On Regatta Weekend, A Rower's Love For The Sport Helps Her Heal

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Lisa Russell rowing in a single scull. (Courtesy Lisa Russell)
Lisa Russell rowing in a single scull. (Courtesy Lisa Russell)

Crowds have flocked to the banks of the Charles River for the 55th Head of the Charles Regatta.

The major rowing event attracts 11,000 competitors, including high school and college students, club rowers, Olympians and para-athletes.

Lisa Russell has competed in several of these races. Now, she is redefining her approach as she recovers from a devastating car crash.

A year and a half ago a teenage driver, who police say was under the influence of drugs, struck and killed a Brookline woman before hitting Russell and her boyfriend.

Russell underwent extensive surgeries. She spoke to WBUR's Sharon Brody about her love of rowing and how it helps her recuperate and set new goals both on the water and off.

Lisa Russell (right) rowing in a double scull. (Courtesy Lisa Russell)
Lisa Russell (right) rowing in a double scull. (Courtesy Lisa Russell)

Interview Highlights

On what makes rowing special to her

"The teamwork and the camaraderie that you build is to me very different from any other sport. So you build very strong bonds with the people that you're training with and on the team with. For me, when I'm on the water, it's truly a sense of independence. You know, you get to manipulate your surroundings the way that you want to ... to make your boat move. And there's, you know, a feeling of tranquility."

On what comes to mind when she thinks back to the crash

"I mean, my body's fully different now. They literally had to move muscles to save my legs ... and sort of everything I do is an effort to try and reclaim pieces of what I was able to do before and to work to get that back.

"I mean, I had to relearn how to walk. Definitely, that was a huge piece of it. I'm still working on standing up from a chair without using my hands. So that's where ... I guess the routine of working out that I learned through rowing has come in handy, incredibly."

On what she does to recover mentally

"So really, truly, honestly, that, I believe, is also where rowing and the mental training you have to learn to be successful has made a huge difference. I remember very specifically in college, my coach doing a lot of exercises with us on just the mental training part. You know, she would always tell us to put it in your black box, like this box that you left on the dock and you had to leave behind. And while you were on the water, that's all you were doing. You're on the water. So it's been a lot of using strategies in that way that, you know, you can only work on what you can control."

On her new goals

"I want to be able to compete next year. I want to be strong enough that I can safely compete without creating some other injury! I want to be able to row at the Head Of The Charles next year. And I want to, you know, be able to race either by myself or with a teammate or whatever it might be. But yeah, I'm hoping to be at a race next year ... you know, I was looking forward to continuing to compete and row at the club level. The para world is different. So I swear if I can get myself competing again ... you never know what can happen."

This segment aired on October 20, 2019.


Sharon Brody News Anchor
Sharon Brody is the voice of WBUR's weekend mornings. On Saturdays and Sundays, she anchors the news for Weekend Edition and other popular programs.


Hannah Chanatry Producer, All Things Considered
Hannah Chanatry was a producer for WBUR's All Things Considered.



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