Now for something a bit different…

Two months later….

First erging session since the fracture rib. 4 x 4:00 at easiest damper, lower rate. Slightly tender from time to time but nothing unbearable or warning.

A good sign.

I couldn’t resist a few full pressure strokes. ūüėČ But otherwise, trying to take it easy.

Looking forward to being on water soon!

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Rowing snaps to a halt

The Head of the¬†Giblet was one of my last days rowing. I just didn’t know it yet.

Right after Giblet, I followed in the footsteps of many Americans and hit the road to visit my family for the Thanksgiving holiday. By Monday afternoon, my¬†two-year-old niece was tugging me around my Mom’s jacuzzi saying “wawa.” Tuesday the skies dumped bucket after bucket on us for my Grandmother’s surprise 90th birthday party. I texted an old rowing pal who lived in the area¬†about possibly rowing later in the week. The next day I knocked out three desserts in three hours before family photo day. On turkey day I trotted out my awesome turkey plaque to a horrified or impressed (depending on the person) audience of 20+ people between eating and stuff like that. But Thanksgiving¬†was the day things started to go downhill. By that afternoon, a tickle in the back of my throat was the first warning I’d been targeted as the next¬†victim of this family present.

Everything hurts, and it’s not from rowing

Before we left, I’d heard Mom coughing and complaining about how her back hurt. As soon as I hung up, I’d warned the husband Mom was sick. We started downing Emergen-C.

On that rainy Tuesday, my brother woke up with the sniffles but gamely attended the party. By the next day, he was down and out, with a monstrous headache. The rest of us played babysitter and reminded our niece, yelling, “Daddy,” that, “ssh, Daddy’s sleeping.” (“WAKE UP DADDY!”) He groggily emerged briefly Thursday to say hello before trundling back to bed and sleeping through the horde in the house. It’s that day that I felt the cough coming on and knew I was in for it.

By the next day, the flu squeezed me in an its achy tendrils. I curled up as far away from everyone as possible, tucked under a sleeping bag trying to stay warm. The husband began coughing that night, the flu’s next victim.

The rest of the weekend we ignored the piles of luggage strewn around the house, curled up on the sofa, alternating between hot flashes and chills. Rowing was out of the question, not when my knees throbbed and my back protested attempts at sitting up.

I started to emerge from the flu-induced stupor around Monday. The aches and pains were gone, my mini-menopausal state over, all that lingered was a sore throat and voice. For practice, I stayed on shore and let someone else herd the middle schoolers on water.

Starts looking up

A little peeved that my endurance would be shot, partially from lack of working out, partially from flu recovery, I forced myself to erg Tuesday. Part of my brain hoped it would help knock some of the junk from my chest. The session proceeded a little like this: Pick drill warm up to 1000k, coughing fit. 750m, Dad calls. Another 500m, cough. Row 1000k, really thirsty. Cough. Convince myself to keep going. 250m, cough. At 4500 meters, I gave up.

I thought I’d join Night Crew for a Wednesday morning row. Instead, I spent a sleepless night banished to the sofa, coughing despite taking cough medicine. At 5 a.m., I bailed. The day passed in a sleepless haze, full of coughing and moments staring into space. I forced myself to join my Wednesday group erging in the Holiday Challenge, rowing 750m with 1 minute off. That minute grew into 2…then 3…but I racked 4500m.

Wednesday night was a rerun of Tuesday, banished on the sofa, coughing endlessly.

The erging effort repeated on Thursday, with more spacious breaks. That evening, the significant other asked about my Friday plans.

“I’m going rowing.”

“You’re what? Seriously?”

“Yeah, I gotta get back into it sometime.”

The morning was one of those rare perfect rowing days. Crystal clear, flat water, no wind, little current, a rosy sunrise, and a fly-by dozens of water birds. Night Crew took off, I paddled about 3k down, turned, paddled back, with a nice, big, coughing fit at 4.5k. I focused on patient catching and accelerating through the drive, but not at full pressure. I wished I’d been well enough to even have wanted to take off rowing and make use of the morning.

Warning Signs

Saturday is the first day I remember my right side hurting. I rolled out of bed with the ache but passed it off as sore from my week of hacking up a lung.

I committed to rowing Sunday. That morning was the first day in two weeks I woke up feeling like myself again. Definitely not 100%, but the cloudiness was gone, I was perky and ready to go. The cough still lingered. Everyone was so hopeful about rowing a quad, that I said fine. I’d just bow out if I needed to.

The moment¬†I sat down, the oars in my hands, I knew it was going to a long, painful row. I just thought I’d suck it up. But every stroke hurt. I apologized for my rough rowing–I couldn’t swing forward at all, and very little backwards. Stroke called for different powers; half-pressure was a knife stabbing in my side. I didn’t want to seem like a sissy; I was trying to tough it out. When the front of the boat asked how I was doing, I said ok, just ribs hurt. Apparently I was being rather quiet. Breathing wasn’t an issue; I couldn’t apply enough power to get my heart rate up to need to breathe hard.

Of course it hurt the remainder of the day. I opted to skip Monday rowing and give my sore ribs a day of rest. That day, they didn’t feel any better, which concerned me, but I remained hopeful they’d chill out by Wednesday and I could pick back up rowing.

The Hammer Cracks

Tuesday morning, I prepared to take my dog for a walk. In one hand, I was talking to Alan on the phone, complaining my ribs still ached, in the other hand the leash. The tickle in my throat forced me to cough–and I froze mid-sentence, squeezing my eyes shut, gasping for air. “Hey–you there–hey!” Tears welled up in my eyes. “Use your words!”

I couldn’t; I was trying to take deep breaths. My entire core was seized up in a pain-wracking spasms as I leaned against the doorway.

No more. I called the doctor, who had an opening in half an hour. By 10, the good ol’ doc was pressing on my side ribs, causing more sharp gasps and groans.

