Feb Break - day

I am on the road driving now so no time to write... However a few of the freshmen have taken the reigns.  The following is a recap of day 6 (maybe today they will write a 5.5 - I didn't get a chance to squeeze in the last night festivities of the dance off and the sing off - very creative and entertaining)


Hey Cat! Here's the blog for today sorry it's late! Have a safe trip home. 
      Today was probably the busiest day we've had! We woke up as usual for morning practice and although it was quite choppy we got in a good few hours of rowing! Even our coxswain Mary rowed today. Turns out she's quite the star rower and Grace who took her spot as coxswain also turned out to be quite the star coxswain!! :-) After morning practice the modified left on the bus back to Camp Ithel while the freshman were required to run back to the camp. Everyone was back to the camp by 11pm. We ate a good lunch consisting of left overs from the week. After lunch we had to make sure we had everything all packed into the bus. Sydney, Ava and Bean were the best on the cleaning crew and managed to make sure nothing was left behind. After some hectic cleaning we packed up the bus and all managed to get on in time for a noon take off to Cocoa Beach!! We arrived in Cocoa Beach only to discover that we had driven right into a storm so our planned beach day would not be as ideal as expected. We ended up making a trip to Ron Jon Surf Shop instead. After about an hour at Ron Jon we drove back to the hotel through the pouring rain and checked in with some new purchases in hand! We were given 45 minutes to get cleaned up for dinner. We weren't told where we were going for dinner but Lou told us to dress up so some showed up to the bus at 4:45 with dresses and sandals others with jean shorts and a tee shirt. Word got around that we were either going to Margarita Ville or Bubba Gump but  we ended up going to Cici's Pizzeria which we all enjoyed! Once we were all done eating we walked to the dollar store and made some completely impulsive, random purchases. After the dollar tree, Lou noticed that there was a Goodwill near by and insisted we stopped there. At first, none of us were really interested but after walking around we managed to actually find some really cool things!  I think Lou got some Hawaiian styled shirts (classic Lou), I managed to find a tango dress but I didn't get it because I knew I'd probably never have any occasion to wear it hahaha :-)  After goodwill, we made another pit stop to  
Sonic and ate our milkshakes on the way back to the hotel. The ride home was quiet as everyone was tired except for Abby Sullins who charged down the aisle while Norman the bus driver had stopped at a red light. Let's just say she ended up face flat on the bus floor covered in a root beer float but quickly got back up and laughed it off. And well, that pretty much wraps our day!!! Long, busy yet fun! This has definitely been a great week and thanks to our coaches this last day was especially one to remember.

Sarah Daoui, Cassie Layden and Mary Laniewski 

Sent from my iPhone


Feb Break 2014 - Day 5

Day 5 began with a practice arranged to such that Alida could get to the Airport by 9:30.  As if Orlando and the sunny 80 degree weather wasn't enough... Alida had to jump on a plane heading to Cancun!  Interestingly enough, she is heading down there as a bridesmaid for the wedding of one of her former SRA teammates Lindsay Lentini.  (this is one of the amazing things about SRA, the connections that are made last for years and years.  It wasn't that long ago that I remember bringing Alida and Lindsay on a training trip to Florida!  (I may even have pictures somewhere... but I cannot put them on the Blog -- Alida's instructions)  So, about half way through the practice, Alida brought her crew in, and they got to join Coach Tyler's group for the downtown run.  And, fortunately for them, it happened to be the day that they ran to the ice cream store.  Meanwhile, Alida was on her way to the airport as the sole passenger on a 55 passenger bus.  Talk about riding in style.  It was not all going to be easy for her though.  She was cutting it so close that she had to change at the airport into a her dress for the rehearsal dinner.  

As a side note to this trip.  One of the varsity girls' families was also heading to Cancun for break.  Turns out that after their flight got cancelled and they rebooked their trip, they are heading to the same resort that Alida will be attending the wedding.  Small world!

It is going to be hard to beat that crazy adventure.  Back at home, most of the team decided to run or walk back to the dorms. (well, it was kind of a strong suggestion)  The afternoon was spent sunbathing again.  Well, it is a pretty short afternoon.  Brunch runs from 10:30-11:00ish and then the bus for second practice is at 1:15.  It works out because they apply the sunscreen post brunch and then by the time it wears off, we are back on the bus and they apply the suncreen before the second row.

Second row featured a surprise guest rower... Coach Tyler!  Normally our dry land training guru, we got him into an eight with the Mods.  According to Coach Bean he has a real future in rowing.  He picked it up pretty quickly - however, if we are going to get him in a boat again, he asked for bigger shoes.   (He was a little large for the mod boat!)

