Fellows sees silver and bronze

  • Warwick’s Maggie Fellows, far right, and her quadruple sculls boatmates celebrate after winning bronze medals at the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru earlier this month. CONTRIBUTED/LIZ EUILER

  • Warwick’s Maggie Fellows, front of boat, and her quadruple sculls boatmates are all smiles in the water at the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru earlier this month. CONTRIBUTED/WEND WILBUR

  • Warwick’s Maggie Fellows, front seat, and partner Julia Lonchar are in the water for women’s doubles sculls action at the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru earlier this month. The duo won silver for the United States. CONTRIBUTED/WENDY WILBUR

Staff Writer
Published: 8/23/2019 9:01:58 PM

Maggie Fellows thrived in her first major competition donning the red, white and blue.

The Warwick native represented her country well earlier this month at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. The 28-year-old, who now lives in Long Beach, Calif., captured a silver medal in women’s doubles sculls and a bronze in quadruples sculls to help pace the U.S. rowing contingent in the international competition, held every four years in the year before the Summer Olympic Games.

“Crossing the finish line, it was like, ‘Oh my God, did that happen?’” said Fellows of the medal-winning performances. “Then it hits you. Especially getting second (in the doubles sculls), and all of the things that come with being second. Getting to do the medal ceremony and everything.”

Fellows and partner Julia Lonchar had qualified for the doubles event a year ago. After winning the U.S. trials, they went to Brazil for a qualification regatta in November where they competed on the same course used for the Olympics during the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. The duo punched their ticket to Peru, then teamed with the lightweight women’s double team to race as a quadruple boat. The quartet managed to get in with the last qualifying spot, allowing Fellows to compete in two events at the Pan Am Games.

“It was pretty exciting,” Fellows said of the success in Brazil last year. “It was cool to have that option, to represent the United States and do as well as we could. We had no idea what kind of competition we’d be facing. In that sense, there’s almost less pressure, no expectations. We had a job to do.”

This round of rowing events marked Fellows’ first international experience. She returned to training after qualifying in November, going back to the West Coast in preparation for the Pam Am Games. Her doubles partner was based out of Philadelphia (Vesper Boat Club), though they tried to get together as often as possible to train.

“Trying to work out the logistics of rowing together from different sides of the country isn’t easy but we made it work,” said Fellows, who trained for the Games in addition to her part-time work as a coach at the Newport Sea Base in Newport Beach, Calif.

Rowing wasn’t always the expected path for Fellows. She grew up in Warwick, where her parents still live, and went to the Warwick Community School before eventually attending Pioneer Valley Regional School from seventh through ninth grade. She made the move to Northfield Mount Hermon for the rest of her high school years, and didn’t begin rowing until her junior spring with the Hoggers.

From there, she attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., though initially she didn’t have plans to participate in rowing. Fellows began on the cross-country ski team, but her freshman year roommate convinced her to attend a meeting for the rowing team, and she decided to come onboard.

“I did have success my freshman year there rowing,” said Fellows, who was the first freshman in the history of the school’s program to be on a boat at the Head of the Charles Regatta. “I definitely was seeing success but I didn’t really see it as a career path.”

That was, until her senior year. After a standout career at SLU, where she graduated in 2013, Fellows began thinking about life after college.

“Everyone was talking about jobs,” she began. “What do you do with your life? What do you enjoy doing, what are you good at? Rowing is something I really enjoy and I kind of want to keep doing it, but how do I pursue that?”

Fellows came across the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in northern Vermont. The first rowing camp in North America, the Center remains one of “the definitive training locations and experiences for scullers worldwide,” according to its website. She was accepted to their summer program, with the goal of staying on if she was successful.

“It’s a very unique, special program,” she said.

Fellows trained at Craftsbury for three years, putting in work hours with the Center in exchange for living expenses. She stayed through the end of her U23 eligibility, and went to the 2016 Olympic Trials hoping to make the U.S. team in Brazil.

“I failed pretty badly,” she recalled of those trials. “A lot of people were retiring after that Olympic cycle, but I decided to still pursue rowing. But I needed to make some changes and learn from that experience. I was dealing with some injuries and had to get healthy. I hadn’t really accomplished what I had set out to do. I was still learning a lot and thought I could do better.”

Fellows came back to WMass, returning to NMH as a coach and tutor for a year. She trained on her own, before ultimately making the move across the country to California.

She’s back on the hunt for this Olympic cycle. The experience in Peru was a big first step, as Fellows admitted she sort of stumbled into the qualification process. After leaving California for single selection trials, she had been invited to a doubles selection camp in Washington, D.C. last spring, and after that was invited to quadruple camp at the Olympic Training Center in Princeton, N.J. She was eventually cut from quad camp for the World Championship team, and wasn’t sure what her next move would be.

“I didn’t really have a plane ticket back to California because they hadn’t given us a timeline,” she recalled. “I didn’t know if I would be there all summer or just a few weeks, so it was, ‘OK, now what?’ One of the other girls at doubles camp asked me if I wanted to go to Pan Am trials and I didn’t really have anything else going on at the time. Sure, why not. So we went and won, and the rest is history.”

The trip to Peru was a bit of whirlwind. She arrived in South America on Aug. 2 and began racing on Aug. 6. Plans changed a bit for the quadruples boat, when a norovirus outbreak in the Athlete Village took down about half of the U.S. team. The day before the quad final, one of the U.S. members was affected, forcing a last-minute substitution. The team still managed to earn the bronze medal despite the adversity.

With the momentum of a strong international appearance, Fellows now set her sights on even loftier goals. Next summer’s 2020 Olympics in Tokyo are on the radar, and soon she’ll be back on a rigorous training regimen to give her the best opportunity to make the team.

“That’s the biggest goal,” said Fellows of the Olympics. “The next couple months are focused on doing what I need to do to prepare for the selection events. It’s a little bit up in the air because final selection procedures haven’t come out yet, so I’m still waiting to see what the best plan of attack is going to be.”

Olympic Trials will feature time trials for singles and doubles sculls, while the quadruples sculls selections will come from an invitation selection camp.

No matter what happens, Fellows is in unchartered territory now, having seen success on the international stage with perhaps even bigger fish to fry next summer. With big goals perhaps within reach, she shows no signs of slowing down.

“The path is a little different for everyone,” Fellows said. “My philosophy is as long as I’m enjoying and improving, I want to see what I can do.”

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