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Seeing Double: BU Twins to Row in Head of the Charles

Kerri and Kelli Wegner compete in women’s championship eights

When Kelli and Kerri Wegner take to the Charles River every morning, the words of encouragement they hear from their teammates on the Boston University women’s rowing team are the same.

“Yeah, Wegners!” their teammates cheer. “Use that strength!”

Being called collectively by their last name doesn’t bother the two rowers. They are used to it. The identical twins are united not just by DNA, but by a passion for rowing.

The two grew up in Saratoga, N.Y., and not only row in the same boat, but live together as well. While that kind of togetherness might be a problem for some sisters, these two wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It doesn’t affect us,” Kelli says. “We don’t get in fights. We’re best friends.”

Now, Kerri and Kelli are hoping they can use that chemistry to propel them and their teammates to a strong finish during this weekend’s Head of the Charles regatta, the world’s largest rowing event, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Boston University BU, womens crew, BU athletics, rowing, Kelli Wegnery, Kerri Wegner, 50 annual Head of the Charles, Head of the Charles, Regatta, Salley Rippletoe

Identical twins Kelli Wegner (CGS’15) (left) and Kerri Wegner (CGS’15) will compete in this weekend’s women’s eights competition at the Head of the Charles regatta.

“When you’re twins and you think alike and you try to perform the same way, obviously it will affect your rowing style,” Kelli says. “It’s definitely unique, because I always know what she’s thinking. It helps knowing that someone always has your back.” Kerri says that she is able to say things to her sister she wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to other teammates, who might think she was trying to coach them. “We’ll say things to each other, but we don’t get mad at each other.”

“It’s way better to have them together than apart,” says women’s rowing head coach Stacey Rippetoe. “Not that apart they’re bad. It’s just that Kelli and Kerri work really well together. It’s almost like there’s more than two people when they’re together, because there’s this synergy that works.”

The two competed in last year’s Head of the Charles. Out of 42 boats, theirs finished 22nd in the women’s championship eights competition, leaving them one spot short of qualifying for this year’s regatta. Fortunately, they were able to enter the race after a random drawing.

Both say they’ve advanced significantly since last year, when they were adjusting to the challenges of college and the demands of being Division I athletes.

“Time management was a big thing for me,” Kerri acknowledges. “We have our practice times, lift and solo workouts. We have academics, reviews, tutorials, so at the beginning of last year I looked at all the things I had to do and thought, how am I going to get this done? This year I feel way less stressed about that.”

One of the biggest challenges for both women when they arrived at BU was adjusting their rowing technique to mesh with that of the others on the team. The technique—what Rippetoe calls the BU stroke—requires slight modifications that help to improve the scull’s speed. It takes time to master, and the Wegners have come a long way.

“I think it’s a work in progress,” Rippetoe says. “Not just for Kelli and Kerri, but for all the rowers. Everyone on the boat wants to go as hard as they can and move the boat as well as they can. But the team needs to understand that they have to balance that with patience so they’re able to change the way they’re rowing.”

“It takes a lot of focus,” Kelli says. “You can have it for like 10 strokes in an hour and a half practice and then fall back into old problems. But those 10 strokes will turn into 20 and then 30, so you keep at it.”

Boston University BU, womens crew, BU athletics, rowing, Kelly Wegnery, Kerri Wegner, 50 annual Head of the Charles, Head of the Charles, Regatta, Salley Rippletoe Boston University BU, womens crew, BU athletics, rowing, Kelly Wegnery, Kerri Wegner, 50 annual Head of the Charles, Head of the Charles, Regatta, Salley Rippletoe
Boston University BU, womens crew, BU athletics, rowing, Kelly Wegnery, Kerri Wegner, 50 annual Head of the Charles, Head of the Charles, Regatta, Salley Rippletoe

Kelli Wegner (bottom, left) and twin Kerri Wegner (bottom, right) watch a team rowing video. The twins are coached by Stacey Rippetoe (top), who is in her seventh year as head coach of BU’s women’s rowing team.

Neither of the Wegners grew up planning to row competitively. As youngsters, their preferred sport was soccer. It wasn’t until the summer before eighth grade, when Kerri participated in a rowing camp, that she became hooked. “I did it as a fun thing to do and loved it,” she recalls. “It was a very quick and crazy decision. I had played soccer my whole life.”

Kelli took up rowing after going with Kerri on a training trip to Florida during their freshman year of high school.

The sisters credit their ability to excel in the sport so quickly to their synergy. They competed in their first Head of the Charles as high school students, and it was then that they fell in love with Boston.

Boston University BU, womens crew, BU athletics, rowing, Kelly Wegnery, Kerri Wegner, 50 annual Head of the Charles, Head of the Charles, Regatta, Salley Rippletoe

Kerri Wegner took up rowing in eighth grade after attending a summer rowing camp. Her sister Kelli followed suit the next year.

“We would look forward to the Head of the Charles every year like it was Christmas,” Kerri says. “We’d say, ‘We’re going to row on the Charles; we’re going to be rowing in the middle of Boston and all the buildings are going to be around us.’”

But now the race has a deeper, more personal resonance. “It’s cool to have the Head of the Charles be a home race,” says Kerri. “This is our water.”

The Wegners are quick to credit the team’s camaraderie to their Terrier teammates. “Our team has chemistry and it rubs off just as much as us being twins,” Kelli says. “We do have good chemistry, but it comes from other places, too, not just between us. It comes from our coaches and our team.”

Andre Khatchaturian can be reached at andrekha@bu.edu.

4 Comments

4 Comments on Seeing Double: BU Twins to Row in Head of the Charles

  • Catherine Caldwell-Harris on 10.17.2014 at 7:51 am

    One often wonders if twins do indeed function as a kind of ‘superorganism’ from having grown up together always at the same life-stage together (as well as being similar due to same genetics). As the mother of fraternal twin boys, I see them behaving like a two-headed creature often; they are usually ‘wing-to-wing’ as they navigate their world, and they frequently use ‘we’ to refer to themselves as collective agents. But are these just stories that parents tell themselves?

    I found it powerful when the coach basically confirmed this with the quote: “It’s way better to have them together than apart,” says women’s rowing head coach Stacey Rippetoe. “Not that apart they’re bad. It’s just that Kelli and Kerri work really well together. It’s almost like there’s more than two people when they’re together, because there’s this synergy that works.”

  • Deb Small on 10.17.2014 at 9:16 am

    Nice article! However, at the end of the article when listing the races and times for the BU women’s and men’s teams, the races for the BU Lightweights were completely missed!!! They are on Sunday with the 4s racing at 3:31 and the 8s racing at 3:51.

    • David Keefe, BU Today on 10.17.2014 at 11:02 am

      Thanks for your comment. We’ve added the information to the story.

      • Deb Small on 10.17.2014 at 3:08 pm

        Thank you so very much! This is a ‘new’ team (3 years old)–yet in its short life, the team has been very successful. The first team members–most of whom had never rowed before joining the BU openweight team as novices their freshman year–are graduating this year.

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