It’s the night before our heat at the 2015 World Championships. As I wrote in my last post, I’m back in the women’s quad for this year’s Worlds, and this is going to be my fifth season in this event. I’ve taken a lot of strokes in the women’s quad, starting way back in 2007 when it was the first senior national team boat for which I was ever seriously in contention. Every season that I’ve come in to the boat since then, in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, there have been ups and downs. Some years were better than others. It took some time for me to learn about the event, and about myself as an athlete within it. As it turns out, I’m still figuring it out.
Making the quad every year has always meant a few things to me. It has meant performing at or near the top of the sculling group in the single, double, and on the erg. It has meant grueling seat racing, usually right up until the hour of the naming date. It has meant working with my tireless coach, Laurel. But most of all, it has always meant lining up with my closest and fiercest friends to put all of our work and our trust in each other, on the line. No crew I’ve rowed in has been the same, but I have always shared a history with the women I’ve gone down the course with in the quad. That shared history has always given us something to dig in with when things get tough–or simply, it has been our strength.
This year is different. This is the fist year I’m lining up in a quad with women I have never raced with before. And if I have trained with them in some lineup or some boat during the past three years, it has been brief. It’s going to be new for all of us, and we have had just these few short weeks together in August to build the trust that is going to get us down the course in Aiguebelette and where we want to be over the next week. It is a big task. But because of who we are and what we do, I know we can do it. With the elimination of the disciplinary specialization at the training center in 2013, I have felt the group become more unified and focused than it has been in the past. We all sweep, we all do a little bit of sculling, and I think the core of the selection pool is able to identify who they are athletically and where they fit in to the team more easily than when there were two separate and unequal hierarchies at the training center. What that means is, we all know what everyone in the group is capable of. We all do the same training, in the same boats, and see our results and progress throughout the year. I haven’t raced a World Cup, World Championships or Olympic Games with these women. But I know, without a doubt, that we can be a tough, aggressive crew in our debut race tomorrow because of everything we have done as a part of the group at the USTC together. It’s why we could have a substitution step in without missing a beat; it’s why we are able to switch seats basically anywhere in the boat and still get the work done. All four of us have assets that we bring to the lineup, and tomorrow is our opportunity to let them work together in order to be as fast as we can be.
This quadrennium has pushed me to grow as an athlete in ways I didn’t think it could when I made the decision to come back to training after London. Getting to know the then-rookies by testing them, pushing them, and occasionally encouraging them, has been a true challenge for me–because it has meant that in turn, I have had to soften my sharp edges (sometimes), and make myself more accessible and available to them (the word I should use is “vulnerable” but even here sitting and staring at the screen for a few minutes I am wincing at the thought) . Building trust on and off the water with these women is something I can’t put a number on, because there’s no limit to how far it can take you if it goes deep enough. The good news is, I have bonded with a lot of my newer teammates since 2013 and am happy to count them among my good friends who will probably be stuck with me long after we leave Princeton.
To all my teammates from my past quad lineups: I love you, and am thinking of all of you every day. Yes, even you Margot.
There are some things that I don’t know about tomorrow, because there’s no way of knowing them until the light turns green. But, on the other hand, there are some things I do know. I’ll be the one at the start with a smile on. In three seat, by the way.
See you out there.
Long Live the Dream,