I got to the boathouse early the other morning, early enough for me to pace in the boat bays nervously. The girls in my boat arrived shortly after, and we sat around on the upstairs deck talking about the impending race. One of the women introduced herself and I knew the name instantly- she was on the list of people leaving for the Olympics next month. I asked about it, and she smiled and proudly verified that she would be racing in the Olympics. I had an Olympian in my boat: add another ten points to my nerve scale.
We pulled our boat down and I checked the riggers, the steering, the footstretchers, and the tracks. Everything seemed to be perfect. When huddled on the dock for a bit, reviewed race strategy, and then walked the boat down to the water while all of the onlookers cheered from the deck. Within twenty strokes off the dock I’d lost every bit of nerve- the girls in my boat felt perfect and strong, the steering was direct, and the water was glass. We rowed the few miles from the boathouse up to the starting line and I had no problem getting into the stakeboats and getting a point. I looked over at lanes 1, 2, and 3 and knew that they’d be no problem- we’d get them early out of the gate. The boat on my right in lane 5 would be our main competition. They were young and muscular, just like my boat. The coxswain and I caught each others eyes and glared for a moment just as the judge announced our teams. I heard the “Attention…” and tensed, grasped the steering rod, and told my girls to breathe. A second later we were off.
With rowing, the start is essential. Our start was fast, and we flicked ahead of most of the other boats just as I knew we would. Lane five pulled ahead of us, and I could see the eyes of their stroke seat. We held tight to their stern, went stroke for stroke with them through the majority of the race. With five hundred meters left I got pissed. We took a power ten and immediately walked on their boat and I never let the pressure off. Each stroke grew stronger, we inched through their boat. I caught their coxswain’s eyes again. “Fuck this,” I said, “We have a fucking Olympian in our boat. Let’s get them NOW.” From what I heard after the finish, this is where our stroke seat looked over at them, raised her eyebrow and said, “tata!” as we darted past them. I knew then, with 250 meters left, that we’d won. I heard our coach from the stands as we hit our sprint, bumped us up two beats and finished the stretch. The buzzer went on, and my bow seat screamed. We’d won.
We paddled it past the bridge and congratulated the other boats as they finished. They all turned and headed back up the river, the rowing version of the walk of shame. We paddled over the awards dock. My proudest moment was watching my coach in the stands. He wasn’t jumping up and shouting as some coaches do- he expected it. He told us later that the other teams practice six days a week in those boats, whereas this had been our first time ever rowing together.
I sang the majority of the row back to our boathouse, and we laughed over the “tata!” story. It felt so good to dock at the boathouse and have everyone cheer when we held up our awards. The awards, by the way, were ceramic beer steins, which we filled immediately at the boathouse bar after putting the boat away.
The rest of the day was spent celebrating with two of the girls from the boat- filling our beer mugs and getting down to the stands to cheer on the rest of our boats while drinking.
The view I get every day from our boathouse. Aren’t you a bit jealous?
Celebrating afterwards. My bow seat and I found this body suit (which is something that coaches wear for REALLY cold weather) hidden away in the boathouse. I swear I don’t normally dress like that.