Daisy Mazzio-Manson Brings Rowing History to the U.S. Women’s 8
by Peggy Shinn
For most kids, crew is a sport far off their radar.
Daisy Mazzio-Manson could easily answer how she got into rowing as a kid. She grew up in a house where rowing runs deep. Her mom is an Olympian, her dad a world championship medalist, and her brother rowed in college.
She was probably on the water in utero, and her mom made a documentary in 1999 titled A Hero For Daisy. The film tells the story of the Yale University women’s crew protesting against gender bias and their lack of a locker room in 1976.
Mazzio-Manson is now one of four “new” rowers in Team USA’s women’s 8 at the 2023 World Rowing Championships — “new” in that this is their first senior international championship (the other five women in the boat have Olympic and/or senior world championship experience). In seat 7, behind starboard stroke Charlotte Buck — a veteran of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and 2022 world championships — Mazzio-Manson and her teammates hope to first qualify the boat for the Olympic Games Paris 2024, then win the first medal for the U.S. women’s 8 since 2019.
“Honestly, if I had half her athletic talent, I could have gone far,” said her mom, Mary Mazzio, who finished 11th in double sculls at the Olympic Games Barcelona 1992.
But young Daisy did not take to rowing immediately. Far from it. And only recently did she decide to pursue rowing at the elite level, and not because she wants to add hardware to the family trophy cabinet. Her goal is to “master the sport and become the best athlete that I can,” she said by Zoom from USRowing’s headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey.
Mary “Daisy” Mazzio-Manson grew up outside Boston — an active kid who would jump for hours on her little toddler legs in her bouncy seat (a clue, her parents realized, to their daughter’s future athletic prowess). Her parents both rowed: mom (Mary Mazzio) competed at Mount Holyoke College, then at the 1992 Olympic Games; her dad, Jay Manson, rowed for Trinity College, then won a bronze medal at the 1991 world championships; and her older brother, Jamie, went on to row at Wesleyan University. Growing up, Mazzio-Manson remembers attending every Head of the Charles Regatta, the Super Bowl of rowing in the U.S.
But that doesn’t mean she loved the sport. The opposite, in fact. Mary Mazzio had made the mistake of taking 8-year-old Daisy out in a double without bringing water to drink.
Tired and dehydrated at the end of the row, Daisy railed against her mom: “This sport stinks! You people go backwards!” (Sitting in shells, rowers pull on their oars with their backs to the finish line.)
Hockey was Mazzio-Manson’s favorite sport. She played on boys teams and was often the tallest on the ice.
“The boys would run up to her and throw themselves on her to try to knock her down,” remembers her mom. “She had this huge grin on her face. She loved that sport.”
Then freshman year in high school, a friend at Newton Country Day School suggested to Mazzio-Manson that they go out for rowing. "Sure," replied Mazzio-Manson, although she had sworn off the sport as an 8-year-old. She had already had two concussions in hockey, maybe crew would be safer for her head.
Her rowing genes quickly showed through. But more than that, she loved competing, going head-to-head, bow-to-bow against other boats, and she discovered that facing backwards has its advantages.
“When you’re ahead, you can see all your competition,” she explained. “It’s so unique to the sport, and as a competitor, I was really drawn to it.”
When it came to college, Mazzio-Manson chose Yale — a university to which she had been tied since she was a baby because her mom had made a film about a pivotal moment in women’s sports that took place at Yale, and then dedicated the documentary to Daisy (and her brother, although his name is not in the title).
A Hero for Daisy chronicles two-time Olympian Chris Ernst who, in 1976, galvanized her 18 teammates on the Yale women’s rowing team to storm the athletic director’s office to protest the lack of locker room facilities for the women. The New York Times called it a landmark film.
Baby Daisy has a couple of cameos in the documentary. But it did not influence her choice in either what college to attend or whether or not to stick with rowing.
What did influence her was the rowing community in which she was raised — with members of this community supporting one another.
“Also, a lot of them are such high-achieving athletes,” she added. “That pushed me to never set a limit on what I was capable of because I’d seen so many people achieve such amazing things.”
When it came to selecting a college, Mazzio-Manson liked the group of strong women who made up Yale’s crew.
“Subconsciously, A Hero for Daisy probably played a part,” she admitted. “I definitely grew up hearing about women’s rowing, and I admired the history of it, the women who came before me. I was drawn to that.”
Mostly, though, she “fell in love with Yale as a school, and the way the team acted.”
At Yale, Mazzio-Manson received the Chris Ernst Award for excellence in rowing her first year on the team. Sophomore year, she stroked Yale’s women’s 8 to third place in the petite final at 2018 NCAAs, then to second place in the petite final a year later. But a race that stands out was the 2018 Royal Henley Regatta — considered the Wimbledon of rowing.
Rowing in a heat for the Remenham Challenge Cup (each race category at Henley competes for a cup), the Yale women’s 8 was pitted against an 8 from the Netherlands with a veteran crew of Olympians and others with international experience.
Mom and dad were watching the race, and Mary Mazzio remembers thinking, “This is not going to be a fair fight.”
To no surprise, with 500 meters to go, Yale was behind.
“I see Daisy look over [at the Dutch boat] and all of a sudden, the stroke rate is jacked up,” said Mazzio.
Yale came back and defeated the Dutch boat in the heat.
“That’s Daisy,” said Mazzio. “She’s going to draw blood. She’s going to go into the pain cave.”
Mazzio-Manson’s senior year was curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. So on her coach’s advice, she used her final year of NCAA eligibility to attend grad school. She chose the University of Texas after talking to coach Dave O’Neill.
“I got inspired by everything he said,” Mazzio-Manson said, “and it was an exciting prospect to go to a team that had never won a national championship and put in that fight, that work, and see where we could end up.”
The Texas women’s 8 won Grand Final of the 2021 NCAA Division I Rowing Championships. While her teammates celebrated, Mazzio-Manson threw up over the side of the boat.
“She is the consummate competitor,” said Mazzio of her daughter, “and she has that ability to take it to the next level.”
After graduating with a master’s degree in marketing from the University of Texas, Mazzio-Manson knew she wanted to keep rowing. She was not ready to step back from the sport and community she loves, and she realized that she had not yet reached her potential. Before the pandemic in 2019, Mazzio-Manson had made the women’s 8 that won a bronze medal at U23 world championships. She was curious what she could accomplish with full-time training.
In 2022, she joined the Craftsbury Green Racing Project’s rowing program in Vermont and trained in a pair with Emily Froehlich, who also made the 2023 world championships women’s 8. Again, Mazzio-Manson found a strong community environment at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, a training center for elite rowers, cross-country skiers and biathletes.
“You can learn a lot talking to other elite athletes,” said Mazzio-Manson. “It opens the way that you think about training, racing and competing.”
The months spent in the pair helped Mazzio-Manson hone her technique. At the national selection camp in Princeton this summer, she (and Froehlich) were named to the women’s 8.
The primary goal at worlds in Belgrade, Serbia, is to finish in the top five in the women’s 8 A final. A top-five finish will qualify the U.S. women’s 8 for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. They also aim to make the podium and perhaps even begin another winning streak (the U.S. women’s 8 went undefeated at the Olympic Games and world championships for 11 years, from 2006-2016).
But for Mazzio-Manson, it’s about more than winning medals.
“I’m really excited for this opportunity to race on the world stage,” she said, “and to use the experience to become a better athlete for next year.”