After practice, we stuck around the site for an extra hour in order to get a head start on loading the trailer.  Tomorrow is going to be a busy day as we try to squeeze a short row, and finish loading the trailer, and get back to the dorms for a final cleaning, and then eat brunch and try to hit the road before noon.  Right now, in fact, they are doing the pre-clean on the rooms so tomorrow goes smoothly.  Coach Lou has some ice cream for those who do a good job cleaning.  I am just hoping that they know how to clean better than they know how to do laundry (we had a few people confused by those crazy machines).  If is is any consolation, they are getting good at cleaning the dishes.  One more week here, and they might be ready to take care of themselves (dishes, cleaning, laundry) even if they have not figured out how to feed themselves (candy, candy, candy)

Tomorrow, after rowing, it is off to the International Palms resort (this looks to be the fanicest place we have stayed in all the years of doing this trip).  Lets hope for 36 more hours of brillant weather.



Feb Break 2014 - Day 4

Well done to the kids for this turn around.  After a long Universal day, they responded well to the 7:00 am practice time for Day number 4.  It really helps when the weather is just perfect.  (I have to admit, I am not missing the snow one bit.)  Each morning, Coach Tyler has been taking half the Mods at a time for some land work, while coach Bean and Lou take the others out on the water, and then they switch halfway thru the long practice.  Well, in all the excitement about Universal, I forgot to mention the discovery of the Mods when they ventured out for a run with Tyler.  I mean the discovery other than the ice cream shop in downtown Windermere (whose main street is tiny compared to Saratoga).  Turns out Winderemere has a painted horse statue just like Saratoga.  It almost felt like summer in Saratoga - until they ran past a house that had a moat built around it???

I got to take out a single pair this morning... Talk about a lot of information coming at you.  This was the first or second row in a pair for these girls, and then they had me coaching them.  I am really impressed with how much they soaked in given the challenges of rowing a pair and the amount of focus had to go into every movement.  They did learn the meaning of "top bolt" a few times, but they stayed out of the water, and finished the practice rowing together all full strokes.  

After practice we had our groups of walkers and runners... but poor Courtney didn't realize what she was in for.  She chose to walk with Bean!  I can tell you from last night (Bean and I walked to Sushi while everyone else was at Universal)  Bean walks faster than many people run!

Between practices, while coach Isa and Bean went out for a row, the rest of the group enjoyed the sunny 80+ degree weather.  The kids found the perfect spot down by the pond next to the bonfire pit, and the coaches just plopped down right in front of the dining hall (nearer to the ice water I think)

I am a little sad I missed out on some of that sun napping  - I had to fix a wire for the trailer before the trip home.  In the end though, Siri and I discussed it, and I got a 15 minute nap in the sun.

Second practice was beautiful again, and Alida and Lou got together to mix up some of the 8th graders with the 9th graders in the eights.  The girls with me did a great job, and I think Alida was pretty confident with her group as well... She texted me during practice and challenged us to a race, but we were too far away, and we didn't make it back in time.  Maybe another time Alida!  We were ready!

After second practice, Mr Dexter and Mr Macie took the reigns and let the coaches go out for a coach dinner.  We had a great time!  Just down the road from the camp, there is a little place that specializes in pulled pork called the "Yellow Dog Cafe" we grabbed a table out back near the volkswagon bus, and enjoyed our time together.  After dinner we even tried to get a picture in the volkswagon, but we had to ask 2 little boys who were busy playing video games to take the picture.  They seemed happy to help, but the one boy totally shot me down when I suggested he should choose Kevin Durant over LeBron James for his video game.  

We finished our evening away with a little trip to the Twistee Treat ice cream place... shh don't tell the kids.  And, as is his custom, Coach Isa ordered an ice cream larger than his head.

I think I am about ready for bed, but I am pretty curious what is going on over in the other dorm.  I am pretty sure I saw strobe lights as we arrived back from out coaches outing.  Perhaps I will hear stories in the am.


Feb Break 2014 - Day 3

Universal Day!

As excited as everyone was for Universal, we still got a great morning row on beautiful water.  I had strict instructions from Alida to work them pretty hard - they only had one practice.  So, after an hour or so of drills, we had two competitive 14 minute pieces.

may be earlier in the week than we usually plan the Universal trip, but the weather worked, and the rowing has been going great.  We figured we might as well hit the theme park early.  I do have to say that I have been pretty impressed with the kids.  With the exception of a little walmart situation (we knew there would be a story there) the kids have been great.  What I was most impressed with was the bus ride... I almost NEVER ride the bus, but yesterday Isa took the truck to practice early to go out for a row in the single - so I got to ride the bus to practice... No sooner did I settle into a seat before one of the girls stood up and took care of role call!  I was shocked.  In my experience the coaches/chaperones all have to manage that -- NOPE, they took care of it themselves.  It was awesome.

Now, about the Walmart trip.  One thing I like about Alida is that she is punctual, and has high expectations for all her rowers.  I did not hear any names, but I am told that a few of the kids were late coming out of Walmart at the appointed time (even though she warned them to go get in line).  Needless to say, there were a few sore kids this morning when they realized that 150 jumpies can really burn those legs.  

