News

Local women help Bad Girls Rowing Club win world title

Friday, September 24, 2010

By DANIELLE CURTIS

Staff Writer

The water was choppy from strong winds, and raindrops the size of small hail shot down from the sky.

Thunder rolled and lightning flashed across thick gray clouds.

And in a long, thin boat on a river just north of Niagara Falls, four local women ignored the weather and raced toward a gold medal.

Rowing their sculling boat 1,000 meters in less than four minutes, the team took the top prize in the FISA World Rowing Masters Regatta in St. Catherine’s, Canada, on Aug. 6.

The group consisted of Ginny LeFreniere, 52, of Chelmsford, Mass.; Veronika Platzer, 47, of Lowell, Mass.; Marcia Beckett, 50, of Hollis; and Chur Masors, 58, of Nashua. They’re four of the eight female rowers from the Merrimac River Rowing Association that unofficially call themselves the Bad Girls Rowing Club.

While the winners have been racing as a quad for only two years, many of the Bad Girls, whose ages range from 35-63, have been rowing together for five years at the MRRA, a nonprofit group open to recreational and competitive rowers based out of the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Bellegarde Boathouse.

LaFreniere said the nickname “Bad Girls” was first used several years ago as she and a few other women were finishing a practice session.

While helping the women out of their boat at the docks of the Bellegarde Boathouse, several male rowers from the MRRA almost described the women as old, LaFreniere said.

“I thought he was going to (call us) old,” she said. “So, I said, ‘Bad! We’re bad girls.’ … It was an adjective we preferred over something else they were thinking, and then we just put attitude into it.” The name stuck, and today the Bad Girls try to live up to their name. That was demonstrated during the World Rowing Masters.

“I thought, ‘Let’s just row well and do our best,’ ” LaFreniere said. “We were competing against people who train from all over the world.”

The Bad Girls surprised themselves, however, and took the lead about halfway through their race.

“There were three boats lined up at the 500 (meter marker), so I couldn’t tell” who was in the lead, Beckett said. “It was just so close. I think that made us work harder because we were in the lineup, which for a world event hadn’t happened to us.”

The Bad Girls attended the World Rowing Masters in 2006 with a different quad but didn’t place.

This year’s race remained tight through the end leading to a photo finish that required the Bad Girls and another team to wait for a judge’s decision. When the Bad Girls were announced as the winner, they couldn’t have been more excited, LaFreniere said.

“We were screaming and there were people in the stands cheering for us,” she said. “As we rowed away back to the dock, the people in the stands stood up and gave us a standing ovation.”

While excited about the win, Masors said she had to get past her initial shock before she was able to celebrate.

“I just had to shift gears from thinking that we had been called over for some sort of penalty,” Masors said.

Wilma Breiland, the oldest member of the self-proclaimed Bad Girls at 63, said it was no surprise that the four women won a gold medal.

“They worked hard and they were rowing hard,” Breiland said. “We have fun together; that’s the important thing. We play hard and train hard.”

This hardworking nature doesn’t apply only to rowing, however. Each of the four women also works hard to balance training, work and family life.

LaFreniere, who rowed for UMass Lowell, including a stint on the men’s rowing team before a women’s team was created, has a doctorate in physical therapy. She works at Tewksbury (Mass.) Hospital in the neuro-rehabilitation unit. She also has four children and volunteers at the MRRA teaching new rowers about the sport with the other Bad Girls.

Platzer, on the other hand, didn’t row during her college years, but was a three-time NCAA Division III champion in the discus and was voted the NCAA’s Female Track and Field Athlete of the Decade (1980-90).

Platzer said she began rowing in 1991 after being recruited by international coaches looking for new talent. By 1993, Platzer represented the United States in the world championships. Today, Platzer is the head coach of the UMass women’s rowing team.

Masors is also relatively new to the sport, having started as a recreational rower at the MRRA only nine years ago. While she lives in Nashua, Masors said she rows in Lowell because it’s close to the UMass Lowell campus, where she runs the biology lab.

Beckett said that while she has been a member of New Hampshire rowing clubs in the past, a friend told her about the MRRA and she soon realized it was the club for her.

“I liked it right away,” Beckett said. “I knew I was going to be here a lot.”

When she isn’t rowing, Beckett works as an author and published her first book, “One to Another – Preserving Our Stories and Our Land,” in April. The book that is part memoir and part biography. She also is the mother of three children.

Despite their busy lives, the women of the Bad Girls Rowing Club try to make time for the sport they love, training at the boathouse at 5:30 a.m. about five times a week.

LaFreniere said although their work and family schedules sometimes cut into their training time, their busy lives may actually give them an advantage in races like the one on Aug. 6 when conditions are less than perfect. “Because our lives are so busy, once we get in the boat, we focus,” LaFreniere said. “Maybe that’s good because when (conditions) are crazy, we just go. … We don’t need to have things perfect because if we waited until things were perfect, we’d never row.”

While the Bad Girls aren’t sure in what other races they’ll compete in the coming months, they’ll help the MRRA host the 31st annual Textile River Regatta at the boathouse on Sunday, Oct. 3.

The regatta is a 6-kilometer race on the Merrimack River that drew 520 boats and more than 2,600 competitors last year and is expected to draw similar crowds this year.

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-5833 or dcurtis@ nashuatelegraph.com.

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