SEPTEMBER 12, 2011

On September 1, 2011 in exactly six minutes and three point sixty-five hundredths seconds, I became a world champion.  We crossed the finish line and I sat there slumped over, too exhausted to celebrate.  We had just fought our way down the 2000 meter course coming from fifth place up to first.  It seemed that no matter how much effort and energy I was putting onto the oar on each stroke, the Canadian boat always seemed to be 2 steps ahead.  It wasn't until the last 500 meters that we finally broke free and put the bow of our boat in front.  And now here I was, a world champion. 

It wasn't my first, but damn, it was special.  When your entire year of training culminates into one race, it's an indescribable elation and relief to finish on top.  Each year of training is filled with its ups and downs and despite all the obstacles, I was standing in the middle of the podium with my eight teammates.  After we received our medals and flowers, we turned to the American flag for the national anthem.  I belted out the Star Spangled Banner as best I could, though it was quite bad considering I couldn't decide on an octave.  This was the sixth time I had the honor of standing on the podium with my teammates, with the national anthem playing for us.  So why was this time so special?

Leading up to the final we were the favorites, and some of our other teammates even scoffed that it was boring.  And yet I think people forget that at the starting line, we are all equal.  It doesn't matter how many World Championships or Olympic Medals a crew has won.  We are all human.  Every race plays out differently and you never know what your competitors are capable of.  Every win is special and nothing is ever certain.  Just watch the final of the Men's Quadruple Sculls event.  A very powerful German crew was leading by almost 2 seconds with 10 strokes to the finish line. All of a sudden the man in 3-seat hit his oar on a wave that twisted it out of his hand nearly bringing the boat to a dead stop.  With the 3-seat's oar being dragged under the boat, neither the 4-seat (or stroke) nor the 2-seat behind him could row.  The bow man frantically pulled the whole boat across the line.  That one technical fumble cost them the gold.  Luckily they were close enough to the finish line that bow man could pull them across for a silver medal.  However, we train hard so that things like 'luck' can play as little part in the outcome as possible.

Reflecting on the week at the World Championships and the lead up to it, I realized another thing.  When I thought about what I relished most at Worlds it wasn't our race or our win.  It was the everyday grind that leads up to those moments of victory.  The long rows, the intense race pieces, the group runs, the locker room antics, the travel, the jokes we shared as a boat.  It was the race walkthrough on the 2km course that our coxswain Mary called.  It was laying back on my seat in the boat during a break in the row, looking up at the sky, listening to the idle chatter in the boat.  That's when I realized just how much I'm going to miss all of this and all of these people when I eventually stop rowing and get one of those 'jobs'.

When I first started rowing and attending international competitions I didn't have an appreciation for all of these things.  I remember being a bit overwhelmed by the environment-- lots of racing and people everywhere.  Rowers walking next to me who I admired and had only seen on replayed racing videos or heard about from coaches.  And now I was going to sit at the starting line and race against them!  If only someone had told me that it didn't matter how many medals they had and that they too were just human.  And that with continuous hard training and a love of the sport, I too would someday accrue medals!  Ah but alas, my journey is not over.  I will continue to enjoy every day- the ups and the downs (please remind me I said this during the 'downs')- until next year's Olympics.  Then I will have amazing memories to reflect upon when I am laying back on my seat in my cubicle.