For the guys, I think we have found a new favorite past time, every extra minute seems to be spent reeling in fish.  I think next year we will have to bring along some more fishing equipment (though they seem to be quite successful with bread and a hook)

I am trying right now to pull some universal stories from the coaches and chaperones in my room - but it is tough, they are all pretty tired and struggling to stay awake.  Best story I heard... Coach Isa and his feats of strength.  Remember yesterday when Isa had that smoothie (spinach, mango, avacado, and banana) that was called the HULK.  Turns out that was a little foreshadowing.  Isa paid his $5 and got up to the game where you swing the mallet... With Scores of 100, 99, and 100, he came away with 2 giant teddy bears (couple of lucky girls who were nearby have taken to babysitting them for him:  No teddy bears allowed in the Mens dorm)

After Universal, they went off to City walk for dinner.  I heard there that Helena ended up with a palm tree balloon hat (was it really her birthday?).  Amazingly enough, everyone ended up back on the bus on time - maybe the jumpies resonanted?  There were a few who were momentarily distracted by themselves on the Jumbo Screen, but I guess they made it.

These chaperones and coaches are running a tight ship.  The bus was back home before 9 and lights out was moved earlier (9:30) in order that everyone can get a little extra sleep before the 7 am practice. Given the state of these other coaches and chaperones in my room, I doubt anyone will make it to 9:30.

I am sure I will hear a few more stories tomorrow.


Feb Break 2014 - Day 2

So, remember when I mentioned I wished I had a picture of the cell phone charging tree constructed at the rest stops along the route... Thanks to Cassie


What an amazing day we had today!  Eager to get started, we woke for a 7 am bus departure (Bean and I left at 6:40 for a little Dunkin' on the way)  Though the day started cold, we were happy to deal with the chilly morning in exchange for the clear skies, no wind, and very warm afternoon.  As Mr. Dexters pics can prove, we couldn't have asked for better.


The morning practice was a great one for my group.  I had a freshmen four again (with some different girls) and we spent the morning touring the lake as we again focused on some body and bladework sequencing.  One of the favorite games to play over the week is to select the houses on the shore to claim as our own.  Gillian I think might have selected the most houses... She has one for every occasion (elegant party, social gathering, spa day, vacation house, summer house, house for my parents... yeah, don't worry, you got one too... and it is a pretty nice one, at least the 5th nicest on her list)

But, these guys are still young.  I have been here several years, and had time to do my research... I also have a sense of how much work a big house can be... So I waited patiently and then called dibs on my favorite

Meanwhile, we did do a little rowing - it wasn't all house shopping.  We even got up to rowing by all four today.  I typically like to do drills by 1/2 boat for most of Feb break, but these guys were rearing to go already.   

After practice, we had a few runners, a bunch of walkers, and some bus riders.  It is always a tough choice because we know that there is a lot of food waiting for us back at camp.  Balancing the desire to train, the desire for an adventure, the desire to get to the food as quickly as possible, and the desire to nap after the 6:30 wake-up and the 2 hours of rowing...  

After Lunch, to be honest, I have no idea what adventures were going on at camp.  Coach Lou and Tyler and I put some lounge chairs out in the sun and promptly fell asleep.  I am pretty sure all the kids headed down to the pond and were either laying in the sun or playing frisbee.  At least that is where I saw them when I woke up.

Second practice came a bit earlier than originally planned (so the bus could go get cleaned) and I am pretty sure some of the boats made it all the way out to Shaq's house.  Hopefully we will get some of those pics later.  (Shaq has a life size superman standing on his dock).

For the afternoon, coach Courtney and I had a few pairs.  The pair is a tricky boat.  It challenges everyone who rows it to be well balanced and well matched to their partner.  With each rower having one oar, the pair means that you are 100% accountable for what happens on your side of the boat, and, you partner is counting on you as much as themselves.  For those who have never tried rowing a pair, imagine if you and a friend were told to do squats while standing on opposite sides of a see-saw.  It is just a little trickier than that (because you are also holding the end of a 12 foot long oar).

As you can see, we were treated with some biblical encouragement - which must have worked because all the pairs stayed upright (I am pretty sure Erin Kate started praying right when she found out she was in the pair, and my goodness, God speaks very clearly to Erin :-).  We did have a few singles flip in the am session, it was chilly, but they learned how to get back in the single.

Practice ended at 4:00 when the OARs crew arrived.  Dinner doesnt start until 5:30, so a few of us coaches went and grabbed smoothies.  I got Berries and Basil, and Isa got avacado, banana, and Mango and spinach.  This place has some serious smoothies... you think they sound like odd mixes, but they are AMAZING.  Meanwhile, the guys found their calling.  Turns out Camp Ithiel has fishing rods and a perfect dock for fishing.  I heard they caught 6 fish.  After Dinner, Coach Tyler went down to help out as well.

As we finished dinner, I asked a few of the kids what I should put in the blog tonight... the best answer...

