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72-year-old Prof. Rogers still rowing after all these years

For Professor Hartley Rogers of mathematics, rowing is the ideal activity, combining strategy, fitness, sweat and Newton's laws.

It follows that the Head of the Charles regatta is his idea of a perfect weekend. Professor Rogers, 72, who competed in the event for the first time more than 30 years ago, finished fourth in the Senior Veterans Singles race on Sunday in 23 minutes, 23.37 seconds.

Several MIT alumni/ae won medals, including Linda Muri (SB 1985), who competed with the US Lightweight Women's 8 and finished first, and Steve Tucker (SB 1991), who finished third in the Championship Doubles with the Quinsigamond Rowing Association. Both are members of the US National Team.

Senior Mike Perry, also a US National Team member, competed with the MIT heavyweight crew in the men's Championship 8, which finished 22d, ahead of Boston University, Rutgers and Stanford. MIT's men's and women's Lightweight 8s and two women's club 8s and two men's club 8s also competed.

MIT's director of crew, Stuart Schmill (SB 1986), joined the women's Swiss championship 4 as the coxswain. They finished fourth in 18:49.16, competing as the Belvoir Rowing Club.

Professor Rogers, who trains at dawn five days a week and competes in races on most weekends, discovered the joys of rowing when he won a Henry Fellowship to study physics and mathematics at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom in 1946-47.

During that spring, thousands of students were on the River Cam competing in intramural races. The young Rogers was enchanted and challenged. "I learned to row there and just loved it," he said.

When he returned to the US to complete his studies at Yale and Princeton, rowing became a happy memory while he skated in several hockey leagues and built a career in academia. He was an instructor at Harvard before joining the MIT faculty in 1955. He became a full professor in 1964 and served as chair of the faculty and associate provost during the 1970s.

Professor Rogers's interest in rowing was rekindled in 1959 when he moved to a house on the Mystic Lakes in Winchester. Starting in 1967, he has competed in more than 20 Head of the Charles events, finishing first in his class twice and second in 1997. "I've always been in the oldest age group," he said.

As he gets older and more experienced as a rower, Professor Rogers noted that strength and endurance have become less crucial while skill, rhythm and coordination have gained importance.

"The whole motion has to be as efficient as possible," he said. "It's difficult to achieve and maintain, like trying to hit a tennis ball on the sweet spot on every stroke. There's nothing like the feeling you get when you do it right. The boat weighs maybe 30 pounds while you weigh 180. It's a perfect example of Newton's third law" (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction).

The Head of the Charles was a nice little regional event when Professor Rogers started competing in it. He has seen it become a major international regatta, attracting thousands, including many of the world's finest rowers. He considers competing a challenge, an honor and a joy.

"The standard of rowing has become much higher," Professor Rogers said, "and the higher the standard is, the more interesting it is. It's fun to be in a world-class event."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 21, 1998.

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