Saturday at Master’s Nationals

The day broke with me scrambling behind and rumbling in the distance. I’d slept poorly because of a lightning storm popping all around our house. Alan asked at some ungodly hour, “Are you awake?” “Yes, I’m awake.” “Crazy storm.” “Yep.”

Rowing Master's Nationals

The storm gave way to a beautiful dash of rainbow over Benderson Park as I drove towards the parking lot. The island was swamped and prevented parking, so I had to use the lot by Sports Authority. I made it to the venue in time to drop the ice in the cooler, slosh through the trailer area to the docks and pick up stroke seat’s shoes for her mixed 2x qualifying heat. She ended up qualifying and crushing the field with a 13-second lead. The announcer described their race as “really making the boat rock.” Later on, she would win the finals for our team’s only gold, thus far.

After that, I resumed my war with the Sunrise seats. Vespoli finally appeared at their tent at the same time as the Head Coach of Sarasota Crew. How many rowers does it take to unscrew a wheel? Apparently one to hold the seat, one to the axle, and one to push the allen wrench with two to supervise. One seat eventually came loose, but the while working on the second seat, the axle snapped. It just happened to be stroke seat. I made an executive decision to get a new seat. Crew’s coached helped me jury rig the magnet onto the new axle of stroke seat and we were in business.

Lightning caused a delay in racing. All times were pushed back about an hour and twenty minutes. In the meantime, we watched a helicopter spin overhead, the paddle board demonstration including the rigged paddle board, and a cute teddy bear dog chase a bicycle down the TV track.

Rowing Master's Nationals

Team members cheering for the Mixed 2x B

My parents and grandparents arrived eating Jimmy Johns as I plopped back into place at the tent. Five/bow elected me to speak with the roving announcer about our club on the jumbotron; when the day’s tape is posted on USRowing’s youtube channel, I’ll try and find it. By then, it was sunscreen on, hat off, and warm-up time.

At the boat, our coach rallied the team. We all felt good and solid about our prospects. He spoke about individual commitment and leaving it all on the line. “Don’t sit down a single stroke,” He warned. “Not one. If one person lays down one stroke, that’s it. The end.” He told us his “secret,” which I will never kiss and tell, we dropped our hands in the center and screamed, “HEART!” Hands on the boat, and off we walked to the dock. As we lowered down into our seats, Coach walked down the dock giving us a message. To me: “Casey, be there for her. Give her what she needs.” (Referring to stroke seat.) As if! I’m 7, that’s my job: follow and row like beast.

Disaster Strikes

We had just finished our second spin through the marshaling area when four seat called, “My seat is broke!”


“It’s broke!  The wheel snapped in half!”

She held it up for all to see and I cursed to the four winds. On the seat sat three new Vespoli wheels and the one old wheel had given away at the worst possible moment.

Our cox’n made a beeline for the marshal.  While he called up to control commission, we ruminated our future.  The marshal warned us that the races would not be held for our equipment issue.  With only three events before ours, we lacked the time to row up to control for a new seat.  We sat and I joked about rowing seven.  “Can we row seven?” asked stroke.

“No,” I said sadly.  But it was tempting…just to go down the course.  “What will we do if we can’t race?”  I could image the confusion at the finish if our event plowed down the course without us.

The moment really put everything in perspective.  I’d rather lose with seven than never have rowed at all. I wanted to fight the good fight than sit out because of one measly broken wheel.

The Women’s Club C 8+

Event after event entered the platforms and started.  Then a platform broke.  It bought us time–enough for a marshall to come screaming down the course with a double-action seat.  It fit and we were in business!

We locked on and I felt the nerves.  I refused, absolutely refused, to look right across the course to the other teams.  I locked my gaze onto the back of stroke’s back as the referee began the polling of crews.

“Orlando…Oak Ridge…Baltimore…Sarasota…”

I swallowed air.


Inside, I was a mess. I was nervous, my legs had gone cold, and mentally I yelled at myself to focus and forget the fear.  When we shot off the line ahead of Baltimore, I knew we’d done it.  A clean, solid start.

Of all the sprint racing I’ve done, by far it was the race of a life.  Our cox’n Jess leaned low and screamed encouragement into the mike.

“36!” She called.  “36!  Keep it going! Don’t slack one stroke!  Power 20!”    We barely nicked up over Baltimore and I could see their cox’n bouncing back and forth just ahead of us, just as locked in and screaming as we were.  My legs began to burn. I pushed harder. I wondered were we were.  I saw the flags far away, then the triangle boom.  My eyes jolted right to peek at the halfway: all three of our boats, Orlando, Baltimore, and us, were neck and neck rushing down the course. I pushed harder.