Wait until we get back from Walmart, I am sure something crazy will happen there.  They are probably right (but I will save that for tomorrow)

P.S. Sorry for the picture rotation.  Website doesn't like how the ipad/iphone can take pictures in any orientation.  Will try to figure it out tomorrow


Feb Break 2014 - Day 1

This year the trip started - for me at least - with a little change of plans... For the first time in all my years at SRA I was going to ride on the bus to FL.  The trailer was already down here, and we had no need to bring an additional vehicle because of the open spaces on the bus.  Mother nature had plans of her own... As we all know, the crazy weather of Thursday and Friday cancelled a bunch of flights... Turns out there was at least one family who was determined not to miss their cruise!  I got a call on Thursday asking if I would be willing to help drive through the night since I would be going to Florida anyway...  Hmm, ride on the bus through the night with 39 very excited kids watching very exciting movies, or drive a car through the night with control of the radio and control of the rest stops... I chose the latter.

The ride, I am told, was a pretty good one.  Not too much drama to report from that.  Mary was the bathroom watchout and that door had better be closed quickly and tightly.  Lou got the back seat.  I didn't hear anything about speed dating on the bus ride this time.  But they did watch the original Karate Kid (which I am kind of sad I missed).  I think the biggest bit of drama was that there were no outlets on the bus to charge their phones... SO - and I wish I had a picture of this - at every rest stop, there was a mad dash to find the outlets in the building and plug in the plugstrips and 6 phones to a strip, 2 strips to a receptacle.  I did hear rumor that they shorted out the kitchen in Ruby Tuesdays, but it may have just been slow service.

Meanwhile, already in FL, Bean was over on the west coast sitting on the beach, and I was happily by the pool at a hotel while the kids made thier trip.  Speaking of Bean...  As you can see in this picture, Florida has been pretty good to Bean.  Well deserving of a vacation, Bean came down here a few weeks ago and has been couch surfing.  When she arrived, they were all out of compact cars at the rental place, so she got a free upgrade... to which she said "White Camaro please" and then threw on her sunglasses and peeled out of the driveway.  (it may not have really happened that way, but that is the way I like to envision it happening)

When the bus did finally arrive, we had to re-arrange the housing for the week because one of the rooms was under renovations.  So, the next group to get an upgrade was the boys.  With only 6 boys on the trip, the logistics dictated that the boys should move into the apartment that is normally reserved for the coaches!  Still not a 4 star hotel, but a nice upgrade from cement floor dorms and 16 bunkbeds.  What I think they noticed first however, was the TV.  Jokes on them though... no cable.

After settling in and eating lunch (and lounging on the dock in the sun for an hour), it was off to the rowing site for a nice afternoon of rigging and rowing in the sun.  Things went pretty smoothly once we got going, and we all got on the water for a nice row in great conditions.  Some of the other groups were annoyed by some jet skiiers, but my boat encountered very few wakes.  M, M, H, C, and C were great (no names revealed... you'll see why in a minute).  Coaching the varsity - who are typically a bit further along on the learning curve, I some times forget how much can be accomplished in one practice if the athletes are really focusing on it.  It is SO fun to coach a group who are still soaking in massive amounts of information and on the steep end of the learning curve.  These girls did awesome.  And, I have to apologize to the parents, I learned a little bit about your driving habits...  One of the drills we did involved pausing at various points in the stroke (gives them time to make sure their body is in the right position and that they are arriving at the point together).  Then as they got good at that, I wanted to transition to regular rowing while still paying attention to the body position at those pause points, so I asked the girls to just do an illegal "california stop" (you know, when you just kind of slow down a lot and roll through the stop sign without actually stopping) at the pause point.  Out of courtesy to the family, I will not reveal who said it, but one of the girls chimed in "my mom does that all the time".  Quickly followed by "not my mom, she drives fast right to the sign and then jams on the brakes".  It digressed from there.

Of course I say that all in jest, but it is comments like that which remind me how much the kids are watching.  It may look as if they are only watching their phones and their friends, but somehow they still find a way to pay attention to adults (just not always when we want it!)  Seriously though, I am continually in awe of the capacity for learning in this age group.  If you have ever gone to see a Dr Nerney talk, you know a bit about this capability in this age group.

As I mentioned earlier, the conditions were great for rowing, and after a great 2 hours, we came back in and put the equipment away for the evening.  A few of us adventurous ones decided to run home for dinner.  Mary, Cassie, Cat, Isa, Alida and I laced up the running shoes, and Mr Dexter and Coach Courntey walked the 3 miles.   Everyone ran awesome, and even after missing a turn and doubling back, Mr Dexter and Courtney made it back in time for dinner.  

