A faint breeze blows across the bay, and at 5:30 p.m., the sun is just starting to sink behind the clouds. The after-work commute is abuzz with honking horns as people drive home, racing across the highway ramp by Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. It’s underneath the road that a different sort of race takes place.
The Marin Rowing Association (MRA) is one of the nation’s top rowing programs, competing at the highest level of high school crew, including at the Youth National Championship. Senior Caroline Noble has been on the girls’ team for four years, three of which she has spent on varsity.
“[Caroline] was a sophomore, junior and senior in the varsity boat, so that’s how quality of an athlete she is,” said coach Sandy Armstrong, who has been coaching at the MRA since 1984. “Most of the girls end up rowing for four years, and so by the time they’re in their fourth year as a senior, they have logged so many miles they’re good at it. She [came] in as a very good athlete, so that is pretty amazing.”
Along with teammate Claire Smythe, who goes to Branson, Caroline is a captain of varsity girls crew and rows with her sister, sophomore Sally Noble.
“[Caroline] is one of the best girls on the team, and it’s really fun to be around that and see her in a different way because you never really ever see your sister in that way,” Sally said.
Armstrong said that Caroline’s strongest qualities include her positive attitude and her drive to work hard and compete.
“She is so competitive that she will make sure that they do not lose. The thing that she is extraordinary at is that she is a great leader. She’s super enthusiastic, she’s usually in a good mood, not always, and she can turn that around really quickly,” Armstrong said.
In the fall, Caroline will start rowing for Harvard University in the women’s heavyweight crew. According to Caroline, although she only plans to row through college, she is excited to work with Harvard’s coach, Liz O’Leary.
“Liz O’Leary has been [at Harvard] for over 30 years; she has three gold medals and she knows rowing and she more importantly knows the value of rowing in your life. She teaches girls much more than the sport, which I’m really excited to be a part of,” Caroline said.
Sally expressed her admiration for her sister’s hard work, and said she is excited for Caroline to row at Harvard.
“She’s worked so hard, harder than anyone I know, and I’m super impressed and super happy for her. She’s my best friend and I’m going to miss her when she’s gone, but she’s going to have so much fun,” Sally said.
According to Armstrong, Caroline will have no problem transitioning from Marin Rowing to Harvard’s team.
“Harvard women have a very strong team, and [Caroline] comes from a very strong team, and she’s a very good teammate and a very good team player, so she is going to fit in very well,” Armstrong said. “You are just executing at college, and she will succeed at that because she’s learned good things here with [Marin Rowing]. She’ll be pushed to the next level.”
According to Caroline, rowing is a very technical sport with many aspects most people don’t know about.
“Most people think rowing’s kind of a simple stroke, like, ‘Oh, why do you want to do the same thing over and over again?’ but there’s honestly hundreds of technical nuances that you would have no idea about: how you put your blade in, how you take it out, your different sequencing,” Caroline said.
Armstrong also emphasized that rowing involves lots of strategic elements.
“It’s not just rowing around in circles; there’s rates and power and coxswains getting you to go harder and there’s distance and they’re trying to beat them,” Armstrong said. “There is a lot of tactical stuff going on and while it’s beautiful, it’s also like a racecar inside [the boat], which is not as pretty as it looks on the outside.”
Caroline first took a summer rowing camp the summer before her freshman year, and after an ankle injury cut her volleyball career short, she turned to rowing and made the novice team. As a sophomore on varsity, Caroline was the stroker, meaning she sat at the front of the boat and set the pace. Now, she rows in the middle seats, or wherever her talents are needed.
Caroline spends as much as 22 hours a week training and rowing, which includes two-and-a-half hour practices after school and weight training two mornings a week. Though rowing takes up a significant amount of time, Caroline doesn’t struggle to keep up with her academics or other extracurriculars.
“It’s never been that difficult for me. I like to be busy. For people who really need alone time, it might be difficult because you’re never really alone,” Caroline said. “I have a rule for myself that Sundays I just don’t do anything, I just go home and do my homework all day.”
Though the team has some drama from spending so much time together, for the most part they work together successfully, according to Caroline.
“I love the feeling of just being 100 percent in sync with eight other girls in the boat. It feels awesome. That’s why people get super annoying and obsessed with [rowing],” Caroline said.