Hello, Hello, Hello!
As promised, I am back with the second part of last Sunday’s blog. With racing season coming up, I thought it was important to outline some tips that will make you as successful as possible heading onto the race course this fall. Having rowed in both High School and College, I have raced quite a bit. Everything from regular season dual races to State & Conference Championships. As you can imagine, I have been in almost every scenario possible. Today, I am going to share two stories. Both different situations, where both my boat mates and I handled ourselves completely differently. The circumstances of both of these races were VERY different, but I am here to show you that even if you experience a bad race, you can take the lessons learned from the negatives, and turn them into a positive.
Both of these races took place one week apart from each other, during my senior year of college. This boat gave me one of the best seasons of my rowing career. We instantly clicked during spring break in March, and the process we followed throughout the season in order to improve and reach our potential is something I will always remember. Going into the championship racing season, we had high expectations for ourselves. But, we definitely didn’t expect the following to happen:
It was a sunny, windy day in Saratoga, New York. The water was choppy, and the tension at the race course was at an all time high. It was the New York State Championships, and it was the last one of my collegiate rowing career. Heading into the race, our boat was feeling confident. We were having an amazing season, and we were awarded the #1 seed in our boat category as a result. But I think my boat mates and I felt the pressure. In all of our previous races, we had a rhythm and a massive sense of trust in one another. Every race was fun, competitive and effortless. We knew how to stay calm, cool and collected, and I had never trusted a boat more. But today was different. Something was off, and I could feel it. We were tense and nervous, and even if we didn’t exactly show it on the outside, I could tell from the beginning, we were losing a battle with ourselves.
We warmed up late, and as a result, got on the water 20 minutes behind schedule. Our warm up was frantic, unorganized and ineffective. Showing up five minutes late to the start line, we were given a warning, and that caused everyone in my boat to start to slightly panic. Then, with a minute before the start flag was raised, our coxswain’s cox box stopped working. With no way to monitor rate, or receive effective communication from our coxswain, it was going to be difficult to execute our race plan. During the process of our coxswain attempting to fix her cox box, the starters flag went up, and before we knew it, “ATTENTION.....GO!” With our coxswain’s hands pre-occupied with the objective of salvaging her cox box, she initially neglected to get her hands on the steering cords, causing our boat to slightly veer into the lane next to us. Our start was sloppy, but after 250 meters, we finally got ourselves back into our lane, and our cox box, finally turned back on.
Even with all the racing experience I had in the past, I surrendered to bad habits. I looked out of my own boat, severing the trust I had with my crew, and realized we were down a boat length on the medaling field. In that moment, our boat felt the pressure our #1 seed had put upon us, and we rowed an extremely poor race. There was no ratio, there was no boat run, the set was non-existent, and even though we made a slight move on the field early, our fatigue set in, and the medaling boats slowly and powerfully walked away from us. We finished fourth. We lost to a boat we had beaten by 15 seconds the week before. I couldn’t believe it. I will never forget the feeling that went through my body when we crossed the finish line. I was numb....and devastated. It felt like I had left my own body and watched my boat deteriorate right before my eyes. Everything we relied on during the season....the strong and composed body of our race, our sprint, and most importantly, each other...was neglected. It was hard for me to put into words, but getting off the water, I knew we had to put this behind us, and use our mistakes to our advantage going into the ECAC Championships the following week. It was go time, and we used the disappointment of our State Championship race to motivate ourselves into the following week of training.
Fueled by anger and disappointment, we headed back to Ithaca with a sense of revenge that propelled us into one of the best weeks of training I have ever had. We didn’t skip a beat, and we knew we could redeem ourselves going into the ECAC National Championships. If we had won States as our seed projected, we would have been seeded to make the Grand Final at ECAC’s. But our poor performance at States had consequences, resulting in us being seeded 9th out of 16 crews, which placed us in one of the most competitive heats at the regatta. We were placed in Lane 3 on the big day, with some intense competition surrounding us. In Lane 1 were the New England Champions for that year, Williams. In Lane 2 was Bucknell, a boat that had extremely competitive results at the Dad Vail regatta the same weekend. And in Lane 4, was Trinity, a rival of ours who we had only beat by less than 2 seconds three weeks prior. It was going to be a dog fight, but we had nothing to lose. We knew it was going to be the hardest race of our lives to get into that grand final, with only the top 2 moving on. But the mood was completely different this time around. We were confident, light-hearted and in the zone. We were excited for the race to come, because we knew we were going to have to reach new heights to compete. We wanted to see what we could do this time around, and it showed. Our warm-up was on point. The boat felt like it was floating over the water, and the sound of our catches and releases occurring in perfect unison echoed throughout the warm-up area. Practicing starts for this race is something I will always remember. Every stroke was powerful, controlled and confident. Our boat was showing a passion that was contagious, and I had never felt the way I felt heading into this race.
We lined up, and the silence at the start line was empowering. Everyone knew what was ahead. Every boat was ready to claw and fight their way down this race course for one of those two spots in the top final. Our coxswain was in the zone. Telling us to relax and breathe, I closed my eyes and envisioned our race. The starting official began the countdown, causing goosebumps to form on my arms. It was go time, and we were ready. “Five, Four, Three, Two, One...Attention....GO!” In that moment, my boat started to fly. Our start sequence was aggressive, and clean. We were one in the same that race, all nine people working in perfect harmony. The first 500 meters went by like a blur. But we were open water up on lanes 5 and 6, six seats up on Trinity, and only two seats down on Williams and Bucknell. WE WERE IN THIS. Settling in at 37 strokes per minute, our rhythm felt effortless. Every stroke, every blade went in together, and our boat was jumping out of the water. My legs were burning like never before, but in that moment, I felt as though we were unstoppable. We were going to upset some crews. In the middle of our race, we never faltered. Bucknell was fast, and they made a move to get 7 seats up on us, but Williams wasn’t going anywhere. Our coxswain was feeling the intensity, and was feeding off every move we made. “They are getting nervous! We are sticking right with the New England Champs! We have to make a move. Let’s take a 10 in two strokes, get me even! BREAK THEM!” We gained a seat moving into the final 500, and we were virtually even with Williams. We were feeding off each other, and every member of my boat was out for the win! There is no feeling like going toe-to-toe with another boat. Both coxswains pushing their crews to the limit, 16 rowers fighting for that extra inch and the crowd on the beach erupting. Williams didn’t let us forget who they were. They were the New England Champions and they rowed like it in the next 250 meters. Gaining 2 seats on us, we were still sitting 7 seats down on Bucknell and 2 seats down on Williams. “250 to go boys, you want the spot in the final, WE HAVE TO GO NOW! In 2 we bump up for our sprint. Catches clean, chests up, in 2 we go, that’s it, in 1 we bump, SEND IT, AND GO!” We jumped up to a clean 43 strokes per minute, sending the boat propelling to the finish line every stroke.
The finish line horn went off, and it was too close to call. In the end, Williams edged us by .9 seconds, but my boat couldn’t have been happier. That was our race. We challenged two of the top boats in the region and we ended up beating Trinity by 12 seconds, a 10 second improvement from earlier in the season. We did what we set out to do, and that was improve upon the negatives of States, and use that to propel us to new and better heights for ECAC’s. That’s what racing is all about, and I couldn’t think of a better way to end my collegiate rowing career.
Until next time...
Coach Matt Dorio