Curfew is at 9 and lights out at 10.  Though as I write this, I think at least 50% of the adults are asleep.  25 hour bus trip requires a bit more recovery for each year over 25 I think :-)



Chula Vista Day #1

So I arrived safe and sound in San Diego last night.  Scooted around the winter storm jumping from Albany to Charlotte and then across to San Diego.  The hotel was not quite as nice as how I treated myself for Christmas break, but not bad for $57 a night. Gotta love priceline..  I woke super early due to the time change, but that just made it easy to get to practice on time.  The rowing gods were smiling when I arrived because it was absolutely gorgeous.  I arrived to find the ladies working through their warm-up and stretching exercises... Speaking of which, I want to mention some of my observations surrounding these amazing men and some of the things that set them apart from the hundreds of athletes I have coached in the last 20 years.  So it starts with warm-up!  The girls had a list of exercises that were part of the warm up that included a lot of hip mobility... The difference wasn't in the warm up as much as it was in the approach... Somehow, these girls have figured out that if they want to be healthy strong and successful they better take the warm up as seriously as the workout.  There was no one leading it, but everyone was working through the exercises at their own pace - taking as much time as their body needed but not wasting time.  Perhaps it is the competitiveness that was driving them work their hardest to stay healthy because they knew if they got injured, they would miss practice, and someone else might sit in their seat.  In any case, warmup was serious business.  When we hit the water it was in 7 pairs and susan francia in a single.  Practice was a pretty easy one just up and down the race course at 2:16 splits alongside your training partners everyone was a going he same speed, so they stayed alongside their group he whole time.  The wind was soft enough and the speed easy enough that no accommodations were made for head wind/tail wind  there may have been small rating adjustments, but for the most part, just ignore the conditions and pull the splits.  Only a few times over the race course, then we went back in, and they jumped on the erg for 8k.  I was surprised they didn't just stay out and do a few more laps, but coach laurel explained that this gave them a chance to self regulate their training, if the water piece was not going well or too easy, they could just work a little harder or easier on the erg but still get the mileage in.  After the erg, off we went for lunch... Which was awesome! At the Olympic training center, the food is healthy and delicious and there is lots of it! I was thankful to be included and can still taste the awesome fruit smoothie I had.  From lunch, they all went back off to the dorms for a nap, and I went to find some wifi and catch up on some work.  Second practice began at 3:30.  Surprisingly, no rowing! First was a 45 minute cross training (most chose to run) and I actually joined in! I ran with Amanda Polk and Vicky Opitz (I coached Amanda one summer way back when she was a HS junior at development camp).  To be honest, I was pretty nervous, I have not been keeping up with my running so 45 min was going to be a challenge... Fortunately they took it easy on me, and we chatted about head of the fish (Vicky wants a fish head so badly, and Amanda wants to race with her dad next year - he just broke 8:00).  We arrived back from our loop with 4 minutes to spare and then came observation #2... We did not turn into the boathouse, we ran right by... They had no intention of cheating themselves out of the last 4 minutes of the cross training... So intent were the that when we finally did get back to the boathouse with :30 to to go... Amanda said "right to the last second, isn't that right cat?" And we ran some circles in front of the boathouse.  Training and pieces are not something to be completed, they are the ladder that will carry them to their goals.  They will not skip a step.  After the run, they were to fully clean their pairs - inside and out and scrub the handles of their oars.  Then it was off to the weight room for endurance weights.  While part of me wanted to skip that and grab some food (the run took a bit of energy!) I am glad I went.  I learned a lot during that session.  Observation #3. These girls all know how to keep their bodies in proper positions, pelvis tilted appropriately and core engaged - it was evident across all the exercises they did.  I realized watching that that this is probably the number one reason that they can handle the training loads and the mileage it took to get here.  There may have been plenty of other strong tall girls who row well in the country, but they never made it this far because they never learned to sit on the seat correctly and engage their core and sit with proper posture... Eventually, if you are not serious about learning this, eventually it will be your limiting factor, and you will stop rowing.  These girls all had their own little technical flaws or stylistic nuances, but the common thing I saw was proper core engagement and posture thru the trunk.  It was there on the erg, there in the squat, there in the kettle bell swings.  Stylistically, they took on an interesting movement during compression that I thought was helpful.  Rather than keeping the knees together at the catch on the erg, they let them come apart such that they were under their armpits.  This allowed them to achieve a bit more compression and body lean without losing the low back posture.  It was as if they were pushing their core between their legs at the catch... Leaning the belly button through the legs.  I am so glad I went to that lifting session.  You will all be happy to know there was someone there getting a lot of attention for bending her arms too early... Hard habit to break even at this level.   After the weight session ended, everyone approached the stretching session as intently as they had the warmup that morning - I think they knew they wanted to help their body recover so they could perform tomorrow morning.  Then a few of the girls stuck around for pull ups... Not part of the session, but something they are working on on their own.  They stood in bungee chords of differing strengths to give them enough assist that they could do a few repeats of 10.  It was an easy day of training for them, but pretty impressive to watch.  On the water, you could have mistook us for them.  A bunch of pairs rowing alongside each other, but it was the maturity off that water that I saw as the biggest difference.  The way they warmed up, the way they did not let a second of training opportunity escape (how many of us let 5 or 6 seconds of a 45 second interval slip away?), and the way that they focused all of their energy on learning and holding core engagement and posture.  And then a few of them even had the energy to do a little personal addition.
Day 1 the kind of athlete who makes it to the top:
 A) cares about warm up, cool down and takes it very seriously
 B) takes advantage of every second and refuses to let any of the seconds get away
 C) develops posture and the ability to engage the core and carries the knowledge and strength into all disciplines. Poor posture doesn't make it this far.


