So, it actually happened. This weekend I competed as a sweep rower at the first National Selection Regatta. This is my fifth NSR1, but my first as a starboard. I have to admit, back in October when I accepted that this was really going to happen, and at some point I was going to get to race a pair at an NSR, the images I came up with were not pretty: Buoys. Diggers. Flipping. Flaming Meteors. I had very little confidence in my abilities to be up to speed in the pair by the springtime. But I realized sitting around continuing to know nothing, and blaming my ignorance for being slow wasn’t going to get me anywhere, so I started winter camp with an open mind, a lot of humility, and ready to get my learn on.
Luckily for me, I had a great group of teachers in the pair, and a magnificent classroom. The USA women spent three months in San Diego with the primary focus of working in the pairs. For once, our camp was focused on getting as much time and experience as we could in order to learn and develop skills, and we removed a large element of competition from the group (of course we still found ways to be competitive with each other, they just didn’t involve racing or erg pieces). The work paid off. By the time we returned to Princeton and were making final preparations for the NSR, we had eleven pairs, all of whom had demonstrated that they had the ability to be fast, and win (and I was one of them!). Unlike years past, there was no combination that had clearly separated themselves from the group as the favored crew. The entire team went in to this regatta knowing that any one of us could have come out in front on the final day.
I ended up paired with Kerry Simmonds, a fellow Washington Husky and the number two seat of last year’s World Championship W8+. Kerry and I had rowed together very little before the regatta; just one row together in San Diego during camp, one day of pre-selection racing, and she had the blessing of taking me out for my first unsupervised rows in the pair last fall (oh boy). We didn’t have a lot of mileage to go on, but I felt good about rowing together based on the easy, initial energy we found as a crew. It was easy to get in and work together, and we have been building on that since racing lineups were set just over two weeks ago.
We ended up having a good regatta and coming away with a win, which was very exciting for both of us. Racing was far from perfect, but I was happy with how we handled the variables of the racing weekend. Weather and conditions certainly played a role on the first day of racing, with a serious cross-tail chop that tore up the course and made taking strokes a little more challenging. To add to the excitement of the morning, not only did my rigger fall off on the dock while we were launching, but Kerry and I also made friends with the safety launch in the warm up area who reminded (but did not officially reprimand) us about following the traffic pattern (while rowing clearly in the wrong place in the wrong direction in order to get to the start on time). We also then had a “who’s on first?” moment with the starting official who asked us to please start our piece a few times while we nodded and said “Yes, we are in fact ready, you can start us any time” a few times. It was confusing, but comical (at least we thought so). Fortunately, the semi and the final were less of an adventure.
(W2- starts at 9:50, we are the first boat)
The semis were the highlight of the pairs racing at the regatta, with incredibly close margins in both races in order to qualify for the A Final. Kerry and I eeked out in front after getting dropped off the start, and then snapping in to a nice rhythm midway through the piece that carried us through the race. We kept our plan simple as we prepared ourselves for the Final: learn something, and race better.
Racing the A Final with my teammates was a blast. We all knew that there was absolutely nothing keeping any one of us from taking the race that morning, so came in with open minds and ready to fight. We were incredibly lucky to have perfect, flat, sunny tailwind conditions that made racing an absolute joy. As we pulled into our lane, I tried not to think about how I had put absolutely everything of myself in to the challenge of re-learning this new boat, while trying to hold on to my history and identity as a US sculler. I cleared away thoughts of forcing myself to open up and be vulnerable and accessible to an entirely new group of teammates; learning who they were, and learning how to trust them, hoping they would learn to trust me. I didn’t think about how I hadn’t slept well all week, or how we were the last ones to launch (again), or how our warm up hadn’t gone as well as I’d wanted it to (again). All I thought about was aligning my boat, preparing myself to row and call the best race we could, and helping my partner to get across the line in the best possible position. The rest took care of itself.
Racing, is racing, is racing. It’s what we do. The boat isn’t what matters. It’s you, your crew, and your competitors that define the race. For me, this was an amazing introduction in to what racing the pair with the US Women can be. I was so impressed with the Team performance this week, and truthfully, I surprised myself. Much more to come for our spring season, with more evaluations this week, and selection will continue for our trip to the second World Cup, and Holland Beker. There is a lot of work yet to be done…and fun to be had!
Long Live the Dream,