Best of times in Boston for area rowers, kin

The 51st Head of the Charles Regatta, a premier, international rowing competition held in Boston this past weekend – a contest that reportedly attracts more spectators than the Super Bowl – included a formidable Unionville presence.

Siblings Kaitlyn Drohan (from left), 17, Matthew Drohan, 21, and Megan Drohan, 17, pose at the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston. Photo by Cheryl Drohan.

Siblings Kaitlyn Drohan (from left), 17, Matthew Drohan, 21, and Megan Drohan, 17, enjoy the ambience of  the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston. Photo by Cheryl Drohan

Among the area competitors was Justin Best, a 2015 Unionville High graduate. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound athlete earned a spot at the 2015 World Junior Rowing Championship this past August in Rio de Janeiro, where the team won silver. Best represented the U.S. in 2014 at the CanAmMex regatta in Nova Scotia, Canada, earning a gold medal the Men’s Eight+ (eight rowers plus a coxswain).

This past weekend, Best, a freshman at Drexel University, a Division 1 school, participated in the Men’s Championship Eights, logging a 19th-place finish in 15:10 minutes, less than a minute behind the winning Yale crew. Twenty-six teams competed in the nearly 5,000 meter race, a scenic but challenging course that features multiple curves and more than half a dozen bridges.

Best expressed enthusiasm for his collegiate experiences thus far. The team was named the Drexel Athletics Players of the Week after an impressive second-place finish at the Navy Day Regatta in Philadelphia on Oct. 10.

In the Head of the Charles Regatta, Best said the team was pleased with its performance, an improvement over last year’s 22nd place. And competing in the world’s biggest regatta with top international rowers was a thrill in itself.

“You always want to do better, but we beat Dartmouth, which was huge,” he said, explaining that the Ivy Leagues have been “a longtime dominating force in rowing.”

Justin Best (left) shares a moment with his brother, Garren Best, during the Navy Day Regatta in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Best

Justin Best (left) poses with his brother, Garren Best, during the recent Navy Day Regatta in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Best

For Best’s parents, Glenn and Jeanne Best, the event offered dual spectating benefits: Their son Garren rowed in the Men’s Collegiate Eights for St. Joseph’s University, where he is a sophomore in the university’s Division I program.

Jeanne Best said the St. Joseph’s team also improved over last year’s finish, coming in 18th as opposed to 21st in 2014. The team also came close to its coach’s goal of finishing 30 seconds off the top boat, she said.

She said neither of her sons had raced in the Head of the Charles Regatta before, and that she and her husband staked out a spot on the Eliot Bridge, a span over the Charles River with a view of the finish line.

The experience of watching the race made the six-hour-plus drive to Boston from East Marlborough Township worthwhile, she said. “It is quite a spectacle,” she said, acknowledging that the scenic beauty was punctuated by some whipping winds. It “did get cold,” she added.

Justin Best agreed that the head wind was substantial, but it affected everyone, and adrenalin and intense concentration offset the frigid temperatures. Once he’s in the boat, he said locks his eyes on the teammate in front of him and keeps them there.

“Your head weighs about 10 pounds,” Justin Best explained. “If you move it, your body starts to shift. Your shifting body affects the oars, which decreases boat speed.”

Best described the opportunity to participate in the Boston race as thrilling. He said he ran into a lot of people he knew from other competitions, and it was fun catching up with them. “I’m very fortunate that I found a sport that I love when I was a freshman in high school,” he said.

Photo by Cheryl Drohan

Wilmington Youth Rowing Association varsity rowers near the finish line in Boston. Kaitlyn Drohan (from left) and Megan Drohan are joined by teammates Jennifer Raphaelson from Pocopson Township and Christine O'Neil from Delaware. Photo by Cheryl Drohan

For another East Marlborough Township family, the Head of the Charles offered a viewing trifecta. Cheryl and Jim Drohan got to watch their son Matthew, who is captain of Penn State’s team, as well as their twin daughters, Megan and Kaitlin, who are seniors at Unionville High and members of the Wilmington Youth Rowing Association.

“It was so much fun,” said Cheryl Drohan. She said she and her husband walked the course, which took about an hour, before taking a position on the Elliot Bridge. “We could look down and see their faces and they approached the finish line,” she said. “It was very exciting.”

Drohan said all three of her children started out as swimmers, which turned out to be great preparation for rowing, according to their coaches. Both require rigorous early-morning workouts and both utilize all muscle groups, she said.

She said one of the reasons she is so enthusiastic about rowing is that it offers a lifelong opportunity. In Boston, the range of competitors varied from master rowers – some of whom were in their 80s – to high school students.

“The experience of combining efforts to make a boat fly is so empowering,” she added.

Other Unionville High alums who competed in the Head of the Charles Men’s Collegiate Eights included Billy Pinamont, a junior at Bucknell University; and Teddy Connell, a junior at Washington College.

Many of the same competitors will face off closer to home this weekend when the 45th Head of the Schuylkill Regatta begins on Saturday, Oct. 24.

Cheryl Drohan said her three children would be rowing on different days this weekend, which would make it easier for her to sport the appropriate “parent uniform.” She’ll have plenty of time to switch from her Penn State gear to her WYRA attire. “We’ve learned all the shortcuts to get to the Schuylkill,” she said.

Justin Best said he and his brother, a favorite training partner, will become rivals this weekend, but it’s easy not to dwell on that. During the fall races, the boats leave at timed intervals so that many competitors never even see each another. In the spring races, the boats line up next to each other.

“It’s very possible at some point that we could end up in boats right next to each other,” Justin Best said. “That might be a little weird.”

In the meantime, he believes local competitors will have a slight edge on the Schuylkill because they’re competing in waters they know well. “It’s where I train; it’s a 20-minute walk from campus,” he said.

He said the process of transporting boats requires re-rigging procedures that hometown crews won’t need. “We can just head to the boat, and we’re ready to go,” he said. “I can’t wait.”

For more information on this weekend’s races, visit




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