and national eight champion oarswoman, sports a CCCP warmup
jersey and a Mao cap. It is a brainy boatload—the cox, Linda Coffman, is a
pre-med student at Radcliffe, and Joanne Casper studies water resources at
Princeton. From Williams come Gay Symington and Nancy Storrs, who also drives
in auto rallies. Is this to be some radical confrontation on the Charles, in
which outraged females will burn their oars for equal rights? Hardly. These are
tough, dedicated women who meet each weekday morning to practice rowing the
eight, tuning up for their ultimate goal, the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
The last crew
member arrives. On the window of her aging Cougar is a large "Ducks
Unlimited" decal, and next to that a sticker which proclaims that she has
MIT faculty parking rights. The car belongs to Gail Pierson, 34, a woman of
sharp contrasts and level-headed intelligence and an athlete of almost
Renaissance breadth. Pierson smiles a stunning smile, and with her high
cheekbones and sweatband she looks almost Indian. She weighs 150, stands
5'9" and has the slope-shouldered posture that indicates power and
quickness in women athletes. Her handshake is as rough as a farmer's, her palms
toughened by four hours a day at the oars.
If Pierson were
the subject of one of those "profile" Scotch whisky ads, it might read
Associate Professor of Economics, MIT.
trapshooting doubles champion four times; twice All-America trap team member;
twice national single sculls rowing champion; Head of the Charles regatta
women's singles champion five years in a row; top-notch cross-country
Article: The Role of Money in Economic Growth.
Accomplishment: President, National Women's Rowing Association, 1972-74.
But such sketchy
information only works in advertisements, and it is hardly more than a
silhouette of Pierson. But first to business. The women have their act together
and get the heavy practice shell into the river. Harry Parker arrives. This is
the first time that Parker, who coaches the national collegiate championship
crew, has coached a women's eight. In fact, it is the first time that a women's
national rowing team has had a coach of his caliber. Parker coached the men's
eight in the '72 Olympics and brought home the silver medal.
The women row
sprints at varying beats. Cruising behind the shell in a Harvard launch, Parker
watches the practice with a coachly eye and alternately chides and encourages
his charges through a battered tin megaphone. Between sprints the women hang
over their oars as Parker points out faults in the strokes of each. "Gail,
try to get a little more hair on the catch," he advises.