Barbara Howard: The Head of the Charles is this weekend and rowers and their fans from around the world are heading to Cambridge for the event. Among those who will be racing out of the Charles River are Mary Mazzio and Annabel Eyres. They are no strangers to rowing or to each other. They competed against each other twenty five years ago in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Annabel Eyres rode for her native Great Britain and Mary Mazzio, who is a native of Needham, Massachusetts, for the United States. But this weekend they're going to be rowing together on the same team. Mary Mazzio and Annabel Ayers are with me now in studio. Thanks for coming in.

Mazzio: Thanks for having us Barbara. Great to be here.

Howard: So you must be training together. What are you going to be rowing?

Mazzio: We are rowing a women's quad together so there will be four members from the 1992 team, really doing a nostalgic lap — three from Team USA and Annabel is our friends from across the pond.

Howard: Did you go head to head back in ‘92? Were you on competing boats on the same race?

Mazzio: Yeah, I think Annabel was one lane over, if I remember, and got the better of us.

Howard: So what was it like to row as a young woman back in the day?

Ayers: It was really tough because I'd learned [at] Oxford. And in those days you had the Oxford, Cambridge men's boat race which got huge amounts of coverage. They did get sponsorship, but we had no money whatsoever and we were always going to scratch around, write endless letters to get sponsorship.

Howard: Have there been gains made?

Ayers: Huge, huge gains. So back in 1987 and '88, there was a group of us who were kind of campaigning to try and get the women's race on the same stretch of river as the men and we felt that we were being cheated. So we did try to get things moving by having dialogue with the organizers of the men's race to say 'Look, we've been rowing for several decades now. We're perfectly capable of doing exactly the same course. We want to do the same race as the men.' And we just had a complete blanket no response. They came up with ridiculous excuses like the tide wouldn't allow for an extra race. And two years ago, they actually introduced a women's boat race on the same stretch of river from Putney to Mortlake.

Howard: So that was the argument we were making, how many years ago? They just started years ago …

Ayers: 30 years ago.

Howard: So just in the past two or three years it was resolved?

Ayers: Yes, it was finally resolved.

Mazzio: I will say one of the Head of the Charles sponsors — BNY Melon — was so helpful when it came to the boat race in the UK, because they said if we're going to sponsor this, you need to have a women's race. And kudos to them because they helped to pave the way, which is so unusual for a brand to stand out like that.

Howard: So what is it like in the United States for you as a woman back then versus now?

Mazzio: I think Title IX, which requires equal opportunity for women — those battles have played out in the United States actually on the rowing course. Athletic administrators across the country, in order to build up parity and build up numbers to compensate, let's say for a men's football team, will launch a rowing team. So you see teams now — University of Texas, University of Ohio, at schools across the nation at places that never had rowing. And the net-net is that Team USA women's eight, our Olympic women, are our prize jewel. Why? Because all of a sudden they're getting scholarships to all of these places and the sport is attracting the best athletes. And so these women are getting gold medal, after gold medal, after gold medal, at the Olympic Games. But back in the day it wasn't like that.

Howard: Title IX comes out of rowing, right?

Mazzio: Well Title IX interestingly enough was signed into law by President Nixon as part of the 1972 Education Act. But rules were promulgated in 1974, ‘75 that basically said you have to have equal opportunity for men and women in federally funded institutions.

And it was a rower, Chris Ernst at Yale University, that brought this to a head. And at that time it was 1976. Yale had not become accustomed to women yet at this point. And there were no facilities for the women to train in and to shower in.

Yale had gone co-ed and the boat house was 20 minutes away. So the women would row in the rain, in the snow, and get on an unheated bus shivering, while every last man would shower at the boathouse and then they'd go back to campus. On top of that, all of the women at Yale were winning their races. The men were losing theirs. So it was just an egregious situation and the captain — her name is Chris Ernst — she became a two time Olympian. So she was on an Olympic track and couldn't shower at the boathouse. So they tried diplomatic channels, and they were told the wheels of change grind slowly here at Yale University. And her attitude was, we pay the same amount of tuition as the boys, what's wrong with this picture? And they ended up demonstrating. They stormed the athletic director's office, stripped, had Title IX in blue marker on their chests, on their back, fully buck naked. Yale women stripping? This thing went around the globe in 1976 and people were sending in checks, you know, build those women a shower and get clothes on those women! And every athletic director across the country saw this covered in The New York Times with women stripping and they all stood up and said OK how do we avoid that situation?

Right? OK, we need to have equal facilities for men and women.

Howard: How did that affect you? What was it like for you when you were a young rower?

Mazzio: My first year on the U.S. team we literally were housed in Indianapolis in tents while the men were put up at hotel rooms. Now could I have spoken up at that point in my life? Should I have spoken up? Absolutely. But I was focused on making the team, getting in the boat, trying not to faint in the Indianapolis heat. You know, you fast forward 25 years and you look back and you say, well that was egregious — why didn't I speak out? And I think having that Olympic experience, that confronting your fear, I do speak out and have the courage and wisdom now to speak out at a time where I wish I had been more like Chris Ernst and the women at Yale who did speak out because they paved the path for me, for other women that came behind them.

Howard: So here you go. You're going to be on the water this weekend, what day?

Mazzio: So we're racing together, all four of us, on Sunday at 9:30.

Howard: And the weather looks like it's going to cooperate —  a lot of sun and highs in the low 70s. That's good or bad for you?

Ayers: Good.

Howard: Well good luck.

Mazzio: Thank you Barbara. Thanks for having us.

Ayers: Thank you.

Howard: That's Mary Mazzio and Annabel Eyres. Twenty five years ago, they were on competing teams rowing in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Mary for the United States, Annabel for Great Britain. And this weekend, they are going to be team mates rowing together at the Head of the Charles Regatta.