Wow! What a day!
The alarm blasted off at 5:15 a.m. I move like a snail in the mornings, no matter what, even on such a day as the first day of US Rowing Master’s Nationals Championships. Brushing my teeth, I stepped on the scale.
It’s 1.6 pounds off, meaning I weighed in at 141.8.
In the kitchen, I tried to be quiet, but when rushing to microwave oatmeal and make a protein smoothie it’s a true challenge. Normally I eat as slowly as I move in the morning, but I had to put a pep in my step. At 5:50, my teammates picked me up and off we went to Benderson Park.
The sky was just painted with the first streaks of light as we pulled onto island and dragged our coolers through the maze of boats in darkness. Benderson had their rowing Christmas lights on and stroking away into the darkness at the finish line.
We set up our gear and then headed over to meet up with members of Sarasota Crew for our first race. The sun peaked up over the trees as we rolled over the boat, stretched, ran, and in my case, jumped on the erg, all to warm up. As the launch time crept closer, the coach gathered us into one circle to discuss our race.
“I wish we had a few more weeks,” He said. “I feel like you guys haven’t peaked yet–but that’s the way it is, right? Always wanting a few more weeks.” He continued through the race plan, the warm-up, and ended with the reminder from yesterday’s cox’n and coaches meeting: in the event of poor weather, heat times may be used for finals.
“Put your heart on the line,” He said. “Give it all you have.”
I nearly cried thinking about it. It’s the first race of Nationals. I busted my butt for a year and now it’s here and I could lose. We could not qualify for finals. I took several deep breaths and refused to break down into a sobbing mess front of my teammates.
Stroke seat let out a ferocious roar. I wish I had a video of that.
Hands on the boat, and the countdown was over. Within minutes we were through control and on the water heading down to the staging area. We practiced a few starts, assessed the competition, and made our way into the lanes. Benderson Park is now equipped with row-through platforms which helps if the platforms are pre-aligned. The stake boat holder let go of us to pull on some strings to adjust the distance of the platform. The second platform next to us apparently adjusted too far and started floating off down the course–after the referee called “two minutes.”
I’m not going to call out the club on this one, so let’s just call them “lane 2.” The boat on the second platform was re-assigned to lane 1 as the platform headed north for cooler weather. All of the boats had to back into the platforms and adjust their points, which is not easily in a semi-truck of an 8+. The cox’n over in lane 2 started screaming at his crew:
“2-seat BACK IT. I SAID BACK IT. WHY ARE YOU ROWING? BACK IT.”
“Stop rowing. STOP ROWING! BACK IT 2. NO–BACK IT.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING? DID YOU JUST LEARN TO ROW?”
All of us were stunned and nervously laughing. I glanced at the referee tower to see if they’d say anything, but even they were standing with jaws agape and speechless.
The longer we sat and waited, the more nervous I became. One crew would not survive the heat. Would it be us? Who? I reminded myself to calm down and take deep breaths. Mentally, I thought: Treat it like a practice. You’ve sprint raced several dozen times; it’s no different than any other race.
Women’s Open C 8+: Heat 1
Boats latched back on, the referee called again, “two minutes.” And then thirty seconds later the polling of crews began, and “attention! go!”
We had a terrible start off the platform. The other crews jumped through their starting sequence and disappeared over my shoulder as we wobbled and washed out. Since I sit in 7 seat, I know when I can’t see any motion from the corner of my eye, we are behind.
Our cox’n, a Crew kid named Eric, called the Power 20 and slowly we started moving up. The Benderson Park is the best buoyed race course I have ever rowed. On the shore there are white flags flapping in the wind to mark the 250 meters. I could see the first set of flags well behind us when the cox called, “We’re almost done! Ready to sprint! Up 2 in 2!” Normally, I stay quiet racing to focus on breathing and power, so if I say something I mean it. When the cox made that call before the 500, I screamed, “No!” I heard stroke seat tell them it was the halfway mark, so he changed that sprint into a power 10.
Thank goodness for that 10! I could see a boat off to the side on port side. In racing, you don’t look at other boats. Turning your head slows you down and could throw the boat off set. But I can see people motion in my peripheral vision and as soon as I could see lane 2 I knew we were back in business.
The cox’n put us in the fight with lane 5. He screamed for seats. The island appeared off to the left. I knew we were neck and neck because I could barely see their bow plunging forward and back. Eric screamed for the sprint before the buoys turned red for the last 250. We surged ahead and held on to cross second in 3:35. We qualified for finals.
Hanging out at Benderson Park
With the first race done, my nerves started calming. We had about three hours to race time. I ate right away, but lightly, while lounging on my rowing luxury item: a fold-out beach chair. A teammate brought an inflatable mattress that we pumped up and tied down. Yes, we have a bed at our tent.
Joe, one of our club members, was announcing the races. He’s very good at building the excitement of the races and commenting on the technique. We laughed, though, when they began interviewing the vendors. Clearly, you’ve run out of things to say when you take a walk through vendor’s village–although, to be fair, another announcer was doing that.
Time wound down again and in the heat of mid-day, we prepared for the Women’s 8+ finals. The results from the day’s heats showed we were 3rd in time between the two heats. We had to hot seat off the adaptive dock and waited in the misting tent for the adaptive exhibition to come back in. Someone had two cute golden retrievers that went berserk as the boat approached the dock. One of the dogs jumped in and swam around the boat in an attempt to get closer to its owner.
