For many Lick students, winter break is a time to relax, catch up on sleep, spend time with family. However, while their classmates were getting ready for the holidays, Emile Theriault-Shay ‘15 and James Altmann ‘16 were preparing for three days of grueling physical and mental exertion as they attempted to set not one but two world records.
The idea was brought up by Theriault-Shay who already held two rowing world records. In December of 2011 he set the world record for the fastest 100,000 meter row in the under 19 mixed heavyweight tandem category with Gena Coblentz, now a senior at Lowell High School. In December of 2013 he set the record for longest continual row in the under 19 men’s lightweight tandem category with Dmitry Kuliaev, a junior at Lowell.
The team didn’t set out to break two records. They initially intended to only set the record for longest continual row in the under 19 lightweight male small team category. However, as they progressed it soon became evident that if they could pick up the pace they could break both the record for the fastest million meter row in the under 19 lightweight male small team category.
There were eight rowers on the team, all from the Pacific Rowing Club: seven from high schools around the Bay Area and one alumni. In addition to Kuliaev, Theriault-Shay, and Altmann the team included Edward Emery from Stuart Hall, Peter Hollander, and Bjorn Yang-Vaernet from Lowell High School, Maru Streets from Carlmont High School, and Nathan Seidman from University of Delaware.
It took 3 days 3 hours, 1 minute, and 23 seconds for the team to reach the 1 million mark. The marathon row was broken down into 90 minute shifts for each person. The team was not rowing on the water, but instead rowed on ergometers, essentially the rowing equivalent of a treadmill.
Although on paper the team’s feat is a physical one, Altmann noted that setting the record was much more a mental challenge than a physical one. “It was mentally hard to keep wanting to do it but physically it was easy,” he said. Theriault-Shay had a similar experience. In his first record-breaking row he nearly fainted and shivered uncontrollably for part of the row. His second experience was better, but he still “had what was probably in the top five of my most miserable experiences.” In contrast, this time around, the shifts were shorter, only 90 minutes compared to two hours or four hours for shifts in the middle of the night. However, Therialt-Shay found the company of his teammates to be the most significant difference. “It was also just a lot of fun to be around close friends and share this experience,” he said. Even when they weren’t rowing the rowers hung out at the boathouse on Lake Merced to support their teammates. In their spare time, they played board games, watched movies, and supported the person who was rowing by giving him water and talking to him through middle of the night shifts.
These graveyard shifts were the most challenging part of the experience for Altmann. The shifts were 12:30 to 2:00, 2:00 to 3:30, and 3:30 to 5:00. However, in spite of the odd hours there was always at least one person awake to keep the rower company.
Although many of their peers were astonished when they found out that Altmann and Theriault-Shay spent three days straight of their winter break rowing instead of sleeping in and spending time with family, neither rower regrets their choice to row. In fact, although they had six to ten hour breaks between shifts, the rowers only left the boat house long enough to go home and shower before returning to the boathouse to support their teammates. When asked what the most challenging part of the row was, Theriault-Shay said that getting his family’s permission to stay at the boathouse instead of spending time with his family was difficult.
Emile Theriault-Shay’s twin, Adam Theriault-Shay ‘17 laughed as he confirmed that the rowers’ absence from their families holiday festivities was “annoying” as Adam was forced to set the dinner table without the help of his brother.