Back to the Drawing Board

Well, once again I’ve taken a day after my final to think things over, and figure out how to best approach a blog re-cap. There are a lot of things that I want to include in this blog, and not all of them are appropriate, rational, or kind. But what I do include here today will at least be honest, which I feel is really the primary goal of me blogging about the elite athlete lifestyle. It definitely is not glamorous, easy or fun all the time–and I have to say that coming sixth in yesterday’s A Final was none of the above, and a whole lot of other things.

Frustration and disappointment are probably the two most dominant forces in my world at the moment in regards to my performance yesterday. The disappointment is fairly obvious as no one wants to come last in any race; and going in to it with such high expectations after having won Lucerne doesn’t make the sixth place finish any easier to bear. But the frustration and aggravation is more difficult to sort out, as in some ways the outcome of my first senior world championships was affected by circumstances out of my control; I just wasn’t able to successfully overcome the adversities that tumbled into my life this summer. I said in an earlier post that we don’t consciously train for absolutely everything to go wrong. So when everything does go wrong, it seems incredibly unfair and like punishment. But now, having gone through this regatta and survived it–even if only barely–as miserable as I am right now I think that just about any other batch of misfortunes or bumps in the road along the way to London are going to seem like trifling quibbles compared to all of this.

Following our win in Lucerne, Ellen and I set our expectations pretty high as we transitioned into preparing for our trip to Poland. We knew exactly what we needed to do with the time we had in order to improve our race to give us the best possible chance at a medal in Poznan. We were the first athletes named to the team this year–and what an honor to accept our seats with a little gold medal behind them to back up our decision to stay in the double. We tore right into the training as soon as we got back, and it wasn’t even a week after our return to the US that Ellen broke a rib and had to come off the water immediately in order to have a chance to be healthy by the time we left for Poland. With 4X selection and 1X trials still going on, that left me without a spare to row with in the double, so I trained in the single every day for the majority of the time between Lucerne and Poland. I did take away some very valuable training from the single, but it certainly was not ideal when the training window between the last world cup and the world championships is already so small.
Following the conclusion of 1x trials, Brett Sickler accepted the spare slot on the team, and so I spent some time training with Brett in the double before leaving for Poznan. I have to say that I would have been completely screwed if it were not for Brett this year. She did a fantastic job jumping in to the boat with me and getting work done with a fierce grace that I will not forget, and which I appreciate so much. Thank you, Brett.
After arriving here in Poznan, I was off and on with Brett and Ellen depending on the day. A few days into training on Malta, Ellen’s rib was feeling better, but she took a bad stroke on Wednesday before the heat and threw out her back, setting her back even more than before. Right up until the light turned green on Sunday morning, we weren’t sure if she would be racing, and Brett and pit crew were camped at the starting line with slings and tools ready to pull Ellen out and switch the rig if necessary if she couldn’t make it through the warm up.
But Ellen proved once again to be tough as nails, and made it through the regatta, fighting tenaciously with me all the way down the race course every time we lined up to go. I can’t say for her where she stands with her injuries now but I do know that if she didn’t think she could go 100% with me, she wouldn’t have lined up. So admitting now that she faced some injuries at the end of the season is not my way of excusing our failure this weekend. I don’t have an excuse for that. I simply find myself frustrated–maybe more than ever before–with timing. with circumstances. with luck. with fate. With all the things that I can’t control which I feel took hold of our lot this season.
But most of all, I’m frustrated with my inability to capitalize on a situation which I could have made into something great. Maybe with more experience; more training; more know-how; more guts I could have walked stone-faced through the flames and come out the other side with a gold medal this weekend. Maybe I could have. Through great adversity comes great success. But I didn’t do that. I failed to do that. I let the situation get the best of me, and despite giving it everything that I had I came up incredibly short.
It is humiliating and demoralizing to be the only crew back from the final in Beijing, and to have finished worse here than we did there. Add to that that we have had a very successful year training and racing, and that we didn’t really take time off after Beijing and I am left with a lot of questions as to what went wrong, and why. It’s maddening and heartbreaking to see an entire year’s worth of work go completely unrewarded when I felt like I had set myself up to do well, and at the very least to improve on what I did last year. But here I am, the 2009 World Championships have come and gone, and I don’t have a damn thing to show for it. All of my other PTC teammates will travel back to the the US with hardware (some of them with multiple pieces of hardware). Ellen and I were the only open weight women’s crew to come out of the USRowing Training Center with no medals. You would think it would be easy for me to be ecstatic about the resounding success of my teammates, but instead I’m just angry.

W8+ Gold
W4- Silver
W2- Gold
W4X- Silver

A very successful year indeed for the USA Women no thanks to me. And while I know that this will pass and I’ll get into the rhythm of a new training year soon enough, I am in a very dark place right now searching very intently for the silver lining. I know it’s there–and when I find it, I’ll write a much happier, much clearer blog about it. In the meantime, I’m off to enjoy my last night in Poznan and help my teammates to celebrate their many successes this week.

Thank you to all who sent their love and support my way during this season. It was a tough one, and though you may not always realize it, it means the world to me.

Long Live the Dream.

–MK

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