Sitting in my boat slowly rolling back and forth on my slide, my legs shake with anticipation as I anxiously listen to surrounding coxswains instruct their rowers to adjust the point of their boats and wait impatiently for my race to start. My coxswain, Connor, tries to calm us. “It’s just like any other race girls. Just relax, breath, and do what you’ve done multiple times before.” While the calmness of his voice slows my heavy, rapid breathing, my stomach won’t stop turning and my legs already feel like liquid; as if all the strength has already been drained out of them. Looking to my right and left, I see five boats of girls and their coxswains, sitting in their starting positions, ready to go head to head to fight for the state title. Thinking that this dreadful task is coming too soon, I see that the last boat has aligned themselves, and their coxswain has lowered her hand signifying that they are ready to start.
In the final moments before the start, Connor explains the race plan one last time: do the normal half, three-quarter, half, lengthen, full high fifteen, settle one, then lengthen ten and “kill it.” I’ve heard the sequence all before, and we had practiced it hundreds of times throughout the season, but for some reason this time it just seems much more complicated and for a second I worry I’ll forget something. With one more “you’ve got this girls”, Connor becomes silent as the starting marshall announces the boats have alignment. “This is the start. Five, four, three, two, one, attention….row.” It has begun.
With a uniform clunk of feathering oars followed by the sharp sound of coxswains dictating the starting sequence to their rowers, all six boats push off fighting to edge their bow ball in the front of the pack. Ignoring the noise of surrounding coxswains and the splashing of water against my face, I focus directly on the back of the girl in front of me, and the sharp direction of Connor’s voice feeding us information and instruction. In no time, we’re crossing the 750, halfway done, bow ball in first. I have the taste of blood in my mouth and have not felt my legs since the end of the starting sequence. My lungs burn, and my hands are stiff and cramping, but I put all my effort, both physical and mental, into keeping my time with the rest of the boat, entering the blade cleanly into the water, and pulling it through the water as quickly to create as much run in the boat as possible. I have to do well for my coach, I have to do well for my teammates, I have to do well for me.
With 250 meters left, Connor announces we are ahead by over half a boat length, Stonington is gaining speed, and East Lyme is trying to take a power ten. The shore is crowded with people, some cheering for us, but I cannot hear or see any of them. My vision is completely gone and the only things I hear are the rhythmic sounds of the wheels on our slides and gunnels and Connor screaming at us to pull away from Stonington and win by open water. My boat starts to sprint and I know we are almost there. My whole body is numb and my throat is so dry that I feel as if I am choking, but I feel no pain at this point. I feel as if I am floating yet I don’t know how I manage to keep from collapsing. Finally we cross the finish line and there is over a foot of water between Stonington’s bow ball and our stern. I immediately collapse backwards and lay down in the feet of the girl behind me. The girl in front of me does the same, and the girl behind me grabs my hand and squeezes it as she too cries tears of joy. As I lie in the boat gasping for air, trying to summon up enough energy to sit up and look for my coach on the shore, I am overcome with emotions. Part of me feels disappointed. Not because of the result – I am certainly overjoyed by it – but because this was our last race of the season as a boat and I am remembering the long journey that my boat had gone through together. If I could go back to a year ago when this journey began, I’d do it all again. I would do every single erg piece that made us almost pass out, every single water piece that tore large chunks of skin from our hands, and every single land workout that made us incapable of climbing stairs again. All of this I’d do again to take us from the team that lost every race to the team we were now. However, while I’m still feeling sad that the five seniors in that boat will not be there after this, I am still so proud because I know that life can’t get any better than this moment where we gave it our all and proved that with hard work, the underdogs become the champions.
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