“I’m so sorry,” She said. “It’s at very least sprained. We’ll get x-rays, too. I’ll write you a prescription for pain medication. You’re out at least three weeks. But don’t worry–you’re the second person I’ve seen in the last month having sprained ribs from the flu. The other girl was an avid runner.”

Three weeks of nothing. I texted my crew, sad face and all, in the waiting room for the x-ray. On the way home, I picked up my pain meds, and tried to resign myself to three weeks. Early January. Still time to recover for sprint season.

Wednesday, 10 a.m. The medicated stupor was making editing a challenge. Phone rings with a Sarasota number. It’s the doctor’s office with my x-ray results.

“I’m sorry. You do have a fracture. It’s rib #9.”

She rattles on more information while I sit numb, processing. Something finally clicks and I grab a pen, take notes and repeating what she’s said about the injury. Heat and ice as needed. No heavy lifting, no rowing, at least 6-8 weeks.

First I’m stunned. I fractured a rib *coughing* from the flu. All the crazy stuff I’ve done in the last 365 days–the 24000 meter row, all the racing, the pulled muscles, the hit markers, the duathlon–and I fracture a rib from the flu.

The second thought–no running, no rowing, any weight training must be zero-core, I don’t have a bike–now what do I do?

Third–there goes my sprint season.

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Gobble, Gobble: A Bunch of Turkeys at the Head of the Giblet

The Fluidesign 4x is ping-ponging down the course: left, right, left, right.¬†The starboard oars have whacked two buoys, jarring the rhythm, and there’s a turn approaching. The glasses are fogging; it’s hard to judge the distance. And still we ping-pong, losing time, not setting up for the turn…

“Get your act together, Casey!” I snap aloud through gritted teeth, jamming the toe steering straight.

The Head of the Giblet Regatta

Over in the land of mouse, there’s a notorious regatta called the Head of the Giblet. Rowers know it primarily for one reason: the 5k course is one giant circle. “Hard on port!” “Hard on port!” “Hard on port” “Hard on port again!” “Okay, hard on starboard!” “Port!”

The other thing the Head of the Giblet is known for is really turkeying up their theme. It’s always the weekend before Thanksgiving. It’s rowed on Turkey Lake. They sell “gobbler sandwiches,” a delicious smashing of turkey, cranberry, and stuffing in a roll. The first place in the men and women’s master 1x wins a frozen turkey. All-points is a turkey fan. And each winner in every event, in addition to a turkey-themed medal, takes home a plaque showing¬†a preserved turkey foot.

Some people find themed events childish and this detail especially grotesque. Memories of The Monkey’s Paw resurface from middle school.¬†Who wants a taxidermed turkey claw in their living room? How many turkeys died in the creation of the turkey trophy? They cringe at the display of plaques. But me?

I love it.

Curse of the Giblet

My first introduction to the glories of the Turkey Regatta was back in 2009 when I stroked a Womens master’s 4+. The most distinct memory I have of this race is of coming into the last 1k towards the finish. I’m hurting like crazy trying to move the boat home when I glance right and see this guy in bumblebee stripes rowing outside the course towards the start line. He’s passing us. We’re a racing 4+ and this one guy is faster than us on our warm-up! It was demoralizing. We were 2nd of 2 entries and a time of 27:28.

Two years later I convinced three other women from Sarasota to try Turkey Lake in pursuit of the claw. It was a horrible experience. Our cox box died, we had a novice coxswain so green she’d never coxed before, and I had to call steering from the stroke seat. A bunch of high school 4+’s passed us, and at the very end of the race, we ended up smushed between two 4+’s that were racing hard against each other. I remember an oar blade flashing before my eyes; I ducked¬†back¬†and avoided a broken nose. At the end we were slapped with a 30 second penalty that wiped out our 33-second handicap. We debated protesting, but let it go. It bit us in the butt, because we were second with a time of 26:00 (Raw 26:03). Without the penalty, we would’ve won. That was 2011.

I have considered Giblet, with its crazy curves, cursed ever since.

Shall we go turkey hunting?

Ready for the turkey hunt...war paint and feathers.

Ready for the turkey hunt…war paint and feathers.

For three years, the Giblet regatta has been pushed aside. No one in Sarasota likes to go to the Giblet because of the course. We’re straight line kind of people: A-to-B rowing, forget the scenic route.

This year, Masters has pretty much been following the Scullers around to their regattas. The one regatta they chose to participate in separately was canceled. Scullers, for various reasons, opted out of two regattas this year. But, having promised the varsity four head races, they needed a number four. That left the Giblet, the last head race of the season in Florida.

When the decision was first made, I hemmed and hawed about it. I’d written off winning a turkey plaque. I thought after the Duathlon, I’d be finished for the season. But…we were so fast at Hooch…and there was only one other entry…and I really wanted the claw…but no one liked the course…but still…?


And the next day, it was a go!

Rowing in circles


All of our turkey gear for the Head of the Giblet.

The quad carpooled over to Orlando early in the morning for our 8:30 a.m. race. Forecast: cloudy, winds out of the east at 9-10 mph. The closer we drove, the more it rained. I smeared eye black on my baby cheeks and tucked red feathers in my hair. We rigged the Fluidesign 4x in rain jackets and peeled them off¬†at first call. The rain stopped as we joined the queue of men’s¬†doubles waiting¬†to launch.

The announcer jumped the gun on calling events, making us extremely early. The little bit of warming up on land I had attempted was for nil as the ref asked us to stand aside and let the late doubles launch ahead.

I missed the coaches and coxes meeting and had little time to study the course, so I used our row to the start to eyeball the buoys I could see. The course had more buoys than I remembered from previous experience, but I had not been responsible for steering back then. Our warm-up was negligent: picks, steady by 3’s, then 4’s, a power 10, and one “up 2” before I had to stop us and join the men’s 2x curling around the lake’s shoreline. The east wind pushed the boat¬†towards the lily pads and weeds. ¬†As I was chopping the boat forward, I noticed stroke chipping in.

