It’s the end of an era for two Rochester Boat Race winners who have dominated the event in recent years. Sean Shaw and C.J. Hedges announced their retirement after clinching their third consecutive title during Monday’s race.
“We started when we were seven years old, and we both went down the river with our fathers,” said Hedges. “We’ve probably done 30+ races, minus a couple of years we took off for the military.”
Hedges and Shaw, both 41, have been riding together for 25 years. In their tenure together, they have won 12 titles and currently hold the record with a time of 1:47:02, which they set back in 2005. This is the fourth time they have won three consecutive titles.
“It’s tradition,” said Hedges. “There was no little league, this is just what you did. We are both very competitive so we thought this would be a good way to see what we had and be competitive.”
It’s a tradition that’s been around since 1934. The race originally started as a 4-H project, but has since grown into something much larger. This year, 75 boats participated in the race, which is broken up into six different divisions: Open, Co-ed, Parent/Child, Junior Boys, Junior Girls and Women’s.
The course begins in Grandma Hartley’s Reservoir on Snipatuit Road in Rochester. It twists and winds nearly 12 miles before ending at the Herring Weird on Route 6 in Mattapoisett.
Boats are launched at one-minute intervals to prevent congestion. Start times are based on the previous year’s performance. All boats must be homemade. Shaw and Hedges found the perfect material that suits them.
“We started making Styrofoam boats a few years ago,” said Shaw. “It’s so much easier to deal with. Styrofoam and fiberglass. It’s pretty easy now that we’ve switched.”
In addition to crafting the perfect vessel, the duo gets on the river approximately 12 times prior to the actual race. They will put the boat in the river five times, on the pond five times, and then take rides with their children. This year’s boat and training scored Shaw and Hedges a time off 1:47:47. They were hoping to beat their record in their final race.
“I thought personally we were a little sloppy,” Shaw said. “We were chasing a boat for a little bit, then we picked it up and had some nice lines. But we were a little bit off from where we wanted to be.”
“We weren’t ready for the higher water,” said Hedges. “Plus, we’re 41 now. We’re old.”
Now the time has come for Hedges and Shaw to end one tradition and start a new one. The two will split it up and start competing in the race with their children. Shaw encourages all children to participate.
“Art Benner [Race Chairman] does a great job at coordinating all of this,” Shaw said. “It would be nice to have more younger kids in the surrounding area to come and try this.”
And while they are retiring their boat now, they haven’t completely ruled out the possibility of a reunion later on down the road.
“We could possibly take a few more old man runs later on,” Hedges laughed.
By Katy Fitzpatrick