U23 Worlds Day 4 and 5

Monday began with some frustration on all our parts... I should have known after my last long trip, the second night of sleep is never good.  Jet lag hit us all hard.  At breakfast we all shared stories of about 3 hours of frustrated wakefulness between 11 and 2am.  So much for the nice 12 hour sleeps.  As tired as we all were, Monday would be our last pressure pieces before racing, so we had to rally.  Fortunately, because our heats are at 4:00 pm, we would wait until second practice for the 1ks.  Morning practice was an easy 40 minute skill and drill but before we hit the water, we had to stop in the FISA office to show our passports and get photos taken for the FISA records.  It was funny when Lizzy sat down to get the photo taken and the camera clicked while she was not looking... We had a good laugh. But they got it right.  After the am row (the site is starting to fill up) I stayed to fiddle with the boat a bit, and they caught the bus back to the hotel.  I guess the nap that ensued helped, because they were more their normal selves after lunch.  The meals have not really been up to their standard, but they have been enjoyable as we get to meet all the other team USA athletes. (We are fielding every boat except the men's quad - which is a long story - I still don't understand). Kristi and Lizzy have made friends with most of the small boats, I guess the big boats have enough people that they don't need to socialize elsewhere (except Courtney - Lizzy's teammate in the 8). I think the favorites are becoming the men's double and single and the women's single.  Second practice was 2 by 1k. Once over the finish of the course, and once off the start.  By all accounts it went well (I hate not being there to see it). After practice it was back for dinner and then a quick clandestine meeting with the parents (frowned upon during race week) I looked the other way because I knew how important it was to get Lizzy the oatmeal and kristi the peanut butter!  However, when they came back to the hotel, they brought me some gelato and all the other coaches at our coaches meeting were very jealous... I handed out their official credentials, and they made a pact to stay up until at least 9:30 so there would not be another night like the last.

Tuesday morning came, and though we only had an afternoon practice scheduled, we got up and had breakfast and took the bus to the course.  We brought our boat in for an official weigh in.  It was 27.5 kilo... But then we took the seat pads out and it was 27.1... After that, I was on a mission to determine if the seat pads would be allowed to stay in the boat or not.  I sent them home alone again and stayed at the race course an extra hour to figure it out and to find some double stick tape to "permanently affix" the pad.  Lunch was easy, and we made the decision to skip the opening ceremonies tonight (it was too late and we have Wednesday racing - the Thursday racers are going) kind of a bummer, but best to be safe and get our rest.  Afternoon practice was pretty hot, but the practice was another skill and drill session.  It was less than an hour on the water and we were done.  We quickly applied the "world rowing" and the "USA" stickers to our boat (covering the place that was previously "Samsung" and "CHN" (the boat was rowed at the first World Cup in London earlier this year by the Chinese)). Then back home for dinner and a little chat - we just wanted to remember that even though this is a strange place and there are lots of foreign languages being spoken (the race course was very busy this am) tomorrow we will still be racing 2000 meters against other boats with 2 people in them.  We have done this many times before, and this is no different.  Just race like we know how.  That being said, the names of the other clubs in our heat are GER, CRO, CZE, FRA, and UKR.  The progression is 1st place direct to e A final, all others to the reps.  Then top 2 from each rep also advance to the A final.  A bit of tea, and a little ipad watching (and waiting to see the royal baby on tv). And they are off to bed.  Fast dreams.  Tomorrow will be an exciting day.



