A Friendly Rivalry

How Competition for a Singular Spot Created a Lifelong Friendship

By Kiera Bohen & Sara Corey

We are the Division I athletes who were never meant to be Division I athletes. Growing up we tried a bunch of sports. To say we were mediocre is, frankly, an understatement. No collegiate coaches were looking to recruit two 5’3, 100 pound girls for their teams. If we wanted to continue with athletics past high school, we were going to have to find the right sport, and by some kind of miracle, we both found rowing and became coxswains.

In the fall of 2017 there were only two returning coxswains on our team, leaving one seat open for championship racing, but two of us.

Sara: Getting in a boat for the first time, I knew that I had to shoot my shot and try to impress the coaching staff if I wanted a chance at racing with a top crew. It was a lot of pressure.

Kiera: Definitely, for me coming from a program in high school where I didn’t have to compete for the top boat, I knew that this would be different for me. 

Sara: We both set very high expectations for ourselves in general, especially since we both came from programs where we were the top varsity coxswains. I was so focused on proving myself and showing my dedication.

Kiera: I’d say realizing how hard you were going to work and knowing I was going to have to match that everyday was where we started to clash. 

Head of the Charles Regatta – October 21, 2017

Kiera: This is where things started to get really hard for me, because I felt like I was gaining a lot of momentum on the team and was boated in the Second Varsity 8, just under the senior coxswain. So the race was definitely a big deal for me. 

Sara: I knew that the coaches were only going to enter three boats in the race, and knowing that I was not going to be one of those coxswains hurt. 

Kiera: And obviously on the flip side, I was over the moon about it. Until that Monday before racing weekend, I was just in so much pain and ended up passing out in the boathouse. I ended up going to the hospital to find out I needed my appendix removed. So, cue emergency surgery and two weeks recovery time. I was not going to be racing that weekend. 

Sara: And it was me that took Kiera’s place. I felt bad for the situation, but I was excited about the opportunity and just wanted to prove that I was worthy. I had to be as good as Kiera for my, or our, crew while still being myself.

Kiera: For me, this is where I started to fall apart. I had lost a lot of practice time and Sara was doing a great job in the boat I was in, so there was no reason to move things around. 

Foot of the Charles – November 11, 2017 

Sara: I was boated in the Second Varsity 8, and it felt validating to be in a boat that I thought I had worked so hard to be coxing.

Kiera: I was in the Third Varsity 8 for Foot of the Charles and it was disheartening because it felt like my progress had been halted. 

Sara: This time, it was personal. Boating was based on skill and the coaches had formally ranked us. 

Kiera: I was ending the racing season in a boat I felt I didn’t deserve to be in. It was a very new feeling for me and I ended up letting it sour my relationship with Sara. I saw her as more competition than any other school we raced. 

CAA Championships – May 13, 2018

Sara: I had earned a spot as the Second Varsity coxswain for a majority of the spring season until one week before the CAA Championships, when I was replaced by Kiera. It was demoralizing. I thought I had truly earned my seat for the championship season, and then it was taken away.

Kiera: I obviously was excited to be moved up, but the reasoning was confusing.

Sara: Regardless of boating assignments: we won CAAs! We were so excited we would be moving on to the NCAA Championships in Sarasota, Florida. But deep down, I was sad because being in the Third Varsity 8, which doesn’t race nationally, meant that my season was over.

Kiera: I had pretty much spent all spring season in the mindset that I would not go to NCAAs, but after our open water win at CAAs, I felt confident that I would be in Sarasota. I didn’t feel good about the way it happened, seeing Sara have a lot of success all season and then last minute taking her seat, but that was racing. 

Sara: I was packing up to head home when I got a phone call from one of the coaches telling me not to get on my flight. The coaching staff had changed their minds about coxswain lineups, and I was shocked. What about Kiera?

Kiera: It didn’t feel fair to both Sara and I. It also meant I had to watch from the sidelines as my team traveled to Florida in a boat I felt I had been secure in. 

Sara: I felt like an outsider my first day back in the boat. I just had to be my best and hope that my rowers would trust me and accept the coaches’ decision. At the NCAA Championships we ended up placing 17th against the best programs in the country.

Fast Forward

Kiera: I think it was best to have a summer apart from the team and each other to reflect on what was actually important to us. Throughout sophomore year, Sara felt less to me like competition and more like an asset to make our team more successful.

Sara: And I felt the same way about Kiera. Our first year put a lot of strain on the two of us that only we could understand. That made us allies and allowed us to confide in one another.

Kiera: It took us a year of tension to realize we actually get along really well! Sara takes me on runs way farther than I can actually go and I make sure she lets loose every once in a while.

Sara: We are such driven people, but we balance each other out. 

Kiera: In the boathouse we have grown so much too. We know each other’s next move on the water and can commiserate when we step out of the boat after a hard day. Having a friendship like ours has made me a better coxswain.

Sara: On the water, we work well together. We run practices alongside each other seamlessly and turn together through narrow bridges with our oars just inches apart. Our mutual trust has allowed us to develop our skills as coxswains. 

Kiera: When we need advice or just a friend,  we are always there for each other. We have become friends that can trust each other with anything. Even though it took us a year to figure that out, we are lucky we did.