Mike Kapp had never been to a rowing competition before last year.
He went to watch his brother, Christoph, compete with the Northeastern University rowing team in the Head Of The Charles Regatta last October and was struck by the crowds, the number of competitors and the sheer magnitude of the event.
"It was just cool watching his team whiz by in this big race," Mike said. "In a way, I just kind of saw how many people were there and just kind of got excited about the idea of being in this really big race. It really inspired me to get into rowing and be just like him."
A year later, guess who will be rowing on the Charles River this weekend?
Upon leaving the event, he did some homework about the sport. He soon joined one of the local rowing clubs, Essex Rowing Club.
And a year later his dream of rowing in the Head of the Charles race will become a reality.
Mike, an Andover High sophomore, will be competing in the event with the Essex Rowing Club's men's youth eight team. He will be rowing in the No. 2 seat.
Others in the boat will Zack Zaniewski of Masconomet High, Christian Mund of Central Catholic, Andover's Lucius White of St. John's Prep, Zach Wilmarth of Andover High, Dan Burkhardt of Westford Academy, Michael Bourie of Central Catholic and Leonard Kaminski of Worcester Academy.
Essex Rowing Club also will be sending a women's youth double team with Andover's Rachel Corbett of Central Catholic in the stroke seat and Nora Hannum of Andover High in the bow seat.
"I'm extremely excited that I get to participate in this big race at such a young age," Mike said. "It's just like a big deal."
Mike likely won't be the only one in the Kapp family competing, however. Christoph also is expected to row again with his Northeastern University team Saturday, although he still does not know if his Huskies team will compete since a few members are sick right now.
"It's really cool," Mike said about him and his brother both competing at the same event. "I'm just excited over the fact that we're racing on the same river and it's almost as if we're doing it together. It just feels good when you get together with the brother that you've always loved and you and him can do something together. Maybe someday I'll even row in the same race and in the same boat with him in a big race like this, so it just gets me excited."
The Kapp family, who moved to the United States from Germany when Christoph was 7 and Mike was 2, share a special bond in that all of the members of the family, besides their dad, are rowers. Mike and Christoph's mother, Uli Kapp, is a coxswain for the Essex Rowing Club adult program.
Mike and Christoph also have a younger brother, Thomas, 11, who began rowing this past summer.
"It's wonderful, especially when you do it as a whole family," Uli said. "I am completely proud I have two kids now (in) the Head of the Charles."
Christoph actually was a member of the Essex Rowing Club when he was in high school. He started in 2006, the same year the club started, he said.
Christoph is extremely proud of his brother for being on the Essex squad that will be competing at The Head Of The Charles not only because Mike is just a sophomore in high school and the youngest on his qualifying team but because he hasn't even been rowing for a full year. He began the sport last winter, Christoph said.
"It's actually really impressive," Christoph said about Mike's progress. "He's doing real well from what I've heard. He might have a future in the sport."
Mike and Christoph trained together approximately four days per week during the summer.
"Me and my brother have always been kind of close," Mike said. "As soon as he noticed that I was interested in rowing, too, he started training with me. Actually, this entire summer we worked out together. ... We hit the gym. We went on the bike or the treadmill for an hour and then hit the weights. And he always gave me pep talks about how that if you can run or bike for an hour, then doing a 6 minute race worth 200 strokes is probably nothing."
Mike added that the family does talk a great deal about rowing.
"He (Mike) texts me sometimes and he's like, 'Today, I did this' and I tell him not to get too big of a head," Christoph said.
Right now, Mike has one big goal. That is to beat his brother's record on the ERG machine. Christoph holds the Essex Rowing Club record for the best time with a 6:32 for the 2K. He did that as a senior at Andover.
"What I've been trying to do for the past year is become one of the best rowers and try to beat his record," Mike said. "That's basically what keeps me going."
A FAMILY AFFAIR
The Kapps are not the only family of rowers over at Essex Rowing Club.
Nora Hannum's mother is in the adult program.
"She loves it," Nora said, talking about her mom. "She's here at like 5 o'clock in the morning every day."
Hannum's sister Catherine Hannum was a member of Essex and now is a rower at Michigan State, the same college Nora, a senior, has committed to row at next year.
"This is my first time doing the Charles and I guess I like (rowing) because it gives me goals," Nora said. "I've become a lot more focused in school since I started rowing. My priorites are more in order. School, rowing and family are more important to me. I have something to look forward to after school."
The 46th Head Of The Charles
What is the Head Of The Charles?
Head Of The Charles Regatta, the world's largest two-day rowing event, was first held on October 16, 1965. The race was established by the Cambridge Boat Club members D'Arcy MacMahon, Howard McIntyre, and Jack Vincent, with the advice of Harvard University sculling instructor Ernest Arlett. Arlett proposed that a 'head of the river' race similar in tradition to races held in his native England, be held on the Charles River. 'Head' races, a class of regattas, are generally three miles long-boats race against each other and the clock, starting sequentially approximately fifteen seconds apart. Winners of each race receive the honorary title of 'Head of the River' or, in this case, 'Head Of The Charles.'
When will it take place?
Saturday and Sunday at the Charles River.
How many competitors and spectators are expected?
Over the past 46 years, the Head Of The Charles regatta has grown tremendously. Today, more than 8,000 athletes from around the world compete in 55 different race events. The Regatta grew to a two-day event in 1997 and now attracts up to 300,000 spectators during the October weekend.
About Essex Rowing Club
Started: Nov., 2006
Founder: Travis Gardner
Club info: Pirates Cove Marina, 656 Lowell Street, Methuen, Ma. 01844 on the Merrimack River (Route 110 heading toward Dracut)
Membership: 139 middle school and high-school aged athletes; 18 adults
Graduate info: Essex RC graduates have gone on to row for numerous colleges, including Harvard, Stanford, Bates, McGill, Northeastern, U. San Diego, Michigan State, U. Alabama and others.
Web site: www.essexrowing.org