Racing at Henley
19 June 2016
On the morning of what was potentially the last race of my collegiate career, I woke up in England. I had imagined my last race would be at Dad Vails or on Lake Natoma at NCAAs. Our race in the four at Dad Vails surley felt more final than this. Abby called a 10 at the 1000m for Courtney and I, we were already far ahead but stroke by stroke I ran through everyone and everything I miss or will miss about this team. By the medals dock I was over it. This morning as I got out of bed I felt as I did on the medals dock. Distant from what was going on around me.
The feeling continued through breakfast and as we walked down for a practice row. On the water I couldn't help looking around thinking, who am I racing? will I be able to win? When I sat up to take a practice start I convinced myself to beleive that I could win. There was junior quad at the Buckinghamshire Station (far side) as I pulled into the Berkshire Station. They sat up and I decided I would go on their coaches call, Attention, go! I had a stellar start, doing everything I could to hang on to the bigger boat, just like at home. They are slower than our quad and I hung onto them through my start. Great confidence boost.
After practice we walked back to the house to change and rest before the races. I put on my uni right away and got in bed. When Krysten and Allanah went to leave they laughed that I was already dressed. Grace and I headed down 30 minutes later. I was dressed in the full tampon (red track) suit, which I later realized should be called the bloody tampon suit, especially here in England. On the way down to the water we stopped at Starbucks so I could fuel up on caffiene. No coffee shops here sell normal coffee, you get an Americano which I find to be nasty. Without a choice I downed it anyways.
When I arrived at the course the whole team was there ready for our first two races of the regatta. I still had no idea who I was facing. Regardless the coffee was doing its job and I ran for the bathrooms. They had semi-permanent stalls set up, a very fancy port-a-potty system. At this point it was time for me to launch. On the dock, Jim wrings my hand in a class Jim handshake and says, "I'm not sure who is going to be next to you at the line, but the length of your college career depends on this race." Thanks, Jim. I'm fighting to extend my college career by one day.
I love the Henley course except the wakes. The boats that follow the races are not required to stop when passing. Going up to the start a wake nearly tore my thumb out of its socket. The single scullers were all out there early with me, battling around 4's and 8's to get in a good warm up. Princeton V8 wins its first race, they'll go on to row at the Royal. Of the four scullers warming up I pick out the Israeli, the Singaporean, and the Tideway Sculler. I'll face the Tideway sculler.
We pull up towards the start. I have to pee, badly, damn coffee. She's clearly done this a hundred times, she is so nonchalant and hadn't looked up her lane. She comments that she is not great at steering. I apologize in advance for mine. We pull into our stations. A boy, about 12, dressed in uniform holds my stern. I am not great at getting a point off the start in a single but I try to match up the yellow 'V' with the pole that indicates a straight course. I figure out that the current allows my to get my point by simply checking on one side. Suddenly they are reading off our names and I am not ready when the announcer calls, Attention, GO!
Half, half, three-quarters, length, full. I'm at a 40. Flying. Right at the other lane. But I'm ahead. "University of Massachusetts," the official calls, WOOSSHHHKK, the white flag waves me over. And again. I correct my point. Three hundered meters in I've moved up a three lengths. So I slow down from a 33 to a 30 and then to a 28. Gracie and Pippa cheer from the shore but I have to slow down. English rowing custom at Henley is to slow down once you've achived three boat lengths lead on our opponent. The 28 wasn't enough so I move to a 25. I know the team wants to call a 10 when I go by the 1000 so I need to lessen the gap. At the 1000 I'm 6 boat lengths up and the team calls a 10. I get 8 beautiful strokes in and I take it down to a 20 for the remainder of the race.
Ana Limbrick, the Tideway Sculler, is actually to coach of their team. In her hayday she rowed U-23 for New Zealand and then for Oxford. She tells me that the Cambridge Sculler Melissa Williams that I face next is a current British favorite, a real strong rower. Great. Great. Great.
On the morning of what was the last race of my collegiate career I woke up in England. It still didn't feel real. We had our last practice in the morning and racing started soon after. The 8 went down first looking respectable against #7 Princeton. And then the quad looking just as smooth as the Olympians in the Leander boat.
It was my turn next. Kelsey warned me that the wind gets bad after the island. I was much more confident on the warm up this time despite facing certain defeat. I wanted to look as fabulous as possible going against the well known and liked Miss Williams. At the start line we talked briefly and I realized she was the sculler who refused to do a start with me in the morning. All the more reason to try to hang onto her at the start.
This time my parents were riding in the launch following the race. No matter what I knew at least my dad would get some good pictures of me. We pulled into our stations, I was on the shore side this time. The next thing I remember was moving at a 41 trying to stay as long as possible through the start. I hung with everything I had but in 10 strokes she was slipping into my periferal vision. BOOM. The wind hit me. Knowing it was going to happen didn't help at all. Gritting my teeth I decided to fight my way through the rest of the race as fast as I could go. I took a 10 once again by the team who apparently stopped calling the 10 and started yelling at Williams to take it down.
It was my last race in college and it could not end soon enough. Finally the beep came. That's when I found out the English custom is to say "Thanks for the race" instead of "Good race." The British phrase seemed very appropriate for the moment.