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The Three Horsemen

By Avery Bleichfeld
Posted on October 24, 2021
The Three Horsemen

After losing longtime friend and boatmate Charlie Hamlin last May, the remaining “Four Horsemen” honor their friend by rowing the HOCR with an empty seat.

In the dusk of Saturday evening, on the sloped dock of Newell Boathouse, a crowd gathered. They were old and young, with homes across the country, but they all crowded the planks together, overlooking the Charles and united by their friendship with Charlie Hamlin.

Friends were paramount for Hamlin, who passed away in May, said his wife and rowing partner Ellen Kennelly.

“All that ever mattered was friends and relationships,” Kennelly said of Hamlin at Saturday’s memorial, where Hamlin’s family christened a rowing shell the “Charles B. Hamlin ‘70.”

For three of those friends, Hamlin’s passing was not marked with just the memorial and newly christened shell, but also one last run in the Head of the Charles — which they had raced and won together multiple times over their rowing careers.

Known collectively as The Four Horsemen, Hamlin along with Roger Borggaard, Chuck Pieper and Fred Schoch were united by a friendship that bridged social life with work life with life on the water. But no matter where they were, Pieper said their friendship was automatic.

“There’s obviously a couple of core elements [in a friendship]; you have common interests, you have common values, but those are what I’d call threshold issues and the answer to that would be clear yeses for both of those questions [within The Four Horsemen], but when I think friendships have really developed like these have, it’s a bit like your autonomic nervous system,” Pieper said. “You don’t think about breathing; you don’t think about the rhythm or frequency of your heart rates. It just works.”

And that friendship — one that got them up early six days a week to go rowing at the Cambridge Boat Club, or took them to breakfast at the nearby Breakfast Club regularly, or carried them to numerous regatta victories — is why this year, The Four Horsemen rode again, leaving the fourth seat in their quad empty for Hamlin.

On Sunday, as they were preparing their shell to race, the Three Horsemen also tweaked the position of a plastic Viking helmet marked with Hamlin’s initials and signed by the Horsemen and other friends. It was an artifact from the “Viking funeral” he requested to commemorate his move to Washington in 2015.

Together, seamlessly, the three moved around the boat adjusting and preparing.

When a spectator and friend approached and said he had seen that The Four Horsemen would row again, he was wondering who was going to fill the fourth seat. The assessment: No one could.

“The horns are taking his seat,” Borggaard said.

Later, as they came around the bend by the Eliot Bridge and an announcer told the crowd who they were, cheers erupted from spectators on the bridge as well as on both sides of the river.

Schoch, who also serves as the executive director of the Head of the Charles Regatta, called the experience sentimental.

“We heard cheers all the way down the river, and it was special,” Schoch said. “Charlie was widely known in the rowing community and beloved by many people, so it was touching for us, and I think for the spectators who saw us.”

The Four Horsemen, with one in spirit, finished 23rd of 25 boats.

In addition to steadfast bonds with his rowing mates, his fellow Horsemen said Hamlin’s friendship was shared with everyone.

Borggaard, who first met Hamlin when he faced narrow defeat from the latter in the 1968 Olympic rowing championship, ahead of that year’s games, said it took him a while to realize how good and genuine Hamlin was.

“I think [realizing how genuine Hamlin was] was a gradual process because he was the same guy all the time and he would come with the same caring and looking out for you,” Borggaard said.

Pieper said that Hamlin would always join a community and find ways to make it better, whether it was the Eastern Yacht Club in Marblehead, the Groton School where he coached rowing, the Cambridge Boat Club or Cambridge Water Technologies, a startup he began with Borggaard and Pieper. Pieper called that sense of drive to improve his communities, Hamlin’s “other-directedness.”

“It was about progressing the business, making the experience better for the participants,” Pieper said. “And in all the clubs he was in, the other-directedness was a central part of him.”

At the memorial Saturday, friends and family remarked on one of Hamlin’s habits. When anyone would ask him how he was doing, his answer would always be, “all the better for seeing you.”

Pieper said he thinks it was more than just a line and that for Hamlin, a man who rowed in multiple international competitions including the 1968 Olympics, his connection with others made him stronger.

“I think it was literally true,” Pieper said. “He was better from seeing everybody. It was a source of his strength.”

By Avery Bleichfeld
Posted on October 24, 2021