July 17, 2023 By Holly Moriarty
Hingham rowers and coxswains are making a mark for themselves at colleges across the country, including Carolyn Kennedy who coxed Stanford University’s second varsity women’s 8+ boat to gold at the NCAA Division I Rowing Championship this past spring.
And for many of these rowers and coxswains, it all starts at Hingham Maritime Center.
Carolyn found her spot in the boat in seventh grade when she signed up with friends for a Learn to Row class at Hingham Maritime Center (HMC). After suffering two concussions playing soccer, she needed to steer away from contact sports. Having recently moved to Hingham from Pennsylvania, Carolyn decided to take advantage of living on the water in her new hometown and gave rowing a try. She enjoyed the competition of the sport, the excitement of racing, and being out on the water.
While she started out as a rower, coxing quickly drew her in.
“I loved the uniqueness of the role, a take initiative, leadership position that I hadn’t found in other sports. There are not many sports where the smallest person gets to be in charge and commanding like that,” said Carolyn, who stands at 5’2”.
Carolyn was all in—coxing HMC’s youth and masters classes year-round.
“HMC is where I developed my love of the sport. In the Learn to Row classes, we would jump out of the boats and swim—I loved the community and friends there,” Carolyn said. “You have a lot of independence at HMC too. You’re not micromanaged by coaches, it’s more experiential learning and you get so many opportunities to be on the water.”
She coxed at HMC straight through to winter of her freshman year, when she made the difficult decision to trade Hingham Harbor for the Charles River. Carolyn wanted to race competitively, but her high school, Notre Dame Academy, did not have a crew team. So she began coxing for Community Rowing, Inc. (CRI) in Brighton the following spring.
While she missed Hingham Maritime Center, Carolyn was well prepared to take on the new challenge. “It was a learning curve at CRI, but I felt equipped to figure things out on my own because my HMC coaches gave me so much agency at practice.”
Carolyn coxed CRI’s girls team in 4+ and 8+ boats, six days a week. By her junior year, she was coxing the girls first varsity 8+ boat, honing her skills alongside some of the best rowers in the world.
“Rowing on the Charles is a special experience. Everywhere you go, you see college crews and other high level teams. It’s a beautiful setting and an inspirational place to row,” she said.
As a sophomore and again as a senior, Carolyn raced in the Head of the Charles (cancelled her junior year due to Covid). She also coxed at the USRowing Youth National Championship her junior and senior years; CRI placed fourth her junior year.
The next step was collegiate coxing. Carolyn felt most connected to the team at Stanford University and was recruited to cox for the women’s team.
“Both HMC and CRI helped me build confidence and community within rowing,” said Carolyn. “The people are always what keep you in the sport because it is so hard and such a commitment. It’s all about the collective and what we’re trying to do together. From HMC and CRI, I knew community was a priority. This helped me find a team I was excited to be on at Stanford and really dive into the experience.”
Joining Stanford’s team last fall, Carolyn quickly rose up to the women’s second varsity 8+ boat. While she’s faced a new learning curve as a collegiate coxswain, particularly with the higher level of racing, different waterways, terminology, and coxing a new boat of rowers, she appreciates the supportive community she’s found on her team at Stanford—and also being back in saltwater, rowing in channels in open water like she did at HMC.
Carolyn competed with Stanford this year in the San Diego Crew Classic, Big 10 Invitational, Pac-12 Invitational, Pac-12 Rowing Championship, and NCAA Division I Rowing Championship. Stanford won both the Pac-12 Championship and NCAAs overall.
At the NCAA Championship in May, Carolyn’s boat placed first among the women’s second varsity crews, and the overall victory was the first since 2009 for Stanford’s program.
“Racing was very intense, so it is still hard to wrap my mind around winning,” said Carolyn. “It feels great though to know that all the hard work put in by each of my teammates culminated in success for our team. Winning for each other and accomplishing the goal we had been working towards is a satisfying feeling. It felt like everything was coming together just at the right time for us to execute our races at NCAAs.”
This fall at Stanford, Carolyn will balance crew, academics, and a fellowship with Girl Security, a mentorship program for women working in national security, as she considers political science and international relations for her major.
“I’m not sure what the next season holds. I’m excited to get back and have a year under my belt, back with the team, and back on the water seeing the sunrise. I’m ready for the next wave of academics and to dive into my major.”
In the meantime, Carolyn is back at HMC teaching rowing in youth Learn to Row and adult masters classes—and naturally prefers coaching from the cox seat.
“It’s easier for me to coach within the boat because you can feel and see things more,” she explained. “It’s been fun, a nice change of pace from the college rowing world. It’s special with Learn to Row because I still remember my Learn to Row coaches and that first experience of taking strokes. The beginning of the growth curve with kids is so steep, it’s really cool to see them improve.”
Carolyn is working alongside a number of collegiate rowers and coxswains this summer at HMC, most of whom took their first strokes there too—Leo Williams rows for the lightweight men’s team at the University of Delaware (D1), Devon Moriarty for the lightweight women’s team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (D1), Helena Orth for the University of Pittsburgh, and Cam Santarelli for Wentworth Institute of Technology. In addition, Maddie McPhillips was recruited to cox for Loyola University Maryland (D1) and Elena Vasilakos to row for Massachusetts Maritime Academy (D3) this upcoming fall. HMC’s rowing program is led by former Lightweight World Champion and former US National Team coach Sarah Dewey, who rowed at Boston University and coached at Dartmouth College, Harvard University, and Boston University.
“HMC is where I learned to love rowing and being on the water,” said Carolyn. “Having that background was important going into more competitive environments at CRI and Stanford. When coxing is difficult, I remember back to the passion for rowing I developed at HMC. The best part of HMC is the community and that you can always come back. Both HMC and CRI have strong missions of rowing and boating for all, so I encourage everyone to get out on the water and give it a try!”