Monday, March 1, 2010

Merrily, merrily

It’s the beginning of 7th week, Hilary term, and I’ve just realized I’ve only blogged about Christmas break trips and asinine events on my walks home.

So I can ease my guilty conscience, and further avoid beginning this week’s massive reading list, I’ll begin posting some categorized updates on what I’ve gotten up to this term.

If you remember correctly, I hated rowing last term. Loathed. Abhorred. Would rather have shards of glass in my eyes.  Our coach was the best combination of expletives I can produce, we had two early morning outings and an afternoon every week, and I was really, really rubbish at the whole thing.

Oh, how things change.

Prepared to quit, I attended the first meeting with our new captain, Rosie.  We’re already good friends, so I at least wanted to hear her out before I dropped the bomb.  She emphasized that she wanted, more than anything, for us to have fun, to have an enjoyable experience since last term was so crap.  On top of that, there was the guilt I’d live with if I dropped out—they’d be a girl short in the boat.  Besides, they were on the hunt for a new coach, and they promised that the one they found was absolutely lovely.
I agreed to stick with it, but threatened to quit if anyone made me run in a pack.

Also, most importantly—no more morning outings.

We spent the first couple sessions in the tank and on the ergs.  Alex, our new coach, was just as lovely as they promised.  Whereas the former coach would just explain the same obscure rowing technique in the same esoteric rowing jargon over and over again, Alex was able to break down the process of rowing in small, logical moves.  In just a couple of sessions I actually had the proper rowing form down.  Even if I couldn’t do it perfectly every time, I could now feel when it was and wasn’t spot on.

Our sessions on the river were brilliant.  More times than not we had gorgeous weather.  One week, we had sunshine every time we were on the water.  We slowly worked our way up to rowing all eights, and our timing and rhythm came together.  We’re still not perfect, but we are miles beyond where we were last term.  I actually left outings thoroughly knackered—I was actually getting a full-body work-out three to four times a week.  I was even looking forward to getting on the water.  The one time it rained on us, I didn’t even care.

With all the improvement, there had to be some setbacks.  It started when Charlotte messed up her ankle.  I’m still unclear as to what happened, but I think it involved football, and the poor girl was on crutches for weeks.  Then, Bex got hit by a car while she was on her bike, and she broke her wrist.  In training, Ellie aggravated an old sailing back injury, and Natalie pulled a calf muscle.  Then Jenny failed her swim test and wasn’t allowed on the river.

This left us grasping for subs.  Two third-year girls graciously stepped in, and we recruited some boys to help us out on the odd outing when not everyone could make it.

All this training was leading towards Torpids, the race in 7th week.  Last Friday was our qualifying time trial, called “rowing on”.  By Thursday night, we were still one girl short.  No one could be persuaded to help us out.  No subs could be sorted.  As I slaved away on an essay in the library, Rosie sat down next to me, almost in tears, and said we were going to have to pull out of rowing on.  All of our hard work, not to mention a huge chunk of the boat club’s money, would be for nothing.

But the next morning, we had an e-mail in our inboxes saying that rowing on was going ahead.  Lottie, our incredible cox, had sorted a sub at the eleventh hour, and we were going to be able to race.

Friday afternoon was sunny, but the wind was unlike any other I’ve experienced in England.  There was a strong current, and my heart rate picked up just looking at the water.  We climbed in the boat and did our warm-up down stream to the waiting area before the starting line.  As we worked up to all eights and feather blades, we were moving fairly fast and keeping the boat impressively steady, and we passed our old coach on the bank.  I gave him the ol’ stink-eye as we passed, and I could see him staring at us.  My heart swelled with pride as I watched our blades rise out of the water and catch at the same time.  He had to be impressed, and he had to know it had nothing to do with him.  When we got to the haystacks to spin, the wind was so strong that we had a pretty serious altercation with a tree for a while.  Lottie kept her cool and navigated us out of there.

Finally, it was our turn to race.  We started slowly, then worked up to race pace in a three-stroke burst right before the starting line.  Then we rowed hard.  Each burst through my legs felt like it had to be my last, but somehow, somewhere I kept finding more energy to crank out another one.  The river was still moving swiftly, and towards the end I felt as though I were sliding uphill.  At the finish line, we were sweaty and out of breath, but we were exhilarated.  Our time was one of the best we’d ever done, and the feeling of accomplishment was dizzying.  We had had everything working against us—injury, wind, swim tests—but we had made it past our goal.

Unfortunately, we didn’t qualify for Torpids, but we beat out ten other teams—including the team that will be chasing us come Summer VIIIs next term.  Most importantly, we’re still enthusiastic to continue on.  When I woke up this morning and saw a completely clear sky and a warm sun, I actually wished we would be in the boat today.  I never thought it would happen, but it seems that I’ve become a rower.