“Why are you backing?” I called.

“Because we’re getting blown in the weeds and I don’t want us to get stuck!”

“Yes, I get that–but why are you backing?”

“Oh! Never mind!”

We curled around the corner into the cove used for the start. The marshal had us wait to allow the doubles race a solid head start. The pause gave me time to assess the starting chute and the first two turns of the course.

“Guys–I think we should reassess our start plan. The chute is really short. We’re going to be on our high 10 when we hit the first turn.”

The girls turned and looked.

El Capitan made the call. “We’ll row into it. So let’s just get going, and we’ll keep taking the beat progressively up and when you have a good point, say, ‘clear,’ and we’ll take a high 20.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“When we have clear water, shout, ‘clear,’ and we’ll go. If Casey calls ‘move,’ then we’re going to do power on so we pass a boat.”

The marshal ordered us to turn and point towards the start. And hold water some more. The quads chasing us lined up behind the stern.

The boat started trembling, which kicked off my nerves. I stared up at the cypress trees and took a deep breath. I knew the fate of our turkey claws rested solely in the decisions I was about to make. The morning had gone by too fast for me to fret about steering.

I told 2-seat, “You’re going to have to be the power for me. My first priority is our course.”

“Got it. It was the same when I was bowing–I completely understand.”

The boat kept shaking, accelerating my adrenaline. All the moisture left in my dry mouth vanished.

“Whoever’s shaking the boat, please stop. You’re making me more nervous!”

“Oh, sorry! That was me just slapping my legs!”

The bullhorn clicked on. “145, you may proceed.”

“Granny start!” Stroke called.

“Sit half-slide.” I ordered. We slid up on our seats, the red “S” of our blades flashing as we rolled onto the square and buried. “Attention. Row.”

We started the row, slowly building up our rate to a steady, controlled pace. Halifax, our chasing boat, started after us. My heart rate spiked. We needed serious distance on them to stand a chance of winning. Do not look at them, I thought. Focus on the course; let the other three worry about the distance on Halifax.

“Three strokes to start!”

“Three to start!” echoed 2-seat. The power behind the oars ticked up and we surged forward. The horn sounded. We were on.

Three buoys later, I turned the toe hard to the left, making our first starboard turn. “Turn approaching!”

The turn was good. I saw Halifax just past the start; we were five-six boat lengths ahead. I refused to look again, glancing left then right to assess distance to the weeds and lily pads skirting the lakeshore.

“Turn approaching!” The toe turned to port. Again, a solid turn. “Clear!” I yelled.

“Alright, let’s move!” shouted stroke. “Up 2!” I locked in for 10, checked course, another 10.

We were closing in on our first high school 2x. As our next turn, a port, approached, the double weaved back and forth in our path. “Yield!” I shouted. And again, as they hooked back to the right, and then the left. I committed to their outside, and they finally gave way around our third turn.

Head of the Giblet race course. It's curvier than you think.

Head of the Giblet race course. It’s curvier than you think.

We had a long straightaway, maybe 750 meters of open water. In my quick glances over my left and right shoulders, I could not spy another double. “Clear!” I shouted. The quad surged down the buoy line. I felt great and solid down the stretch.

I peeked back again. A boat was on the course. Fishing? Marshaling? Couldn’t tell. I opted to steer back closer to the buoy line to go between them and yellow balls. I looked again–now they were blocking my line of sight! I couldn’t see the next buoy and I cursed under my breath. Finally they moved and I could see the next buoys and our turn. We were on the inside now, with weeds pushing the course narrow.

“Turn approaching!” I yelled. I tried to eyeball it; I didn’t realize until we were strokes away how sharp I’d have to turn. “Turn hard on port now!” I yanked the toe to the left. “Hard on port!”

The boat started turning, but the moment we cut around the buoy, barely missing whacking with our oars, I knew it was off. We were heading straight for a patch of weeds and lily pads jutting out from the shore line. “Port! More port!” I screamed, trying to keep us out of the patch. Our water trail continued to curve, but I’d just cut the inside too much, no matter how much I begged for more port pressure. We sliced through two patches of weeds as I tried to angle us back towards the buoy line. Finally–“Equal!” I used the toe to bring us back on a straight line along the buoys.

“Sorry!” I yelled to the boat. “It was sharper than I thought!”

We continued on. The sharp angle¬†gave us a great view of the chasing boats. The double we passed was easily 12-14 boat lengths behind us and Halifax…out of sight.

“Come on, let’s get the next double!” growled stroke. “Let’s go ladies!”

I couldn’t see the next double. The next turn was toe only, a not as sharp hook to starboard. Now I spied the next double, nearing the next turn. “Double’s 500 meters away,” I told 2-seat.

I can see the buoy line, but the glasses are now spotted with water, obscuring my vision a little. The next turn is approaching. I angle the boat where I think it’s good–check left–good, buoy in sight–check right–crap! buoy right behind us!

“Starboard!” The toe yanks to the right. I check again–“We’re going to hit! Keep rowing!” I can see it, so I know to drop my hands into my lap. My oar misses the buoy, but 2-seat skims the top with 3 and 4 solidly whacking on the square. The quad wobbles as we try to continue our pace. “Get it back!” I yell, and we do.

The hard turn to port has messed up our course. Without looking, I had turned the toe slightly to starboard to try and compensate while we picked back up our rhythm. A mistake. On the next look, the buoy is right there.

The four letter word flies out. “Starboard again!” Now I’m pissed at myself. “You’re going to hit again! I’m sorry!” It’s a complete repeat of the last buoy. We’re yelling at each other, about time, tempo, catching back together, mixed with my cursed apologies. But we do it. I don’t have time to apply power–the next turn is here. Despite our whacks, we’re closing in on the next double. “Closing! Turn approaching!”

