Having spent much of her life immersed in competitive crew, Old Dominion Boat Club coach Meredith Mariani wasn’t going to let something like pregnancy keep her off the water.
It was a decision she and her husband, Justin Durst, had made long before the local coach and veteran rower learned about the pregnancy in late March. They tried their best to plan around the crew season — Mariani is due November 25 — and it worked.
But that meant Mariani spent the vast majority of her pregnancy coaching her junior men’s crew team. Though she knew what to expect, knowing didn’t make it any easier.
“The biggest challenge for me has been to make sure even if [I’m] not feeling 100 percent … or I’m just really worn out, that I’m here for my teams and athletes, putting them before my physical discomfort,” Mariani said. “They’re very aware of it and they try to help me as much as they can, but it’s a tough schedule.”
If any of Mariani’s athletes doubted her resolve, she proved her resilience by joining them in Boston for the annual Head of the Charles Regatta, one of the more celebrated events in the crew community. When doctors warned Mariani, then in her eighth month of pregnancy, against flying, the coach found another way.
After her boys promised not to get thrown off their flight, she hopped in the car and drove north with her mother late last month. The men’s youth-eight boat finished 67th out of a field of 75 in their race.
“It’s a great opportunity for these boys,” Mariani said. “When I was in high school, if I had the opportunity to row in the Head of Charles, I would have been beside myself. For them to get this opportunity to be up there and race in it, one of the largest regattas in the world, it’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to coach them there and to be there. There wouldn’t be any way for me to miss it.”
And no one was going to tell Mariani she couldn’t go.
“That’s always kind of the tricky part, as a program administrator,” said Peter Stramese, a T.C. Williams crew coach and self-described “paperwork” guy for ODBC’s team. “[Am I going to say] ‘I know your doctor says it’s OK, but I as a guy with very limited knowledge about pregnancy, I am going to decree that you can’t do this?’ I wouldn’t want to have to make that decision.”
Durst had a similar reaction when Mariani told him the couple was expecting their first child. There was no reason she couldn’t continue coaching, he said.
“I see these other capable people that are able to work though their pregnancies, and so why couldn’t she?” he asked. “She seemed to think it would be tough, but something she would be able to do and she’s been able to continue to do it. I think it’s been a little bit more tiring than she thought it was going to be at first.”
Mariani met with Stramese early on, and they talked frankly about the situation. She would carry on for as long as she could, Stramese recalled, and if there were complications, organization officials were confident they could work something out.
And while making arrangements for the Head of the Charles might have been trickier because of Mariani’s pregnancy, being there was something she owed the team, Stramese said.
“A lot of these guys rowed with her through the summer — two months together this summer and two months together this fall,” he said. “Not having her be here at this point and putting in a surrogate would really have been a disappointment to these guys.”
Though it’s been challenging, Mariani wouldn’t change a thing about the experience — even if she could.
“It’s been tough,” Mariani said. “Honestly, I don’t think I would have done it any other way. It’s the perfect introduction to crew for our little one, having already gone to 15 regattas.”