A tribute to Nikolay Kurmakov


Elizabeth Carr, Guest Writer

Guest writer, Elizabeth Carr (Class of 2004) was a member of the crew team during her time at Simmons. Additionally, Carr worked as a writer and photograph/layout editor for the Voice.

“Are you going to do crew, too?” I asked my new friend, Bonnie, as we pushed open the doors to the Holmes Sports Center. 

“Yeah, but I’ve never rowed before,” she said. 

“Me either, but it looks awesome.” 

It was day one of orientation at Simmons. 

Not only was I a new student, slightly terrified about being on my own and in college, but I was also excited to try a sport I thought I would be good. Nevermind the fact that I was only 5 ft tall and had zero experience. I wanted to be a rower. 

As we sat down, in walked Nik. To my 5 ft frame, I thought he must’ve been 7 feet tall. He was lean and strong looking and, if I’m being honest, I was completely intimidated by him. 

He stood at the front of our little row of folding chairs, put his hands behind his back and took a deep breath. 

“Girls, welcome to crew — it is very hard,” he said in a thick Ukrainian accent. He then smiled the largest, widest smile I had ever seen, as if pleased with himself that he had pulled as fast one over on us — pretending to be rough and tough but really being a giant teddy bear. 

The truth is, that’s who he really was — a giant, walking heartbeat who cared deeply about his family — about us. 

I made a goal after that first informational meeting that I wanted to become a captain of the team, and wasn’t sure Nik would give me the chance. I was, after all, sized more to be the coxwain than a powerhouse rower. 

That first erg test, I showed him my grit, hitting consistent splits for 6,000 meters without any real clue as to what that meant. 

Nik saw beyond my height and saw my heart. 

“Little legs,” he said, “big guts, Lizzzzebeth.” 

A week later, I was named co-captain of our freshman squad. And, he made me stroke seat — a coveted place in the boat. Nik became a mentor and like a second parental figure to me. If I was in the launch with him during practice and not in the crew shell, he would tell me stories about landmarks along the river between shouting commands through his big, blue, megaphone. 

Nik opened his home to us for team dinners, and playfully joked that he hated my sopping wet hugs after a rainstorm-filled practice session. He always hugged back, though. 

After I graduated, we kept in touch over email.

He would drop me a note when he read a story I wrote for the newspaper, and allowed a video crew from the Boston Globe to sit with the Simmons Crew to get a bird’s-eye view of the Head of the Charles course.

A day after I ran my first Boston Marathon, Nik emailed me a note post-race simply with the sentence: “Crew still harder than marathon” — his subtle way of telling me he knew I was tough and that he was proud of me — and I just needed to remember to be proud of myself, too. 

Nik created countless memories not just in our morning practices or spring break trips, but truly in our lives. Nik embodied what sports at Simmons stand for: giving your all, growing and learning as you go, and never, ever, letting someone else define what you are capable of in life or sport. 

You were the best, Nik. 

Big legs, big heart.


From Carr’s website:

Elizabeth Carr is a marathoner, journalist, triathlete, coffee connoisseur, wife, mother, and writer turned non-profit fundraising expert. 

Carr worked as a journalist at The Boston Globe for 15 years, first as a reporter, then in marketing and events.

Her background in the nonprofit world comes from working with advocacy groups in development. 

Elizabeth is also the United States’ first baby born from the in-vitro fertilization procedure and the 15th in the world, which means she has been in the media spotlight since 3 cells old.