Warwick native Maggie Fellows takes top prize at Head of Charles regatta in Boston

  • Warwick Native Maggie Fellows, who took first place, in the in the Head of Charles women's championship singles in Boston on Oct. 23. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 10/29/2021 5:13:47 PM

A Warwick native, and competitive rower, weaved her way to the top spot of the women’s championship singles at the Head of the Charles races on Oct. 23.

As a head race, rowers began single file and launched one at a time. Maggie Fellows, 30, started in 20th out of 23 entrants in the women’s championship race and flew up the river, passing her competitors to take home first place. She said a race like the Head of the Charles is more challenging than a standard buoyed course racing a straight shot side-by-side.

“It does take a lot of rowing skill to be able to push yourself without seeing competitors and while navigating the course,” Fellows said. “The Head of Charles is one of the most challenging courses with seven bridges and lots of turns.”

It is also one of the biggest regattas in the world, but with COVID-19 restrictions there were less international competitors this year. Typically, there are over 11,000 athletes competing in different races during the weekend-long event.

This was Fellows’ ninth time competing in the race on the Charles River in Boston, which she called a “quintessential New England tradition” for rowers. The race was not held in 2020 and used 2019 results for seeding racers. The top 25 percent of racers are guaranteed a spot in the following year’s regatta. However, Fellows did not participate in 2019 and therefore was required to enter through the lottery — seeding her 20th out of 23. Despite her placement, the pieces came together for a strong performance by Fellows. 

“I started near the back of the pack, but I had a pretty good sense of who my competitors were in the field and I know the course very well,” she said. “I was just looking forward to having a good race and having some fun.”

She was set to participate in the U.S. Olympic Trials in March 2020, but then the Trials and the Games were ultimately delayed by the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. In Feb. 2021, she returned for the singles rowing Trials where she placed fourth. She then pursued doubles Trials against a competitive lineup and missed progressing to the finals “by fractions of a second.” Still hopeful, Fellows attended the quad rowing selection camp but was not selected for the Tokyo team.

After a discouraging summer, Fellows attended The Henley Royal Regatta — held annually on the River Thames by the town of Henley-on-Thames, England. The event draws over 300,000 visitors each year and boasts over 300 races across the five days of elite sporting competition. Fellows said she wanted to attend the regatta, which was founded in 1839 and has been held annually every year since, except during the two World Wars, to see racing in its purest form.  

“I raced there and made it to the semifinal,” she said. “It was fun to just see people enjoying rowing and racing — for fun.”

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. 

“The first time I got in a boat I had no idea what I was doing, or that I would still be rowing this long after,” Fellows said.

She went on to attend St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. (‘13), 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,” 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, told the Recorder in 2019. “I definitely was seeing success but I didn’t really see it as a career path.”

After a standout career at SLU, she began thinking about life after college. While friends were talking about jobs and asking “What do you enjoy doing, what are you good at?” — she was asking herself how she could continue to pursue rowing. 

She would go on to train at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in northern Vermont for three years and went to the 2016 Olympic Trials, but did not make the U.S. team for the games in Brazil. In 2019, Fellows represented the United States as she and her quadruple sculls boatmates won the bronze medals in the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru. 

Fellows returned to Western Mass. to work as the head rowing coach and a tutor for a year at NMH before moving across the country to work part-time as a coach at the Newport Sea Base in Newport Beach, Calif. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Fellows has returned to Massachusetts and is a member of multiple rowing groups based in Boston, including the Boston Rowing Federation.

“Being out on the water is a special feeling. When you get going, the boat flies over the water,” she said. “You get to be in beautiful places in the morning when the sun comes over the wildlife and great scenery… And there’s a special bond you get, being so in sync with your fellow rowers.”

A self-described competitive person, she said she enjoys the ways rowers push themselves and each other to improve. She said she has also learned a lot about herself through the sport.

“...I’ve learned how to overcome challenges, and focus on the process of long-term goals,” Fellows said. “There’s definitely days that don’t go right, but I’m still making progress over the long-term and keeping my perspective on broader goals.”

In a given year, Fellows will compete in anywhere from 10 to 15 professional races, both internationally and domestically. With the fall season winding down, she is looking ahead to next spring for selection racing where rowers will be chosen for the 2022 World Championships, as well as the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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