I manage to miss this buoy on this turn; it’s another hard on port with the toe stuck left. I am determined not to hit any more buoys. The glasses are fogging up more. I check left and right–there’s a green buoy floating about 10 yards off shore. I decide it’s best to keep it on port and stay closer to the yellow buoys. ¬†My course is ping-ponging to try and fit between the yellow and green while not getting too close to either. I see our stern trail writing “SSSSS” down the straightaway. The buoys messed up my confidence and calm; I’m jittery and panicking, which is worst possible thing to happen right now with the race halfway done.

I grit my teeth. “Get it together Casey!”

I put the toe straight and deal with it.

The 1500 meter sign is neon orange, black, and bobbing crazily in the wind. “1500!” I yell.

“What?” someone asks. “15?”

I let the sign slide by on starboard as the answer. We have 1500 meters to go and now the next 2x is three boat lengths away navigating the next turn.

We swing to starboard and end up right on their tail. I move to the inside; they mirror me. I growl and move to the outside; they mirror me. “Yield!” I scream at them, tacking back inside. They stay right in my trail. “Yield now!” I scream. The whites of stroke’s eyes are big; I’m using my oar pressure to jab left and right. We’re running right in their boat trail because they won’t move. Finally they tack slightly towards the orange buoys on port side. I stay left, but they haven’t given us enough space to go. My quad mates are screaming for me, “Yield! Yield now!”

I’m fed up. “If you do not YIELD, I WILL protest and slap with you with a penalty!”

The boys move over. They whack some buoys in the process, but I don’t care. They’ve pissed me off and screwed up what should have been a killer straightaway into our next turn.

“Hard on starboard!”

We turn. The next 2x is right there. After a few peeks to assess their course, I take the orange buoy line. After one shout, this boat does what it is supposed to and gives way.

We know this is the end. I expect it to be straight. We’re hammering it along, cruising by the docks we’re familiar with. The glasses are royally fogged now making it difficult to check our course and to judge our depth. I can’t see the finish line flag at all. When the course shanks slightly to the left, it catches me off guard. “Port!” The girls instantly respond; all we need is two strokes to get the angle.

The finish line dock appears off my port. A horn sounds.

“That’s not us!”

“Not us, keep going!” 2-seat echoes.

Seconds later, it is for us.

Gobble Gobble

We slow down.

“Quad, keep going around the flag,” The marshal orders. We obey, tucking around the double that barely finished ahead of us.

I apologized for whacking the buoys and the bad turn as we turn towards the shoreline and cut across the course ahead of two 8+’s. The next quad, the Halifax quad, cruises towards the finish as we’re rowing by pairs through the grass channels on the way to recovery.

“They’re about three minutes behind us!” Stroke called back. “We were around 20:10 and it’s 24 minutes now.”

A little bubble of hope arises…but you never know, not with handicaps.

IMG_0605We de-rig the quad, retrieve¬†oars, snap photos, and parade about the venue in our awesome turkey hats. Random strangers stop and ask us to pose for pictures. Our quad strolls down to the registration area to ask if there any results yet…we’re told to look online. Nothing.

Time passes slowly. We change clothes. Eat gluten-free pretzels and pumpkin seeds. Drink water. Hunt for one of my fellow coaches. Hit refresh on RegattaCentral repeatedly. Nothing.

Eventually I have to switch gears from competitor to coach and depart. The girls are leaving soon, tired of waiting almost two hours for our results, so I don’t expect to see them again. I head to the team tent to await my middle school rowers, turkey hat and all. I chow on a delicious gobbler sandwich.

Head of the GibletThe kids are sitting on the tarp, eating muffins and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, as I hold up my clipboard and explain the middle school course map, when someone walks up on my right. I look up and see three turkey-headed smiling faces and El Capitan holding the grotesque turkey plaque.

I pump my fist. “Yes!”

The curse is broken.



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The Rowing Duathlon


Duathlon. Taking two different athletic events and pairing them together into one challenge, usually in a run-bike-run format.

Except this is rowing. This unique event, the Duathlon at the Bend, is a 5k row followed by a 5k run.

The initial reaction of most people: “What?”

Enough rowers¬†whine over knocking out 5k races. The thought of tackling a 5k run after that pales the average person. Sure–go compete in one of the toughest sports known to mankind, and then to top it off, go run some more.

But for some of us, our stomaches didn’t turn at the thought. Our ears perked up and said, “A rowing duathlon? That’s different! Sounds fun! Let’s go do it, even if our run will suck miserably!”

My night crew had hoped to suffer together¬†as a quad, but thanks to work schedules and fear of the run, that turned into two doubles. Then two doubles¬†became one double, myself and one of my fellow coaches at Scullers, who I’ll refer to as “Diva Hair” because she wakes up with perfect curls. Lucky girl.

It didn’t matter that only 5 non-Sarasota Crew (event sponsor) rowers signed up, or that we were the only double competing, or that I really shouldn’t be pushing my knee further than the few 2k runs recently attempted. The Rowing Duathlon is a challenge to be accomplished, and so we set forth to conquer.

We lacked the transportation for a double, and our cars couldn’t handle a roof rack anyway, so Diva Hair¬†and I secured a boat from Crew. We agreed to used Sarasota County Rowing oars, and thought it we should¬†wear Sarasota Scullers t-shirts while we were at it, to show rowing community unity.

Dua.2The day dawned cool and gorgeous, with the sun quickly warming up across the flat waters. The event organizers and coaches went out of their way to accommodate us by loaning the boat, putting it near our oars, and¬†making sure we were taken care of. El Capitan came to support us in our row, as did Diva Hair’s family.

The organizers stressed warming up ahead of time, which I’d definitely do more of should I attempt next year. The clock starts right from the dock, so it’s launch and go! The head race course at Benderson is hard on starboard, and with this regatta we were hard for the first 800m through the recovery canal and under the bridges. We had to get used to the boat as we went, meaning our initial start was at an 18-19. Plus we average 140 lbs, and sat in a boat rated for a minimum of 160 lbs. Each push through the water was like rowing in wet sand.