Women’s Open C 8+: Finals
On our way back out, we tried a few more starts and all felt very solid. The races were launching late. Eric became very practiced at rowing in circles while we waited for our turn to line up. As we headed up the towards the chute in our lane, Capital Rowing came by. The cox’n had a short exchange about rowing in our lane because of the wind and referee tower in lane 4. We wished them luck and all of them remained silent while scooting by.
“They are serious,” I remarked to stroke seat. Not that the rest of us aren’t, but rowers spend so much time sitting around in the marshaling area, there is usually some kind of conversation or good luck wishes. The lack of response was unexpected.
Our turn arrived and back we returned to the platform. We locked on, and the nerves began to rattle again. The worries were pushed aside with deep breaths and reminders that I had done this, I could do this, I would do this. Another count down and “ATTENTION! GO!”
When the red flag begins to move, my eyes lock onto stroke’s back, and all I think is, “Follow. Follow. Follow. Lock in. Breathe. Lock. Breathe. You can do this. Calm down. Follow. Follow. Shift longer. Crap, we’re behind. Row harder. Breathe. You are strong.”
Again off the line, we were slow, but much more solid than the previous race. Lane 6 to our left quickly drifted away from us. Lane 4 and 3 on the port side left nothing but puddles in their lanes.
“I want lane 2!” Eric screamed into the mic. “I want that seat! Give me that seat! I’ve got it! Come on! I want lane 2!”
At the catch I could see him leaning forward and giving it all he had into the mic. He shouted so ferociously I thought he’d slap the water.
As we reached the 500, I saw a flash of lime green. There’s only crew I know that wears lime green hats, and that’s Orlando. As soon as I saw them, I knew our boat was back in the game. I refused to be beaten by Orlando. I dug harder and pressed my legs down, zeroing in on the “Sew Sporty” logo on stroke’s back.
That’s what I remember most about the race. I can see a circle of black with red “Sew Sporty” in front of me and a flash of lime green moving off my port side. I started to see white, too, and I knew there was another boat fighting with us and Orlando.
“This is for all those sucky practices!” screamed Eric. “Give me one more seat! Up 2 in 2!”
Somewhere in the piece, the buoys turned red, but all I remember hearing the first horn. And harder. A second horn. I knew ours was next and I pushed, pushed, pushed, pushed, heard the horn and looked immediately right gasping for air. We were ahead. Bronze medal.
I had my first Nationals medal.
Back at the team tent…
Unfortunately, Crew had to hotseat the boat and rowers. We agreed to meet up later for medals and headed back to our tent. I stuffed my face with cytomax, watermelon, nuts, and protein balls and regretted it instantly. My heart rate remained too elevated and I felt nauseous. I reclined on our awesome bed until the queasiness subsided.
After turning my phone back off airplane mode, it began chiming and chirping. My sweet husband posted on facebook the results of my race and sent me a dozen text messages, followed by a bunch of team members sending congratulations from watching online streaming. My favorite? “You beat Orlando! Na na naaa na na nah!”
Women’s Club B 4x
As 1:06 neared, clouds began to build in the sky. With a fresh coat of sunscreen, new tape on my torn-up fingers, and no hat, my team launched the Women’s B Quad onto the course. Just as with all the other races, it quickly became apparent that “1:06” was a suggested race time and the regatta was several races behind.
We chatted up with the teams next to us, like Potomac who we know some members, and Baltimore. Their stroke seat had oars with a yellow Saturn decal on a black surface-very cool.
A light sprinkle did nothing to cool us off while we waited. Sliding into the blocks was easy, but again, we were stuck with a wait.
“I hate the start,” I moaned as I felt that bubble of jumbled emotions fighting with my sense of calm.
“I do, too, especially when I bow,” answered bow seat behind me.
The third start was better, but still rough. Again everyone pushed away from us. There was a rushed feeling. Early in the race, 3 seat broke rhythm with stroke and I screamed, “Follow stroke!” I found out after the race that she lost her shoes and rowed most of the race with her feet out.
Our quad kept a steady course. Baltimore vanished behind me but I could see the others stroking away, again off my port side. Every stroke hurt and burned. I have no idea how fast we rowed, but it was furiously fast. As we closed in on the start, my hands slipped down the handles. I firmed up my grip and dug in. The quad was my last race of the day and I refused to give up no matter the pain. The closer we came, the firmer I stroked, even with a poor grip on my handles.
I heard the horn and saw the bubbles crossing the course to mark the finish line. Breathing hard, my left ear sounded hollow like I’d burst my ear drum rowing. My legs burned and ached. Baltimore had ran away with the race, but we finished second.
My husband posted a screen shot of the quad rushing across the finish line.
The end of racing day 1
Day over, I enjoyed a special treat: one peanut butter oatmeal cookie. Boats were switched around, gear loaded,
and fire ants avoided. Once home, I rinsed off the black dirt from Benderson and soaked in a steaming hot tub with bubbles made from my tea tree shampoo.
Tomorrow is my off-day, but I plan to be at the course to cheer on my stroke seat in the Mixed 2x-A and to explore the vendor’s area of the venue, as well as taking care of other little tasks like fixing wheels and blowing up another mattress. The uniform is in the laundry, the gear will soon be cleaned, and the press release is written and sent.
I hope everyone that race today met their goals. I plan to pass out in just a few hours–after Alan finished making my dinner. My next race is on Saturday.