U23 Worlds - days 1,2,3

Day one of this adventure start out just the way any true adventure should.  We woke up in some strange house... Actually that is true, we moved out of the Fitz house one day early due to a track rental... But it wasn't the comfy beds of home that the girls missed most, it was Mrs. Fitz cooking.  (seriously, Mrs Fitz should open a restaurant - "the athletes table".  You will not be able to get up from the table unless mrs Fitz has deemed that you've eaten enough... She will also pick all the cranberries and raisins our of your trail mix and replace them with chocolate - you think it is just her being nice... But she is doing her job for the athletes - make sure they eat a lot... If cranberries are in the way of that mission, they have got to go!Other than the strange house, Friday started as normal, morning practice, then it got a little crazy as we got to packing and eating and showering for a long trip.  I had to disassemble our pair and take lots of stuff in my bag (foot stretchers, pins, oarlocks, etc). Somehow we actually got on the road right when we planned, and we were able to spend some time at Kristis house on the way (even with a little traffic).  After my last trip, I was ready for anything at the airport, but it was a breeze, we even had time to sit for a nice dinner (with cornbread) at the airport before we boarded.  The flight left at 8:20 pm, for arrival in Munich the next morning... I am an old pro when it comes to overnight flights now... So I donned my noise canceling headphones, my neck pillow, my eye cover, and my blanket and settled in for the night (yup, I'm that guy... And yup, the girls were laughing at me.). Joke was on them though - I had a nice sleep (missed dinner and breakfast tho) and they got about 3 hours.  Next time they will go for the eye patches I bet.  There were a few other USA athletes on the plane, so that was nice, but it was not fun for the girls to learn that the boys got black backpacks and the girls got brown.  When we landed we all gathered to wait for the team bus... Unfortunately, our 2 hour wait turned into about 3 when the bus hit traffic... In the 3 hours, however, I managed to find some beet juice for the girls (liquid gold) and get in trouble twice.  First I tried to order food at the bar - they told me to go sit at my table and the waiter would come... Then when the waiter didn't come and I started getting hangry I went and grabbed a slice of pizza across the hall... I brought it back and sat with some of the other coaches - until the waiter did show up and promptly told me and my pizza that I had to leave the restaurant.  Oh... And, while I was looking for food, I stopped at a sandwich stand and tried to buy one... Except there was a little language barrier... The woman behind the counter and I just pointed at sandwiches and said "mayonnaise?" "mayonnaise" back and forth to each other about 7 times... Then I gave up and got the pizza.When the bus finally arrived, some more athletes arrived from other terminals as well, and we almost filled it.  The ride to Linz was long, and started as a chatty ride, but within 30 minutes everyone was asleep - except me, I was noticing the proliferation of solar panels across the roof tops in Germany. (then I dozed off as well).Unfortunately we got to the hotel too late for the last bus out to the race course, so we didn't get to rig our boat that night... So we decided to go out for a walk instead.  Following Kristi's keen sense of direction we left the hotel and stumbles upon the coolest street in Linz and a summer festival - complete with street performers, flea marked, kids rides, and a corn on the cob stand.  We know exactly where to go for shopping now.Dinner was interesting - after being spoiled by Mrs Fitz, these girls are going to need to figure out how to get their calories in with some of the Austrian food being a bit different then they are used to.  We also learned our lesson about dinner timing... Don't show up after the Kiwis.  There is no food left.  Right after dinner it was off to bed.  A long 2 days.Wile very tiny, and very close together, the beds must have been comfortable... The girls slept for 12 1/2 hours!  I was happy for that, but unfortunately it meant breakfast behind the Kiwis again!  2 meals in a row unsatisfying... Now we know... After breakfast it was off to the race course to rig and row.The course was beautiful and it was pretty funny to have giant busses driving through the tiny town of ottenshiem to the course.  Once there I was SO happy to find our boat exceeded expectations.  It took a little while to rig (but you want to make sure the athletes are set up appropriately, there are a lot of new things coming their way). Unfortunately we were there so long rigging and rowing at we missed lunch... I had told them to pack a lunch - which they did - but didn't mention the potential of them needing a big meal (they thought I meant snack - little communication issue). So... Ugh... 3 unsatisfying meals in a row... I think we are missing the 4th member of our team - Mrs. Fitz!  At least the row, after a few adjustments, was a solid one.  Kristi said the splits were very good, even into a small headwind.  Finally they landed at 3:26 and we just missing the 3:30 bus, (they leave EXACTLY on time here).  So we had an hour to kill before the next bus.  I think they spent the hour scheming because after we got home, dinner was supposed to begin at 6:30 and they showed up at 6:00 only to find the Kiwis already there!! Fortunately they hadn't been there long enough to to eat everything, and finally we had a satisfying meal.  (though don't eat the risotto - it has horseradish in it - come to think of it, at least a 1/3 of all the food have horseradish or sauerkraut I think).  During dinner we chatted with Andrew Campbell for a while (the only other USA athlete to determine the trick)... Turns out Mrs Fitz would love him.. After dinner he said "I'm off to find some decaf tea". Hmmm... Andrew is a medalist at u23 and sr worlds... Mrs Fitz must be on to something.  8:15 off to bed.  8:15 bus tomorrow morning... I'm guessing they get 10 1/2 hours sleep tonight.  Or maybe they have plans to get to breakfast before the kiwis??Tomorrow we have pictures taken for the fisa records and we have 2 practices.  I'm guessing the European countries will all show up tomorrow - it will get busy quickly.So far so good.