Once we turned southbound down the 2k straightaway, I aimed to keep our stern pointed at the arch on the new Dillard’s at UTC. The boat wanted to run to starboard. To compensate, I tried¬†short port strokes¬†and long starboard. My left forearm began throbbing from the constant pressure.

We started warming up on the southbound 2k, inching the rate up by taking 10’s, until we reached a steady 22 in time for the next hard on starboard around the buoy and through the wave attenuator berm. Now heading east bound, I called another 10 before reaching our next buoy and turn.

Now I inched the rating up towards 26, knowing we were past halfway. I called, “we’ve been on the water 22 minutes now,” longer than we anticipated. The next turn was 300 meters up and not as angled as I remembered from the previous year’s head race. On this one, we held water on port to make the¬†turn. I hate holding water–it jars the rhythm of the row. Across the lake, we became confused–at the race meeting we were told to put the last buoy on starboard, but there was a line of yellow buoys running up the course that make it appear to keep the pink navigation buoy on port. The ref boat confirmed that we had to cross the buoy line and row on the inside.

We rowed up at a 24, until I called us down–but too early. We picked it back up to finish into the dock. It sounded like someone called weigh enough, so we stopped momentarily before continuing. The crew rowers appeared¬†to take the shell, so all we had to do was pop out and go.


You caught me! Our ankle bracelets.

As the final race, we started our run last. If you can call it a run. I opted to walk the first minute of each song and jog on for the rest. The running course began near the SANCA trailer, up over the west bridge, and around the bicycle path on the lake’s west side. Diva Hair and I stuck together, with me plodding along. When I was a runner, I usually skipped the water table, but on this day it was heaven. The H20 revived my pep. Unfortunately, it did not cure my knee which began throbbing as we turned towards home. I moved to running in the grass. I walked over the last two bridges, letting my fellow crazy person run ahead, and finished as the last person of the whole dua-thing, fist bump and all.

Even as my knee continues to protest my effort, I’m glad I did the duathlon. We celebrated our completion with a pretzel and ice-cream, relishing in the odd looks given to our sweaty Sarasota Sculler t-shirts. I can see that if the event manages to draw more rowers next year, it could be fun. It’s hard when you know you’re the last rowers on the course, both rowing and running, and that everyone is waiting for your slow butt to plod under the “FINISH” arch.

Next up is a more serious regatta: the Head of the Giblet.

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To Yield or Not to Yield? Racing the Hooch


My favorite sight.

My favorite sight.

Thank goodness for wigs, because this year’s Head of the Hooch was beyond frigid.

After a sleepless night on a charter bus, my juniors’ team¬†arrived¬†up to quickly declining weather. Clouds and winds rolled in as I finished rigging the 4+ and 4x’s with the novice Scullers and switched mindsets–and headsets–to my women master’s 4x.

IMG_0388Despite the bleak skies and gray river, the atmosphere around the venue was festive with costumes and silly hats galore.¬†Our master’s 4x joined in, donning horns and a¬†neon green mohawk wig for our practice row. Row2k snapped this shot of me getting ready to go.

For our practice row, the launch/recovery area¬†was busy but not crowded. There were some other 4x’s, 2x’s and 8+’s heading out. Once we arced back north through the bridge and got my first look upriver, the first round of nerves struck. With a flotilla chasing us, and a flotilla ahead of us, and the gargantuan concrete bridge spans dwarfing us, I said, “Well, this is different.”

“Yeah, it’s daylight!”

I chuckled and chilled out.

We rowed all the way up the course, skimming the rocky shore. I kept an eye for buoys, for other boats. Some fishermen were casting lines near¬†the¬†turn, but they sat in a¬†vessel¬†similar to¬†a referee¬†boat so the queue was heading towards them–including me, following the course set by an 8+.¬†Smart decision guys–fishing! They didn’t even bother reeling in their lines.


Setting out for our practice row on the course.

By the time we reached the marshaling buoys, the course was calm but windy. We swung around into the starting chute, which¬†was longer than I remembered or expected. We practiced our¬†first 500 before I decided to run a “McMo Special” down the course–on/off every buoy, partially to force me to keep an eye out for every buoy. Near the curve¬†I couldn’t find the next course marker, so I headed for the red channel buoy¬†and ended up missing a buoy that was tucked into the course. I made a special mental note: top of curve, inside buoy, don’t miss it! Stay closer to the shore than you think!

Some cheeseheads in a double nearly ran us off course along the outside of the turn–I’d decided earlier to pass them on the port side based on their course, but they continued¬†to port instead of turning into starboard during the curve. I¬†called a power 10 just to put space on them before they¬†rammed¬†our stern. Through the bridge we practiced a finish, but we fell apart. Our timing was non-existent and the winds had churned up the water, making our last 500 meters a splashy teeter-totter. A blister formed and popped on my left thumb. I hoped that no one had watched our final strokes, although the neon-green wig did call plenty of attention to us. On our walk up the recovery hill, I spotted one guy outright laughing and pointing before snapping a picture. By then the temperature had dropped considerably and my mohawked head was the warmest part of me.

The run through set me up¬†mentally. I had an idea of the course I wanted to take, especially through the final bridges, and I’d coped with the boat traffic on the course. Now I just had to survive until 11:30 a.m Sunday.

IMG_0383Saturday Sucks

Just after the alarm, I rolled up the hotel shade and peeked out towards the Doubletree. Rowers huddled in the entrance, wrapped in blankets and sweats, hiding behind the support beams. The flag whipped out straight. Conditions for the¬†morning’s racing didn’t look promising.

Downstairs the whole team, plus two other rowing clubs, crowded around the bagel bar and breakfast area. The first postponement had been announced. The day would continue downhill from there as we first huddled around our tables anxiously refreshing our social media awaiting 10am’s revised schedule, then¬†shoved lunch down the 8+’s before rushing them out the door, only to walk them back, to figuring out: what do we do with 60+ cooped up athletes who just had all their races canceled?