Jess began to call the move. I never saw the buoys go red.  I just started hearing the tension in her voice, “I’m at their 6 seat–their 7!  Come on! Now it’s 8!  Move girls, move!” Baltimore was walking on us and I grit my teeth and dug deeper trying to give every stroke more strength, more power, more of everything I had. I refused to let them walk. I wanted this desperately.

At the line there was only one horn. I immediately looked right and from the drift knew we’d been edged out at the end. Third place.

The Aftermath

First I cursed, but then I was too tired to do nothing but breathe and grab my water. My ribs ached, and feet cramped.  Even my teeth hurt in my mouth, sour like it can be when sick.  My stomach roiled. I was disappointed, but knew I left everything I had on the water.

There was nothing more to do.  We had fought and lost.  It was a good way to lose. I rowed in confident I had given more of myself into the oar and the water than I ever had before. I learned later that Baltimore crossed in 3:30, Orlando in 3:31, and us in 3:32. Apparently Orlando called a “Karen 10,” in honor of our stroke seat, as motivation to beat us through the sprint.

Our coach met us on the burning dock and exclaimed it was by far the best race of the day.

We agreed to break for water and return in half an hour to de-rig the boat. At the tent, I met my family and friends, all while soaking in sweat and redder than my uniform.  I had tried to be golden, but it didn’t work out.

Storm clouds roll in

Before de-rigging, we decided to grab our bronze and take the team photo.  In the distance rumbled grey clouds. A spark of lightning flashed across the sky. I looked over my shoulder and saw the racing boats being called to the beach just as the announcer called a delay in racing and encouraged teams to find cover.

I raced back with my teammates first to our tent and threw all my gear under the tent to try and keep it dry. We rushed towards our trailer and began pulling out the seats and scrambling to find a 7/16 wrench to take off the rigging nuts. The winds picked up as we rushed to secure other untied boats, like the Peinert 26 single just sitting in slings, and our Hudson 2x. As rain began to pelt us and lightning flashed closer, our coach dashed at us and screamed to tie the boat down and go. I ran around the trailer to grab a strap. I tied the 8+ down to the sling just in time for a large gust of wind to blast across the park.

I turned to see Atlanta’s quad turn onto an 8+ on lowboys. I dashed over with random people from other teams and lifted the boat up, slings and all, screaming for lowboys. The quad had its riggers on and couldn’t sit safely on the ground. Hail started pelting us. I yelled at five/bow that we had to get out of there just as my hat blew off my head.

Rowing Master's Nationals

We turned Atlanta’s slings sideways and dropped the quad on them in time for Atlanta to show up and take over. I grabbed my glasses and ran back to the tent. Half of our food was wet and ruined, some of my gear was missing, and rain pelted sideways under the tent. I grabbed my soaked Osprey pack and made for the misting tent where the rest of my team, and dozens of other rowers, waited out the storm. A few rowers decided to capture the moment by taking a team picture in the rain. Rowing Master's Nationals

 The park turned into a true slushy mess in the aftermath of the storm.  A river of water ran down the vendor’s village and dozens of team tents sat mangled and sad along the walk.  We sloshed our way back to our tent, cleaned up a little bit, and sloshed all the way to the trailer to finish taking the riggers off the 8+ and to rig the Rowed Warrior.

Rowing Master's Nationals

Community Rowing pulled up their truck and what appeared to be their A&B women’s rowers started a dance party complete with gummy bears while my teammates and I looked on, rigging out 4+, dodging the swimming fire ants. We hit the wall while our friend from Cape Coral helped us adjust the pitching and while racing resumed, we departed, muddy, sunburnt, and exhausted.

Tomorrow is the final day, and my last chance to win gold.  My morning qualifying heat is stacked with some great boats: Atlanta, Baltimore, Community Rowing.  All I can do is rest well and row even harder.





About camckenna

I write; I row.
This entry was posted in Racing, Struggles and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Saturday at Master’s Nationals

  1. terry galvin says:

    I knew when I saw you at the tent during the storm that you weren’t exactly happy. I had no idea. I thank you for your writing. I also had no idea what it means to expect — and give — so much of yourself. Y’all rowed fierce. Y’all rowed well. You can’t do more. No regrets!

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