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Head of the Charles Regatta

Linda Muri leaves cancer in her wake in pursuit of title

Linda Muri is a rowing coach in addition to being an accomplished rower herself.
Linda Muri is a rowing coach in addition to being an accomplished rower herself.Cheryl Senter/For the Globe/Globe Freelance

HANOVER, N.H. — There still are times when Linda Muri has to remind herself that the Connecticut River isn’t the Charles, that she doesn’t have to worry about a following crew slamming into her launch while she’s offering a pointer to her rowers.

“This year I’ve been better,” said Dartmouth’s women’s coach. “I’m not looking over my shoulder every time I stop the boats to coach.”

Muri coaches and trains on the liquid dividing line between New Hampshire and Vermont but she knows every twist and turn in King Charles’ quirky waterway that separates Cambridge from Boston. The 52-year-old Muri directed Harvard’s freshman lightweight men for 13 years and rowed for MIT for four.

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On Saturday morning she’ll return with partner CB Sands-Bohrer to bid for a third consecutive women’s senior master doubles crown at the Head of the Charles Regatta.

Their first one in 2013, when they dethroned three-time champions Inge Stekl and Fran Tuite in course-record time, was significant in itself. But last year’s triumph was an exceptional achievement, coming in the same year Muri had surgery for breast cancer. “I don’t know how we managed to win but we did,” she said.

“I’m like, how on earth did we do that? I give full credit to CB. She must have been pushing me down the course like nobody’s business.”

For Muri, returning to defend the title never was in question. She’d competed in that spring’s Boston Marathon, the first after the 2013 terrorist bombings, even while she was undergoing chemotherapy. “I lived in Watertown, I was on the Boston Athletic Association and I was, I’m doing it, no matter what,” said Muri, who finished in under five hours.

Her oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital reckoned that there was no need for Muri to limit her athletic intensity as long as she kept herself hydrated. “That’s Linda,” said Sands-Bohrer. “Most people can’t do this . . . but maybe you can. That’s definitely her personality, forging ahead . . . Dogged is probably an understatement.”

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So once she heard Muri’s prognosis her seatmate reckoned that she’d be ready for last autumn’s regatta. “In my head I was going through the math,” Sands-Bohrer recalled. “I said, you’ll be ready for the Head of the Charles. It was sort of a knee-jerk reaction. If she was up for it, I was up for it.”

That October weekend has been inked in Muri’s calendar for decades. She won the master singles title in 2001 and was the go-to fill-in for the Etats Unis eight, an agglomeration of former Olympic oarswomen. Muri might not have raced at the Games — her lightweight event wasn’t on the program — but she made nine national teams and won three world titles in the pair and four.

Muri, who says that she was 5-foot-8 “on a good day,” rowed with taller and heavier women at MIT, which had competitive eights during her first two seasons there but didn’t win a race during her last two. “It was just grim,” she recalled. “That’s probably why I kept rowing.”

Muri, whose first coaching job was with the Middlesex girls’ crew, was an assistant for the Cornell men’s lightweight program before she went to Harvard, where her boats won medals at seven Eastern Sprints and five national championships. After studying aero-astro, or aeronautics-astronautics, at MIT, where the male-female ratio was 10-1, operating in a men’s world was no novelty. “It prepared me well for being at the men’s Sprints,” Muri said.

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When she took the head job at Dartmouth two years ago it was the first time Muri had coached women at the collegiate level. “All the teams I’ve ever been on have been women’s teams so I have a lot of experience,” she says. “But I just love the age group. That’s the biggest thing, seeing the development.”

Linda Muri is head coach of the Dartmouth women's rowing team.
Linda Muri is head coach of the Dartmouth women's rowing team.Cheryl Senter/For the Globe

Muri may be old enough to be their mother (Sands-Bohrer’s daughter Sabrina rows for her) but she probably could outrace most of her oarswomen in a single. So Sands-Bohrer, a two-time world champion in the lightweight double who earned Head of the Charles titles in the 1986 lightweight single and 2011 grand master single, seemed a natural partner. “I mentioned it in passing on the dock one day and Linda said, yeah, whenever you’re ready,” she said.

Come regatta weekend Muri always has been ready for anything, untimely oncological challenges notwithstanding. “When we were on the water warming up for the Charles last year I turned around to talk to her at one point and started to cry,” said Sands-Bohrer. “I was just happy we were racing.”

Linda Muri is aiming for a third straight women’s senior title this weekend.
Linda Muri is aiming for a third straight women’s senior title this weekend.Cheryl Senter/For the Globe

John Powers can be reached at john.powers@globe.com.