June 5, 2024

Senior Stroke Fry Goes Out with a Bang in Final Race As PU Women’s Lightweight Varsity 8 Wins IRA Title

STROKE OF BRILLIANCE: Sarah Fry, center, powers the Princeton University women’s lightweight varsity 8 from the stroke seat in a race earlier this spring. Last Sunday, senior star Fry helped Princeton placed first in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship grand final on Mercer Lake. It was the fourth straight IRA title for the varsity 8. The Tigers also won the Commissioners’ Cup as the women’s lightweight team points leader at the regatta for the third straight season with 67 points, one point better than runner-up Stanford. (Photo by Ed Hewitt/Row2k, provided courtesy of Princeton Athletics)

By Justin Feil

Sarah Fry’s dedication page of her thesis features a quote from Theodore Roosevelt.

It’s from a speech in April, 1899, when Roosevelt said: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

The quote is something that the Princeton University senior who is graduating as a well decorated mechanical and aerospace engineering major and member of the women’s lightweight rowing team has followed over the last five years.

“That, to me, is why I like space exploration, and it’s why I like rowing,” said Fry. “It’s like you dare mighty things. And you take risks. And that’s why it’s fun.”

Fry has been the stroke — the pace setter — for the women’s crew team the last three years. Last Sunday she helped the Princeton varsity 8 capture its fourth straight Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championships. It’s the third national title for Fry, who returned after garnering All-American honors last year. The Tiger top boat clocked a winning time of a 6:35.1 over the 2,000-meter course with Stanford taking second at 6:37.0 and Harvard-Radcliffe placing third at 6:38.8.

The Tigers also won the Commissioners’ Cup as the women’s lightweight team points leader at the regatta for the third straight season with 67 points, one point better than runner-up Stanford. The Princeton varsity four took third while the double placed second to add to its point total.

“We’ve had two freshmen join our boat in addition to our older team members who are just incredible,” said Fry of the varsity 8, which included junior coxswain Elena Every, senior Lily Feinerman (7-seat), sophomore Lina Schwartz (6), senior Kalena Blake (5), freshman Cate Barry (4), freshman Alice McCarthy (3), sophomore Emma Mirrer (2), and senior Bonnie Pushner (1) in addition to Fry.

“They’re the ones yelling, encouraging stuff from the bow of the boat during pieces and they bring a lot of great fire and energy. I think we’re as strong as ever.”

The win comes on the heels of winning its fourth straight Eastern Sprints gold for the first time in program history. Fry believes that Princeton’s constant focus on improving for the next race has helped them stay hungry.

“It can be a heavy mantle going into races with all these expectations on your shoulders if you let it get to you,” said Fry. “But we like to say like we’re going out there to be on the attack, like we’re tigers. We’re just going out there to go as fast as we can, and I think keeping it lighthearted like that has been really important.”

It has worked wonders as the Tiger lightweight varsity 8 hasn’t lost a spring race since 2019.

“We have had a couple of Charles’ that haven’t gone our way,” said Fry of the famous Head of the Charles race held annually in Boston, Mass. in the fall. Fry, too, hasn’t been in a boat that’s lost a spring race since 2019, when the Redondo Beach, Calif., resident was a senior in high school.

“We were pretty excited about that one,” said Fry. “I think we were not expecting that. We were just happy to medal.”

Fry has dared and achieved many mighty things since then, but her passions were formed in large part while still in high school. Her time rowing for her high school coach Zohar Abramovitz at Marina Aquatic Center was formative.

“I think he made me who I am today,” said Fry. “He was always very clear that we use rowing as a vessel to become great people and the things you strive for in rowing and the struggles you face and the challenges you overcome, like that’s what prepares you to be a person of character and integrity and strength.”

Those characteristics have served her well. While she has had plenty of success at Princeton, it hasn’t been a completely smooth trip. The COVID-19 pandemic cost her the spring season of her freshman year. Then Fry took a gap year from January-December 2021, a time when many Princeton athletes took gap years because the Ivy League did not permit sports competitions until limited chances at the end of the spring in 2021. Fry needed the time off after she was hit by a car while running near her home, and had surgery to repair three broken bones in her leg.

While recovering, she devoted more time to her academic interests. Fry gets child-like excitement when she talks about space and space exploration. A huge Star Trek follower, at 15 she toured the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., with her mom, which began her career in aerospace.

“What inspires me about space exploration is a bunch of engineers working together to solve a really hard problem, like the typical Apollo 13 scenario,” said Fry. “Something goes wrong. What are you going to do? Striving for mighty things together. And it’s about the teamwork. I actually came into Princeton as an astrophysics major and changed to engineering because I realized I wanted to problem-solve in a team setting and I felt that engineering was going to allow me the most opportunity to do that and it certainly has.”

Fry has excelled on and off the water. She won the engineering school’s George J. Mueller Award given to a senior that “combined high scholarly achievement in the study of engineering with quality performance in intercollegiate athletics.” She was also one of six finalists for the C. Otto v. Kienbusch Award, which goes to a Tiger senior woman athlete “of high scholastic rank who has demonstrated general proficiency in athletics and the qualities of a true sportswoman.” And she was co-winner of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department’s Donald Janssen Dike Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research.

She was a sophomore when she was awarded a prestigious Brooke Owen Fellowship, which helps undergraduate women seeking a career in aviation or space exploration by financing their internships. She has interned at ABL Space Systems, as a student researcher for the Beeson Group at Princeton that is working on a space mission to Uranus, and at Princeton Satellite Systems. Her senior year when she took on being a team captain along with completing her studies was both difficult and rewarding as she brought everything together in a packed schedule.

“What’s been interesting is balancing what’s basically a full-time research project with other academic responsibilities and with rowing and my senior thesis,” said Fry, whose thesis analyzed rotation detonation, a technique to improve engine efficiency, and resulted in a plasma reactor design that could provide propulsion for robotic space exploration.

“My senior thesis was not trivial and I spent many, many, many hours in the lab every week trying to get it to work. So I would say that was the biggest change. Even though it was probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, balancing a full-on spring racing season with working on plasma assisted combustion technology, it was great.”

Fry’s future holds more space than rowing possibilities. She will enter the five-year Ph.D. program in aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, something that she calls a “dream come true,” as she continues to explore her developing interests. While wrapping up her rowing career is difficult, she has appreciated the hours that she spent on Lake Carnegie surrounded by her lightweight teammates, but also Princeton’s other rowing teams.

“It’s just more and more apparent to me as the season goes on how deeply all four teams care about each other’s success and how we all feel like we’re pulling for the one boathouse,” said Fry. “I think that’s been a really special experience, especially for our classes.”

Finishing her rowing career on top is just one memory that she’ll hold as she turns her focus to her professional pursuits. She has been trying to savor every moment that led to another national title trip.

“It’s honestly about the laughs we have together, the ways we cheer each other on the boat and that spirit of having each other’s back, no matter how hard things get, is something that’s really special,” said Fry. “I’ve been sad because I know I’m going to miss it. But I also think the friendships and the bonds that I’ve forged with my teammates are something that are going to last a lifetime regardless of whether we’re in a boat together every day or not.”

As her rowing career concludes, Fry is more assured than ever. It is far better to dare mighty things and win glorious triumphs.