Conditions at the finish line on Saturday.

Conditions at the finish line on Saturday.

I did take a group of stir-crazy rowers down to the venue to peruse the vendor area, purchase their t-shirts and marshmallow shooters, and get a sense that yes, it’s really cold outside, and no, you probably don’t want to be rowing. I wore four layers plus hat and gloves¬†to survive the biting wind. At least by the time we walked back, they were appropriately chilled out.

That evening I explored the quaint other side of the Tennessee river, strolling the pedestrian bridge, taking a backroad tour of the mountain houses, and eating dinner with El Capitan and her friends.

Race Day

IMG_0512Dawned cloud-free and miserably chilly. I walked down with¬†the second wave of junior rowers, regretting wearing one layer less than the day before. The Weather Channel app declared at feels-like of¬†28. The wind was more than I’d expected, and my toes began to freeze as I sat on the waterfront with the other coaches waiting for our first boats to come across the finish line.

Between trips to the port-o-lets, thanks to non-stop sucking of my water bladder, we had to keep moving to stay warm. The wind eventually died off, and the sun melted the frost off the boats, but it didn’t feel any warmer as launch time ticked closer.

Stern 3 row as I take a few deep breaths to squash nerves. Photo: Cynthia Kemp

Stern 3 row as I take a few deep breaths to squash nerves. Photo: Cynthia Kemp

We lifted the Fluidesign quad off the trailer and into slings for a triple check on gear. The oarlocks were stiff. Warm-ups came slowly, in layers–mountain climbers, followed by a jacket. Jump squats, then a pair of pants. Jogging to the bathroom;¬†rowing¬†shoes. Pin the bow number 2019 on the back and shrug on extra sleeves. Extra weight gone.

The dock is busy enough that there’s no time for thinking. Skip over oars, walk it down, roll it down, oarlocks open, gear down. Get in, push off. Look left, right, watch the other boats. Down river and around the arch. The nerves didn’t hit until we turned upriver surrounded by the other women’s 4x. I called for stern 3 to row just to get personally centered with a pep-talk. A camerawoman stood on the bridge span overhead; I told the ladies to smile for the camera. Then it was time to go.

The warm-up to the marshaling area is a blur. I do remember getting a full-body water dosing off one stroke. Talk about an ice bucket challenge! I shrieked and called out 2-seat. (She didn’t splash me again, the entire row–thank you 2-seat! Love you!)¬†We didn’t have time to do a full up-piece, because as we navigated around the curve, the river opened up into a massive flotilla of anxious racers. ¬†We joined the masses, stopping 750m short of Marshaling Buoy #1, right in line with quad 2020.

“We’re going to be late,” One of the quads expressed. “It’s 12:56 and we’re supposed to be at the first buoy!”

I peeked backwards at the army of 8+’s bobbing ahead of us. “Look around you. We’re all going to be late together. They’re not going to disqualify us.”

From there, it was slow going. Tapping water, alternating with some rowing strokes, angling into the breeze. Avoiding the Texas quad 2035 that kept shooting the pack despite being quad 2035 and¬†fifteen boats behind everybody else moving forward. We worked ourselves into a good position, staying with the 2020 we’d found right away, and eventually locating 2017 and 2018.

Unfortunately, by the time we reached buoy #1, we’d completely cooled down from our warm-up row. Even with my extra top and double-layer socks, my toes and hands had gone numb and I’d begun shivering. My black thermal compression shirt didn’t seem to be absorbing the sunlight at all. I feared going from 0-to-race pace; it’s shocking on the system.

“El Capitan, we’re going to have to row into it,” I said.

“What do you mean?” Our secret weapon (3 seat) asked.

“We’re cold. We’re going to have warm up into the race. Get faster as we go,” I said.

Now our group was called to #2. I waited until the others started rowing before joining in, as we were the final boat in our group. Here I pulled off my extra top. My fingers curved around the handles as frozen popsicles, devoid of all feeling.

The marshal began calling us to row up one-by-one and across the channel. “2018, all four!” The blue boat slid away from us. “2019, proceed.” I called stern pair to row. “2019, all four.” We joined in and within four strokes were right on 2018’s stern. I had to drop us back out.

That’s when I knew we were going to be fast.

Their boat began whining, “Don’t worry, girls. We’ll disqualify them in the chute because you’re not allowed to pass.”

I thought, “Chill out. I won’t pass you in the chute. I’ll pass you right off the starting line.”

We stopped rowing halfway across the channel as 2017 collided with the starting marshal boat. Already at super light paddle, there was zero chance of warming up as we proceeded rowing again. Still, I had to call half slide or risk colliding with 2018.

And then we were in the chute.

The Head of the Hooch

“Stay at half slide. We need to open up some space on this boat.”

Every few strokes I glance left to look. Buoy slides by. And another. We’ve got several boat lengths of open water¬†now.

“Three-quarter slide.”

Now I have to time our start. I study the water trail under the chute buoys. I peek at the distance to the starting boat. I look back to 2018. To the upcoming buoy trail. Back to the start boat. I make a snap judgment.

“Flying start on this one!”

It’s fast–1/2, 1/2, 3/4, lengthen, lengthen! Silently counted. We’re not at the start boat yet and I instantly know I’ve called it 2-3 strokes too early. It’s too late now, as we enter our first high 10. The start horn is a dim blow as we slide by.

The rocks are too close on our port side. I adjust the toe. I look back to 2018. We’re closing fast. Back left to the buoy line–we’re back on track. Five strokes and check again–2018¬†is¬†on the buoy line.


“Already?” 2-seat calls. We’re barely 200, maybe 300 meters into the head race. It’s exhilarating to bellow it. I look again and they’ve moved over. We make quick work of sliding by, on a solid course.

