The Texas Championships

About four months after I joined the Texas Rowing Center and their novice team, our coach, Saloni, started preparing us for the Texas State Championships to be held just four miles down the lake from our club. I signed up for four races, excited to try out my limited skill. In two of these events I would be in a solo boat, the races I was most looking forward to, because my performance would be completely in my hands. The other two races were in a four-person and an eight-person boat. Our team usually meets twice a week, but we moved that up to three times (Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays) several weeks leading up to this event. One thing I really love about sharing a boat is the camaraderie we develop. These are friends I would seriously lend $100 to if they needed it. The reasons people join this club vary from getting back in the sport after a long layoff from collegiate competition to having a bad knee that keeps them from running to simply wanting to lose weight. Regardless of the reason, we are a tight group who have formed a strong bond. It is an amazing feeling when we are rowing in perfect synchronicity, placing the oar blades into the water, pulling the boat through the water, and releasing the blades out of the water to slide forward, catching more water, all in what seems like one machine. It is an extremely meditative experience, because if you let your mind drift, your performance will immediately show this loss of concentration, affecting the entire boat’s performance. This total focus has a way of shutting down a rambling mind and instilling a sense of peace. The day before this race, we all rowed boats down the lake to the venue and shuttled each other back in cars. My first event that day was in an 8-person boat with both male and female athletes (mixed 8+). We also had a cox whose job is to inspire, coach, and steer this massive boat. The nervous energy was high, but we had done our homework to get to this point and just needed to apply it. We gathered our oars, placing them next to the launching dock as many other teams were scrambling to get their oars and boats to and from this same point. Nerve-wracking to say the least, but we succeeded in walking our boat overhead through the safety check to the dock and locking our oars onto our boat. Stepping into the boat, we strapped our feet in and pushed off the dock, following the cox’s commands. We left early, so we had time to warm up properly for this upcoming “all-out” performance. The weather was beautiful, with slightly hot but not-too-windy conditions, so choppy waves would not be an excuse for bad blade work. The race promoters called our boat with four others to the starting podium, where each boat was backed up to a person who held the nose of the boat steady before launch. We sat in our boat with our oars in the water waiting for the “Go” command, only to have another boat make a false start, earning them a penalty. I guess they were even more nervous than we were. The race director raised his flag in the air, yelled “Attention!” and then whipped the flag down with a “Go!” We were off, getting a pretty good start. Our boat was a little wobbly from some ambitious rushing. A good start is very quick but not too powerful. The power is applied progressively over the first five strokes, then the stroke is lengthened with this power to grab even more water for further acceleration. The key to speed is smooth power. A choppy stroke will just upset the boat, causing the nose to dig into the water or tilt to one side, slowing it in the process. Our race boat started to run nice and smooth after this less-than-perfect start, allowing us to catch up to and pass one of our competitors. We still had another boat that was holding its second-place  position firmly. We pulled as hard as we could, coming side-to-side. Surging ahead for a brief moment, then back to a tied position. Just as the 1000-meter finish line appeared, they slipped out of our grasp to take second place. We had bronze, so it did not feel like a total loss, especially since the boat that just beat us was the advanced team from our rowing club. Not too shabby for an up-and-coming novice crew. My next race of the day was in a four man boat (M4x). We hadn’t had too much practice together in this boat but were all in good physical condition and hungry to row. Pulling the boat into the water, we made it to the warm-up area near the starting line for some good warm-up drills. Backing the stern of this boat into the starting podium, we waited as the announcement of our club and rival teams could be heard over the intercom. The “Attention” command was given as we leaned forward with our oars, locking them into the water. The flag dropped with a “Go,” and we were off to a great start. We were up against four experienced boats, so we had our work cut out for us. Already ahead of two boats from the start and closing in on the third, we continued to pull the boat slowly but smoothly to their side. The red buoys became visible, indicating the last 200 meters of this 1000-meter race , so we really dug deep, nudging ahead of that third boat for a second-place win. My two last races in a single boat (1x) came after the four-man race (4x). My inexperience combined with my exhaustion reaped me no wins, but I held my own against some great athletes. I am looking forward to showing my increased skill level and stronger physical endurance next year.

 

 

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