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Head of the Charles

Maggie Fellows charges from back of the field to win women’s championship singles at Head of the Charles

The women's crew from the King’s Crown Rowing Association moves past the foliage of a tree along the shore of the Charles in the alumnae eights at the Head of the Charles.
The women's crew from the King’s Crown Rowing Association moves past the foliage of a tree along the shore of the Charles in the alumnae eights at the Head of the Charles.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

She was the sculler that everyone fears in an elapsed-time race. The international-class competitor who is starting so far back in the field that she’s almost beyond the horizon. On Saturday afternoon that invisible killer was Maggie Fellows, who started 20th out of 23 entrants and finished first in the women’s championship singles at the Head Of The Charles Regatta.

“That’s part of head racing,” the native of Warwick said after she’d finished more than 14 seconds ahead of Weston’s Kristina Wagner in 19 minutes 21.904 seconds on the 3-mile upstream course.

“You just go out there, do the best race that you can and the results will sort out. You figure out themselves when you get back on land what happened.”

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That’s how Ben Davison did it when he won the men’s title three years ago, coming out of the 26th starting slot to beat a field that included Olympic champion Mahe Drysdale.

“I’m sure whoever was up front then was thinking, ‘I’m feeling good, this race is going well,’” Davidson said yesterday after he’d dusted his rivals by more than 21 seconds to reclaim his crown in 17:34:569. “You never know what’s going behind the field. I always assume someone else is having a great race.”

For both Fellows and Davison their victories on the Charles were a satisfying conclusion to a frustrating summer. Davison had rowed in the Olympic eight that just missed a medal in Tokyo.

“Obviously fourth place hurts and it hurts a lot,” he said. “So I just shifted my focus, came back to Oakland and hopped back in the single and thought I’d go row the Charles.”

Davison started second behind Riverside’s Kevin Meador but had pulled ahead of him before the Eliot Bridge. Still, he knew there could be another rival having a strong day. That turned out to be Littleton native Finn Putnam, who was in the US quad that missed qualifying for the Games. Putnam started 10th and finished second. Such is the mercurial meritocracy of head racing, especially on a twisting waterway decorated by bridges.

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The women’s race was up for grabs as it rarely was during the past decade. Gevvie Stone, the 10-time victor who’d won the trophy so predictably that it seemed hers in perpetuity, moved on to the master’s division this year and won that race by nearly a minute and a half, shattering the course record by nearly 34 seconds.

Her likely successor figured to be Wagner, who was Stone’s partner in the Olympic double that placed fifth. Or possibly Alison Rusher, who rowed in the Tokyo quad. Fellows had been odd-woman-out with the US sculling team. She was fourth in the singles trials, didn’t make the doubles final and wasn’t picked for the quad.

“The summer was a really hard time,” Fellows said. “I’m still getting faster but the question is if I’m still enjoying it or not. So I went to Henley to see racing in its purest form and to see if my heart was still in it. I really had a good time there, so I’m in for the next few years.”

She knew she’d have a good time on the Charles even if she had to thread her way through a ton of traffic.

“Racing has always been fun,” Fellows said. “It’s just selection camps and things like that when there’s a lot of factors that are outside of your control. You have to be careful that other people don’t take away your self-belief. Racing is basic in that sense. The results are the results.”

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Fellows hadn’t started in the back of the pack since her debut here but since she didn’t race in 2019 she had to get in through the lottery.

“I was just hoping it would all work out,” she said. “I know I can row a very aggressive line on this course but the question is what other people will do. I was only focusing on what I can control.”

Fellows had a clean trip and found a trophy waiting for her at the finish. Such is the eternal allure of the elapsed-time race, especially at season’s end. You can beat the clock and your competitors from beyond the horizon.