One-on-one with Emma Alter '20
On Saturday, the Dartmouth heavyweight rowing team started its season by finishing with boats in first and third place at the annual Head of the Charles Regatta in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For Emma Alter ’20, the coxswain of the winning team in the Men’s Club 4+, the race was the pinnacle of a lengthy expedition. After a high school concussion that prevented her from rowing in college, Alter made the switch to coxing when she walked onto the heavyweight team at Dartmouth.
How did you first get involved in rowing?
EA: I was a lightweight women’s rower in high school and I started rowing my freshman year of high school. I was on the team at New Trier High School, so that was kind of how I heard about rowing. I just decided to try out my freshman fall because I was very uncoordinated and didn’t have any other sports to play. I actually got a really bad concussion at the end of my junior year, so I was concussed for a year and I had to take senior year off but I decided I wanted to come back to it at Dartmouth in a different role.
Did rowing play a factor in deciding which college you would attend?
EA: Before I was concussed, I was getting recruited as a lightweight to schools but once I was concussed and decided to stop rowing, I don’t think rowing was a huge factor for me. I wanted to go to Dartmouth since I was a sophomore in high school. It was my dream school. I knew they had a good rowing team. I actually didn’t decide that I wanted to walk on until I got into Dartmouth.
How did you end up becoming a coxswain? What do you enjoy about coxing?
EA: I was not able to row anymore because of my first bad concussion, and the weight limit was the same as the women’s rowers so I figured it would be a good switch. For me, I was always more timid and shy when I was coming out of high school and I wanted to be a more outgoing person. I think that coxing was a way that I could slip out of my comfort zone and start to be more of a leader.
What was your mindset going into the Head of the Charles regatta this weekend?
EA: I was pretty nervous, I’m not going to lie. I’d studied the course a few times, but that was actually my first time ever racing the Head of the Charles. It’s kind of hard because the Charles is a very distinct river. There’s a lot of turns and a lot of different buoy lines. There are a lot of different rules that you have to know about getting to the start line, at the start line and through the course. It was just a lot of studying to get there, which was nerve-racking, but I felt a little more secure going into it because I put in so much work.
Did your team outperform your expectations for the race?
EA: We definitely outperformed. We started second, and there was a boat behind us. We were hoping to catch them by the powerhouse stretch but we finished our first few strokes of the race and it’s 200 meters in and we’ve already closed two lengths of the water, so I was like, “Wow, let’s just take it before the turn and get the right line.”
What did winning the race mean to you and the team?
EA: For me, it was the culmination of all of the work I’ve put in to be a coxswain. Especially for the guys in my boat, I think we killed it. It was really big to show how much depth we have.
What is the most memorable experience you have had with the rowing team?
EA: Honestly, I think Saturday was pretty memorable. Getting a gold medal at the Head of the Charles, I think I peaked probably, which was fun. We also did a team-building exercise my freshman year, where we drove into the middle of the woods and had to divide into two teams. For some reason, my team picked me as one of the team captains, and the other team had our actual team captain, who was Spencer Furey ’17, an incredible rower. I just remember being honored that I was trusted enough to lead that, and my team ended up winning which was fun.
What are you looking forward to for the remainder of your rowing career at Dartmouth?
EA: We’re going to Princeton next weekend, so I’m hoping to race there and have some good races and beat some boats. I’m looking forward to spring season and then my senior year on the team and just continuing to get better.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.