Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 33
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
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(Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

HEIDI CHRONICLE: Heidi Robbins enjoys the moment after helping the Princeton University women’s open varsity 8 win the Eastern Sprints in early May. Robbins, a sophomore walk-on from Hanover, N.H., went on to help Princeton win the NCAA grand final and then rowed for the U.S. women’s 8 that placed third at the World Rowing Under-23 Championships in Amsterdam this summer.

PU Crew Walk-on Robbins Continues Meteoric Rise, Helping U.S. Women’s 8 Take 3rd at U-23 Worlds

Bill Alden

For Heidi Robbins, her pedigree as a lacrosse player landed her on the water in 2010 with the Princeton University crew program as a freshman walk-on.

“I was at the student activities fair outside Dillon and Helen Betancourt [Princeton women’s open crew assistant coach] came up to me and said ‘you are a lacrosse player and you are going to row;’ I was in gym shorts and had no shirt indicating that I played lacrosse,” said Robbins, a native of Hanover, N.H. who played lax for Hanover High.

“I said I did play lacrosse but I didn’t know about rowing. Before I knew it, I was at some crew info meeting.”

Once Robbins took the plunge into crew, it took her a while to know what she was doing in the boat.

“I loved being on the water from the beginning,” said Robbins. “It took time to learn technique and get used to rowing-related fitness. Sometimes I would improve in one area and lag in the other.”

Robbins has improved by leaps and bounds over the last two season. She rowed on the third varsity as a freshman and went to the NCAAs that year as a reserve.

This past spring, she made the open women’s top varsity 8 at the four seat and helped the Tigers place first at the Eastern Sprints and the NCAA championship regatta.

Late last month, Robbins excelled on the international stage, helping the U.S. women’s eight place third at the World Rowing Under-23 Championships in Amsterdam.

A turning point in Robbins’ development came when she tagged along at the NCAA regatta at the end of her freshman season.

“I was in the spare pair for the NCAAs,” said Robbins, who had a rough learning experience at Sacramento as she flipped her boat on a practice run. “To go to Sacramento and see that, really got me hooked. I wanted to be a part of that; it really motivated me.”

Coming back this past fall, Robbins was determined to be a bigger part of the Princeton program.

“I had better tools and better understanding of the sport and I came back really excited,” said Robbins. “I knew what I was doing; I had more tools at my disposal. I was on the four for the Head of Charles and I kept working hard over the winter.”

By spring, Robbins had worked her way into Princeton’s top boat. “I was on the varsity 8 for the first regatta against Brown and Michigan State,” said Robbins. “That boat really came together and got so tight.”

After helping the Tigers win the Eastern Sprints, Robbins was part of a tight win for Princeton in the NCAA grand final.

“It was tight all the way through, we were so focused on what we needed to do that we didn’t realize how close the race was,” said Robbins, reflecting on a race that saw Princeton edge Brown by 1.5 seconds with the top five boats finishing within three seconds of each other. “The cox [Lila Flavin] called an awesome race.”

For Robbins, the NCAA triumph signaled how far she had come in a year of crew.

“It meant quite a lot, to go from flipping in the spare to winning grand final with that boat,” said Robbins. “I wondered how I got there; it was a lot of hard work.”

Joining the U.S. U-23 program shortly after the NCAAs meant even more work for Robbins. “The volume is a huge difference,” said Robbins.

“It is a different mentality than at Princeton where it is all out because we are balancing classes and don’t have as much time. With the U.S. program, you may be on the water for two hours and you have morning and afternoon sessions. You have to pace yourself. I have learned a lot. I also learned from training with people from all the different schools.”

Robbins couldn’t set the pace she wanted at the U-23 selection camp as she took a three-week hiatus to compete with Princeton at the Henley Royal Regatta in England.

“We got invited to Henley after winning the Eastern Sprints and a lot of people told me that Henley was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Robbins, who was joined at the U.S. camp by teammate Kelly Pierce.

“I was at Oklahoma City for a week and then I went to Henley in the beginning of July. I came back when the camp had moved to Princeton. The selection was done in small boats; we were put in pairs and they would do a matrix to figure out the fastest pairs. I had no idea I would make it; I know I did a disservice to myself by being away for three weeks. I had one chance to make it and I did. It helped to have Kelly Pierce there with me. We made it together; it was fun for both of us.”

The Princeton teammates had fun in Amsterdam at the World Rowing Under-23 Championships as they helped the U.S. earn a bronze medal.

“I think we were incredibly powerful but we could have executed better,” said Robbins, in assessing the boat’s performance in the final.

“It was a good first 500. There were some things out of our control with the course after that; it was messy. By 1,000 meters, Canada was pulling through and New Zealand was coming up.”

While Robbins would have loved to have come home with gold, she relished the chance to row for the U.S.

“I was really thrilled to make the team and go to Amsterdam,” added Robbins. “I was representing a team that has high expectations and I have come to have those expectations.”

As Robbins comes into her junior year at Princeton, she is expecting to get even deeper into rowing.

“I think I am hooked for better or for worse,” said Robbins. “I see the national team members train so hard and I wonder how they do it and I realize I am starting to do the same thing. I am really excited for the fall and to see the different rowers coming in; there are some open spots.”

And with Robbins seizing a top spot in the crew world, there should be more exciting times ahead for the Princeton open women’s program.

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