2021 Masters Nationals-Day 1

Welcome to Oak Ridge!

After a loooonnng drive with an hour admiring the ruts on I-75 in Cincinnati, we arrived in Oak Ridge at 11pm last night. Check in, to bed, early to rise thanks to a garbage truck right outside the window. Thank you truck.

The gentlemen at the front desk said he was going to give us a nice room with a “Mountain View.” Check out this view.

“Mountain View”

Must be Wendy’s and Krystal mountain. Not that we really care about the view. We’re here for this view.

Start line at Oak Ridge

My one and only race of the day is a finals only Women’s Club B 4x scheduled for 4:10. With Oak Ridge’s notorious fog delay, it was pushed back to 4:55.

I spent a quiet morning in the hotel finishing my work for the week, running to the grocery store, and the unpacking-repacking ritual. You have to unpack all your stuff and then repack it with what you need at the regatta.

Last night I stopped at CVS. I wasn’t going to paint my nails, but then I saw the name of this orange paint. How could I pass it up? And then the orange lipstick. Yes, team!

Long shot plus Wonder Woman

I didn’t arrive until just after 1pm. Rig the boat, buy all the goodies from the vendors. The vibe today is pretty chill and laidback. Everyone is spread out. Of course more people will be here on the weekend days, but it’s still a lighter Nationals than normal.

After that, it’s hanging around. Catching up. Saw a few pals from Sarasota. Watching races. Spending too much money in the vendor tents.

Four o’clock rolls around and I warm up with a bicycle ride up the venue.

Back at the quad, it’s a basic rehash of the plan. Start sequence, high 10, shift. At the end, up two and then “dig in.”

We’re about to launch when I remember I haven’t put my tag on.


I’m stroking this boat, so I’m not making any calls. I do want the stroke coach so I see our rates and push it appropriately.

The late afternoon is sticky hot in the direct sunshine, like it’s been all day. Humid, with an occasional cool breeze. I’ve been sweating under my cool shirt, it’s so humid and sticky.

I have been to Oak Ridge, but as a spectator not a rower. Being on the water is almost a relief. The reservoir is cold, and you can feel that coolness radiating upward. It actually makes the 90F heat and direct sun almost manageable.

We’ve launched with Texas Rowing Center’s quad and these ladies are loud. Everything is bigger in Texas, after all. They give away their entire race plan. 5, high 15, settle, then a power at 500. Thanks, ladies.

We do some practice starts and quick warm-up. The venue is loud compared to where we have been rowing. It’s not deafening, but there is a lot of sound around. Cicadas, the races, the people warming up. It’s bouncing around making it hard to hear the calls. I ask bow to speak up and crisper.

There’s a pair of earrings I’ve been eyeballing for two years. The vendor has them at the regatta. I decide if we win this race, I’m going to buy them.

Our quad is in lane 5. First we accidentally line up in lane 3, but it’s an easy fix. We’re right on time to queue up.

All these boats look fast. Their faces are serious. Tuned-in.

We expected a long hold between the polling of crews and the start. They start the poll. There is a current down river. I breathe. Square up on “Greater Columbus.” Eyes turn to the start platform and the red flag. The referee holds. It is not long; he drops and I push on go. Our boat holder gently lifts her hands as we pry forward.

Second or third stroke, can’t remember. Three-seat catches a mini-crab. Boat wobble. We recover and keep on.

High 10. Up I go, fast, no layback. Counting 10. It’s only 36 strokes per minute, kind of slow. 1:42 on the spilt.

Shift 10, lengthen out. We come down. 31, 30. We are going.

In stroke seat, I do not have the best vantage point on the race when we are down. But that is how I know we are in a dog fight. The boats on either side of us are there, noisy, big puddles. But I don’t look at them. I only have my peripheral vision to guess where we are.

30 strokes in. This is the point when you know how the race is going to set up. I expect Texas Rowing Center to pull away, and I think they are ahead. Otherwise, it looks like we are in 4th but not by much. It is a dogfight. We haven’t lost medal potential yet. I count 20 for breathe.

At some point bow yells “LEGS!”

The 500 buoy. That came fast. We are still in a fight. No one has grossly pulled away. The sounds are loud, of water and catches, and voices. It looks like we are inching up on lane 6. I can’t see anymore than that. I start thinking if we want a shot at this, we’re going to need a power 10 now.

Bow yells something–the exact word I can’t remember now, but intent was clear. Go HARD NOW, just like I was thinking. Maybe it was power 10.

I dig into it. Yes, I will power 10. We are in this fight for third place.


We are definitely gaining on lane 6. I see their stroke seat now.


I see the red stern of Texas Rowing Center. These ladies are yelling, yelling move, yelling power.


First red buoy. All four boats are still together. We are in it. I will not be the reason we miss the podium. Dig in harder. Finish the power 9, 10.

Bow: “Up 2 in 2”

But I’m already there, shifting up. We have to.

I see the flash of red boat’s stroke oar. I see flashes of the white boat on the other side of them. We are up more on lane 6.

“Dig in!”

I am, I am digging in, I am thinking, I will not be the reason we lose, leaning hard and heavy every stroke, thinking about inches.

I still think we’re in the fight for third, maybe second is on the line. I see Texas’ stroke seat on my side.

The surge to the line is incredible. This is kind of race we live for. Four boats, four fast boats, making calls, trying to get the oars in the water at the exact right time. This is going to come down to the timing–where are you in the stroke when you cross the line? How much surge of power is behind your blade?

Beep-beep-beep-beep! No joke.

And then breathing. Gliding. Rowers collapsing over, at the paddle. No one is really sure who finished when or where. It’s too close to call across FOUR boats. We feel sure we got on the podium. Texas also feels sure, saying, we got them. I’m not so sure.

I knew I rowed hard because my teeth started to hurt.

I see a text of something come through on the stroke coach, but we’re rowing back to the dock. I can’t look at the moment.

We land.

Our teammate comes for oars and with the news. We won. I can’t believe it. Jubilation. Confirmed by Texas, who also docked beside us. First, second.

There’s a text message tornado from our teammates. Screenshots of the finish. Video snaps of the race. It’s incredible.

We go for medals first. And there’s a trophy! It comes with these sweet story about a Grandma who would watch her granddaughter race on the Schuykill and knit while waiting in the stands.

Women’s Club B 4x

I still haven’t seen the video, but I can’t wait to watch it. It’s going to be amazing.

And I got my earrings.

Tomorrow, as they say, is another day, another race. But a great way to start the regatta.

About camckenna

I write; I row.
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2 Responses to 2021 Masters Nationals-Day 1

  1. Toni Seghi says:

    What a great commentary! Thanks for sharing exactly how I would have felt ! You should be so proud with all of you’re training! Thanks for representing our club!

  2. Patrick D Kielty says:

    Enjoyed the read, congrats!

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