I blink and it’s Thursday, five days after racing. Just as quickly as the days have passed, so did racing at Florida Master’s Regatta.
A few distinct moments stick out in my memory of the Women’s 8+. One is waiting at the stake boats, looking over to see Halifax in blue trying to straighten up against the crosswind. And waiting…and waiting…staring back forward towards the dock running out from the VFW post that the starting referee was using. Looking at his blue shirt and white flag and just waiting, sitting at tension at half-slife…and waiting. I remember my heart starting to race as the terror and fear began to build. I’ve worked so hard to stay calm for racing that I felt the adrenaline feeding the seeds of anxiety that once terrorized me and made me a terrible racing stroke. I had to stare at my feet and take deep breaths while reminding myself, “This will be nothing like August…you have to learn to handle this…calm down…just breathe…”
I don’t remember starting, but I can see bright water and ORC’s fast boat in the corner of my right eye. All the other boats vanish–I don’t care about them, only the fast boat in lane 3.
Another flash of memory: two strokes where my blade skimmed water. I was pissed at myself and refused to let it happen again.
The cox’n shouting: “I’m two seats down! Walk on them! Walk!”
Two quick horns, one after the other, with just a fraction of space between.
And I remember weighing enough, sucking wind, and seeing our two boats in green and red skimming away from the finish line, and knowing it’s close, too close to call, and knowing they crossed first. Just barely. Knowing even if we don’t edge them out in handicap, we made ORC work for it.
But we couldn’t stay. We had to hot seat four rowers from the Women’s 8+ into the Women’s 4x just two races away. Even though I still can’t breathe, we have to slog through the weedy beach and carry the 200+ boat up across hot cobblestones and zig-zag a path through the boats. Someone takes my place and I jog to the quad, hoist it up, and carry it back down to the boat dock. I’m reassured when I see a women’s 4x launching just ahead of us on the dock, but it’s not until we’ve pushed off the dock and I ask for a time check (10:06–race time 10:24) that I can finally breathe again.
It was just us and Tallahassee. I thought it’d be an easy race. They were older. I thought we’d skim out front and coast in. Nope. They hung right there with us and for another 1000 meters I was tortured and brutalized and sucking wind in the worst way. Stroke was yelling at us to row faster as we neared the finish. I don’t recall how I rowed, but I’m sure it was terrible. We crossed the line a boat length up on them, but it wasn’t enough to overcome their handicap.
As we pulled into shore for a well-earned sixty minute hiatus from the water, I heard a whistle and a splash. Alan had brought along our Boykin Spaniel and to greet our quad coming back in had thrown the tennis ball our away. He bounced up and down towards the ball in the water, but I don’t think Fletch realized it was me in the boat rowing by him.
We came on shore to golden news.
The third race, a women’s 2x, started terribly. The chop at the start had picked up and roughened up the water. My partner and I have lost some weight, but we are still a touch heavy for the lightweight boat we were using for that day, meaning we were already sitting low in the water. We couldn’t get clear oars and just as we were struggling to get in a solid start, a set of rolling monster waves waked our boat. For a moment I thought we were going to swim with the fishes. I peered around quickly for the offending boat, secretly hoping to cuss out a referee launch, but didn’t spy one. By the time we finally synced up and got rolling, the other 2x’s had left us in the dust. We didn’t stand a chance.
My final race of the day, a Mixed 8+, went very well. We were a pick-up crew, having never practiced before and with someone filling in for one of our ill rowers. During the run down to the start line, our boat had some solid run, and even powerful starting pieces. For the whole race course, I thought we were fighting Orlando’s Mixed 8+ for first place. Again, I could see them out of the right corner of my eye. When we crossed the line, I was surprised to see a Jacksonville boat already sitting and waiting, drinking Mai Tais and chilling out while the rest of us were racing. Even days later, I still don’t know where they went. They must have had a plane engine attached to their boat because once the starter flag dropped, they were gone!
All in all, our club had a very successful day at Florida Master’s Regatta. We made up for last year, when we zig-zagged our way around the course in almost every race, and unlike the year before that, we avoided any storms and tornadoes. Everyone brought home bling, we were sun-burned, and all the boats returned to Sarasota in one piece.
Fourth place: Women’s 2x
Second place: Women’s 4x, Mixed 8+
First place: Women’s 8+
And now what?
It’s five days later. I feel an invisible target on my back. ORC is the best team around. They fielded THREE women’s 8+’s on Sunday. THREE! They have a field of 24 women to select from! We’ve never won against Orlando’s best–ever. They have won Nationals multiple times. Their best rowers are hard core, top-notch, take-no-prisoners women. And we beat them. We pushed them down the course, and we won. I don’t need inside information to know they were not happy with the results.
Now, our little fire-engine red crew may have beat ORC in handicap, but that won’t matter in August. What matters is that even with two subs their boat (and yes, we had two subs in ours), the finish line horn blared for their boat first. And at Nationals, the boat that crosses first, wins. No handicaps.
That is the hard core truth.
Bring it on.
The target is on you.