The first 1k is quick. We’re sailing. I already see we’re going to catch the next boat, but it’ll be some work. “Catching,” I call when we’ve closed some ground. We’re approaching the curve. I look–clear course, good point–row another 10, look–we’re about to miss the buoy!

“Buoy!” I yell, jamming the toe to port. “Starboard!” I check again–we won’t miss it, but collision is unavoidable. “We’re going to hit! Keep rowing!” The boat instantly tips down to port, making room. The orange ball slides right up the starboard side, under the riggers, not catching. There’s no time to be angry with myself–at least I’ve avoided the penalty–now I need to avoid the other buoys and navigate around this next boat.

We’re closing in on them as we start the curve. “YIELD!” I yell with a boat length to go. They don’t move. It’s Rocket City Rowing. “YIELD!” again, spying a marshaling boat as we fly by the next buoy, hoping the ref will flag them with a penalty. They stick fast to the buoy line. Now stroke seat’s joined in bellowing¬†“YIELD!” at them, but they still refuse to take the outside. I don’t have a choice now. I have to take the outside. The rules briefly flash through my mind: I remember reading something about taking the outside course.

Photo: Cynthia Kemp

Photo: Cynthia Kemp

We row through them on the port side. I make sure to cut my course back in a little early, forcing them into the buoys. If I hadn’t been rowing so hard, I would’ve had an evil grin as they smacked a buoy, but the next boat was in sight.

The power lines slide overhead. We’ve come halfway. My lungs burn as do my hands, which I still can’t feel gripping the oar. The only way I know they’re working is my oars slide in and out of the water. Everything hurts but I remind myself it’ll be over soon. Rowers from earlier in the day had said the course through the curve was rough, but it’s smooth as we approach the island. The next boat is dark in color with navy¬†tanks. This time we’re closing ground quickly. I check often to gauge their course. They start turning into the buoy line.


And unlike Rocket City, the boat immediately corrects to port, giving us a clear shot. Near 1500 meters, we fly by boat number three.

The bridge is in sight. I spy the next boat, a yellow shell, a solid six-seven boat lengths ahead. We’re gaining, but with 1000 to go it’s unlikely we’ll catch them before the finish line. My focus goes forward. The pain is surreal now, my jaw aching like my teeth will pop out, lungs heaving. I’m counting 10’s–for breathing, for posture, for legs, for arms away. I check left, then right, toeing for our last line.

The yellow boat is closer but we’ll definitely not catch them. It’s 500 to go. We scream under the pedestrian bridge. I hear “Go SCRC!”

I take a last look back. Our way is clear and we have a straight line to the finish. I¬†pick a forward point. “On your call!” I command stroke seat. I have no idea if she calls “up 2,” I can’t hear her. I just follow, thinking sit up straight. I don’t bother to follow the buoy line anymore but keep the toe straight.

Ross’s Landing is in view. Cheering rises from the bank–who know if it’s for us or not? I can’t tell. The airhorn blows, but it’s too soon. “Not us! Keep going!”

Another buoy slides by. The finish must be soon. I look right, for anything–the hut? The boat? Where is it? Where is the finish?

The horn buzzes and the yellow triangle slides by.

The Head Race Aftermath

We paddle a few strokes then weigh enough for the crews behind us. I pump my frozen fist in the air three times, feeling exhilarated. Sure, my blood is raging, my heart fiercely throbbing from the sudden intense effort. All sensation is still absent from my chilled hands, but we’re finished and we passed three boats, closing on a fourth. No boats were harmed during the race and I’m thrilled to have survived bowing.

Rowing damage.

Rowing damage.

Our¬†exhilaration is tangible as we row into recovery. I shoot a thumbs up, tongue out, at the reporter¬†snapping shots at the recovery dock. Back at the slings, we roll the boat and share high-fives and hugs. 3-seat points out my mangled hand–still so frozen I can’t feel the oozing gashes raking my knuckles. I have no recollection of whacking my hands.

Once our boat’s de-rigged, oars collected, and photos snapped, we journey together first to the results board. On the way I secretly hoped for a great finish–maybe 3rd? I tried not to get my hopes too far up. I know¬†in master’s racing those super old handicaps are nearly impossible to overcome on a 5k course and we only had 24 seconds.

IMG_0515I’m first to the results board and do a quick scan down. 1, 2, 3, nope, nope, nope–can we really have done that miserably?–and there’s my name: 7. SARRC/SARRC (Casey McKenna-Monroe.) We’re top 10, and seven places better than our last finish, but the first word through my head is¬†again? Do I have a¬†seventh place Hooch curse? Our women’s 8+ was 7th, too.

On the bus ride home, I calculated the raw times and found we were the 4th fastest boat on the course. First place had a 112 second handicap.

But in the meantime, the women’s quad celebrated¬†our Hooch experience with tradition: super yummy cupcakes in the parking lot.

Night Crew ready to mow down on some non-gluten-free cupcakes post-race.

Night Crew ready to mow down on some non-gluten-free cupcakes post-race.

Now it’s back to rowing in the daylight, thanks to the time change, in pursuit of our next challenge.



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The Hooch just got real

The rowing stars align

Our entry for the Head of the Hooch in Tennessee was touch-and-go. First wait-listed, then accepted¬†with a “ghost” entry as we knocked our heads against our oars thinking of¬†who could be our number four. Do we composite? Do we pull from inside the club? From Sarasota-at-large?

Then a whisper came on the wind…perhaps a friendly neighborhood ghost was interested in rowing again?

The ghost materialized in the boatyard one morning for a fateful O’dark-thirty row in a quad. The stars twinkled, the manatees stayed asleep, and on a flying start through the Casey Key¬†Bridge my stroke coach blinked spilt numbers I hadn’t seen in ages.

But now the Hooch was five weeks away. The deadline to scratch our entry risk-free loomed. The ghost hadn’t been rowing in at least a year-and-a-half but our splits were like she’d never stopped. Could we call her out of retirement?

