Though he is now preparing for the historic annual competition between the Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club, which will take place on the Thames River in London early next month, Dara Alizadeh ‘11 fondly recalls his time on the Hill.
Alizadeh took a brief break in training to answer some questions on his presidency of the Cambridge University Boat Club, the upcoming race, and his days at Belmont Hill.
Tell me your thoughts when you were named President of the Cambridge University Boat Club this year?
It was a huge honor to be elected president for this year’s race. Being in a lineage of incredible presidents before me is pretty cool. It’s certainly a big responsibility, but my teammates chose me to do it, so I owe it to them to do my best.
What has the position involved and how have you enjoyed it?
To me, the president's job is to make sure Cambridge is ready to go on April 7th, and do whatever it takes to get the club in the best position possible. It means making sure the club maintains the standard required to defeat Oxford, as well as making sure the athletes and the coaches are all on the same page. Being transparent about the training program, selection, or season progression is important as well. It’s certainly been a challenge at points, and there is a good amount of pressure, but I think anything worth doing has an aspect of challenge, and I’ve enjoyed taking it on.
A Winsor alumna, Abigail Parker, is President of the Cambridge Women's Boat Club. Have you had much interaction?
Abba has been great. She and I get on quite well, making sure that both squads can work well with each other. We all train in the same facilities, so that cohesion is really important, and it’s certainly helpful working with someone like Abba!
Talk about your background rowing at Belmont Hill and beyond.
I started rowing in Form III with Mr. Wood and Mrs. Sweeney, and I think I rowed the majority of spring season in the 1st 4+ in Middle School Crew. In Form IV, I rowed in the 4th Varsity 4+, getting bronze at NEIRAs. Form V, I was in the 2nd Varsity, winning gold at NEIRAs, and then senior year, I was captain and in the Varsity 4+.
After Belmont Hill, I went to Penn, where I rowed for four years, including two years on the varsity. Right after I graduated, I made the US U23 Men’s 8+, winning silver at U23s in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. After U23s, I did some teaching and coaching at Winchester College in the UK, an all-boys school. That led me to Cambridge, in which I raced in the 2018 Blue Boat and won the Boat Race.
Tell me your thoughts on the upcoming race.
We’re in the final stages of preparation, so we’re just now doing a lot of rowing! We’re trying to develop each aspect of the stroke, and prepare for any situation that could come up. The guys have really worked hard, and now crews are starting to come together well. There’s still room for improvement, so we’re certainly not taking our foot off the gas, as we need to make sure we’re at our best for the race. Our focus is about executing and hoping to put out a good performance.
How did your experience at Belmont Hill and with Coach Richards prepare you for where you are today?
It’s where it all began! I still remember to this day talking to Mr. Richards on the stairs of the old Howe Building about giving rowing a go (and retiring my intramural tennis stardom), and then going downstairs in Howe to tell Mr. Wood that I decided to give rowing a try. Wasn’t long before I was sitting in the Bassett 4+, with Mrs. Sweeney trying to explain to me how to set the boat when I wasn’t rowing!
After that, the three years on the varsity with Mr. Richards really helped my development as a rower, particularly toughness and the racing mentality, as well as making me love rowing. I remember each 2k Tuesday in the Wrestling Room, 2x1500 on Wednesdays, and Ultra-heads on the Charles, which were less than pleasant. But I also remember beautiful sunny afternoons on the Charles, the water perfectly flat, and just thinking there was nothing I’d be rather be doing than rowing in this fast boat.
We also had some other incredible coaches with Mr. Richards, such as Coach Stone, Coach George, Kip McDaniel, and Chip Gibson, each of whom taught me a lot. Finally, whatever tough racing situation I’m in, I always draw on some wisdom Mr. Richards would give us at the beginning-of-season meeting, about when an Olympic champion was asked how to get as fast as he was, and the response was simple: “Pull harder.” Rowing can get complicated sometimes, but that solution tends to work.