At first, she was concerned about being physically able to handle a 5k. I completely understand.¬†Even¬†I’m not in the same¬†physical shape as two years ago, and here we are encouraging her to tackle the¬†daunting business¬†of¬†racing a 5k in¬†five weeks. We are adult women with lives! We don’t train obsessively all the time.

Next came getting to the race course. The Hooch eats dollar bills for breakfast! Flying or driving, it’s a serious expense even before hotel rooms are tacked onto the trip. And we’re all on tight budgets. If it wasn’t for coaching, I wouldn’t go at all. ¬†But thanks to some incredible generosity and schedule-manuerving, the stars aligned. ¬†There was dancing and elated shouts in the boatyard (in the dark) that¬†scared our team mascot, a screech owl. We had a racing quad!

The Serious Business Begins (aka $h!+ gets real)

So now we went from uncertainty to having four fast women. This is happening. Race mode turned on. Priorities shifted: must amp up the training, must fix our boat. The parts came in for the broken Fluidesign 4x. The Night Crew fixed it up last week so I have an operating toe and our shoes move.

The game faces are on at the boat yard.¬†Our ability to row together in our 4x is limited due to our schedules, but we’re doing our best to make it work. Shortly after confirming our 4x, we rowed a¬†timed piece. The result slower than expected, but we tested¬†against a raging current.

We row 1x/2x on other days, as far as we can go given the time, up and down our rates, trying to tweak our technique however we can to be even faster. On the water we strike out for the 5k, weather and conditions permitting, trying to hit higher rates over time on the way back.

I started nailing down on my diet and have dropped weight. I’m still a few pounds shy of my ideal race weight, but¬†I feel confident I will be there November 2. We’re hitting the ergs, knocking out rounds of 8-10 minutes pieces at 24/26/28s and a continuous 10k. Monday I pushed out (and miserably failed) a 20 min test. Unfortunately, I haven’t hit the calisthenics as hard as I should be, sacrificing that to focus on cardio. I even have tried running again, successfully jogging a 2.5k three times with no pain!

And the days keep ticking down…four weeks to go…three weeks to go…must row harder, faster, longer…

Race Course Worries

The Head of the Hooch will be my first race of any sort in over six months! That’s a long time since I had a solidified rowing goal. What worries me the most is bowing the quad. I’ve never bowed a head race (besides a 1x), and especially in a fast little boat like the quad. And never at a regatta the size of the Hooch.

I know my boat mates have confidence in me (El Capitan: “I know you don’t want to be, or think you are, but you are a damn good bow.”) And it was never a question once we had our 4x that I would be the best of us four for bow seat. One of those suck-it-up and deal with it situations. Fake confidence until you make it.

But I’m still worried. Not about my steering abilities, but about the mind game. A head race is 50% mental and 50% physical. Maybe even more mental. And the truth is, I can get really whacked out in the head when it comes to racing. I am my greatest foe.

I can already picture it. Rowing up the course in the middle of dozens of other fast women quads, adrenaline pumping, getting more and more worked up. Psyching myself out. The whole key to staying calm is ignoring everything going on and zeroing in on the person swinging in front¬†of me, but as bow seat I can’t do that. I¬†have to look. I am obligated to see if we are falling behind or passing a boat. With each peek I must make decisions that determine the outcome of our race–while still racing and pushing myself to the limit. And I worry that I won’t be able to focus, to keep my head inside the boat, and to stay calm. The worst thing that could happen is I get worked up and lose it. The inner voice begins to ridicule and say it’s okay to ease off a little–when, no, it is not! My technique goes out the window, I start rushing, I feel apart into this rowing hot mess.

Somehow I must find the key to controlling my race day monster before Nov. 2.¬†I would feel better if I had a practice round bowing a race, but that’s unlikely¬†to happen.

Three weeks to go.

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Staying on course for Head season

The first head race of our season is this weekend. At this crucial milestone, I have to admit feeling behind in my rowing training.

The Hooch is looming, and while my boat is wait listed and still lacking a confirmed fourth rower, I know I need to train like it’s happening. But those triple ginger snaps from Trader Joe’s are so tempting, as is sleeping in. And who wants to run buckets of sweat across the floor erging for an hour?

Add in the stabbing pain rippling through my left rib cage, and now the entire head season is off track. I took a 1x out last week before the juniors practice and nearly broke down in tears, frustrated that I couldn’t row full power at an 18 without intense pain.

KinesioBut I’m trying to right this shell back on course. I have, with best intentions, a plan. I’m tracking my calories again to make me accountable for dropping the happy weight. El Capitan strapped some kinesio tape to the ribs and they’re feeling better.¬†This morning’s 2k was much less painful, even at full pressure as I tried to beat the lightening back to shore.

I know I have high-performance practice on weekends, to keep us accountable¬†with training. El Capitan and I are discussing afternoon erg sessions. The training plan for the next month is written, loaded with coaching jargon. All that is left is the mental part: pushing through the alarm and saying, “NO, I¬†will get up today and row regardless, or erg regardless,” or, “NO, I will¬†not¬†vacuum up all the (Insert: ginger snaps, trail mix, yogurt-covered fruit) in one day.”

Rowing is an awesome sport that can be enjoyed at all levels, but to excel at competitive events is an all-consuming challenge that isn’t just tiring physically. It’s not like we can strap on a pair of shoes and head out the door for a 5k (although we can for cross-training). An injury anywhere screeches rowing practice to a halt–back, arm, wrist, ankle, leg–you name an afflicted body part¬†and we use it rowing. Competitive masters rowers¬†have to arrange their¬†entire lives around water time and access, while still finding time for lives and cross-training. Diet is crucial. Weight transfer to power or to drag. ¬†Everything matters–and it can be mentally and emotionally draining. After all–sometimes, you just want a chocolate cupcake. Is that too much to ask?

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