Pair Prep



Tuesday these girls began approaching the tipping point as the cold weather and wind would not relent.  In a clever form of protest morning practice began with a group sing-a-long of "Silent Night".  While we did row through a little bit of snow in the first practice we were spared the heavy stuff.  Post practice was another long restful afternoon.  School work must be heavy these days, there is a lot of studying and a lot of sleeping going on these days.  Yes, the cold weather saps the energy more than rowing under normal conditions.  It also makes you a little more sore because the body is so busy tensing itself under the cold in addition to the hard work it is doing while rowing.  Given the challenging conditions and the early season things are going surprisingly well.  We rarely even row by full boats this early in the season.  We have been getting decent miles, and while it has been a real challenge physically (and mentally) we are almost through the toughest part.  Pretty amazing how things can change from Saturday to Monday.

When we were home warming up with Soup and cocoa, the skies opened up and the snow was so thick we couldn't even see the river from the house.  Second practice would require some real mental toughness.  Fortunately the sun was out for a bit of the practice and while the practice was challenging, we survived it... well, almost.  Fiona Casey stepped off the dock just as we were finishing practice and soaked herself up to about mid thigh.  Quick action was taken and she was redressed and back in the van on her way to the house within minutes.  The girls are really impressive in this type of scenario.  So many of them were shedding socks and long spandex to share and when they got back to the house the shuttled her off to the bathroom with the heat on max and the shower running full hot.  Within minutes she was in a nice steam room and girls were bringing her hot soup and hot cocoa.  It may have been a little more than the situation actually warranted, but I was really impressed with the care and action taken.  Instinctively they went into protective mode... 

After a great dinner provided by Mrs. Delaney, we watched a little Wheel of Fortune (Isa is a champ) and Jeopardy (Rachel Su is a champ) and then back to One Tree Hill.


VG Corinth trip continues

Easter was not really a rowing day for the April trip.  We woke early and got the girls dropped off at the boathouse for Easter with the family by 7:30 am.  While each went their separate ways, I got dressed in my Easter best and went off to Church.  We arranged to meet again at 4:00 at the boathouse.  The original idea was to squeeze a practice in before dinner, but upon arrival at the beach, we remembered we had a lot of work to do in order to rig the Hudson and install the shoes we purchased for the AUS trip.  So we spent a while preparing and then back to dinner.  After dinner, half the kids went off to watch "duck dynasty" and the rest settled in for some classic disney.  Funny thing though... slowly they drifted off to bed as the "Lion King" ended and "Beauty and the Beast" took over... Around 10:30 I looked around the room as was slightly embarrassed to find that they had all left and it was Isa and I watching "Beauty and the Beast" and Isa was asleep.

This morning we woke to a drizzly but warmer morning than the mornings past.  Knowing the forcast was for high winds later in the day, I decided to make the morning row a long one.  With great rowing conditions we covered 10+ miles and then headed back for some brunch as prepared by Mrs. Georgia.  Post brunch we settled in for the daily TED Talk.  This time it was David Blaine.  Then... nap time... however, we did have a few adventurous ones willing to wake early and spend some time preparing some delicious deserts for this evening.  The other afternoon activity involved some opening day baseball watching -- I restrained myself in cheering and gloating because Nanny Wegner is a Yankees fan, and she seemed pretty upset.

When it came time to practice again, Nanny climbed into one of the vans to drive us down to the beach, when coach Nicole pulled into the driveway just in time to help transport us all to the beach.  Nanny told me later "I was just getting ready to pull out of the driveway and a little girl came over and asked if I wanted her to drive!"  

We arrived at the beach to find some pretty challenging conditions.  The wind was gusting and we debated for a few minutes if it would be worth venturing out.  Because the river has high banks we eventually decided we could find some flat water and off we went.  We did find flat water BUT... I made the mistake of continuing up river.  A few minutes later I realized that the last bend in the river exposed us to the dreaded Wind opposing current scenario and the waves became significant.  Fortunately, as an experienced coach I knew the danger of trying to turn a shell around in rolling waves... So, we had to ride it out until we turned the next corner and found some flatter water in which to turn around.

Finally making it home we were rewarded with some amazing pasta from Mrs Germano and the deserts prepared earlier in the day.  After dinner the first 2 episodes of "One Tree Hill" finally made their way to Apple TV.  And the evening is now concluding with a classic Abby Messier monologue (for 2 hours).


Day 2 in Corinth

One of the big benefits of rowing right outside the front door is that we can sleep in a bit!  The girls were very happy for the extra half hour of sleep as we made our way to the beack at 8:00 am.  Unfortunately it was a bit chilly and we arrived to find our riggers nicely frosted.  The sun would make quick work of that though and by the time we got a few miles into practice the bare arms started coming out.  As we rowed we saw a bunch of people coming out to the windows and porches to see us rowing by.  With the rowing going very well, the water flat, and the sun shining, I didnt want to stop rowing, and we continued adventuring up river for 4 and a half miles.  Turning around we had the current on our side and after 90 minutes of drills and rowing up river, we did one 29 minute pyramid home. (glad the current is with us for the way home!)

After practice we were treated to grilled cheeses and soups and salads (and some leftovers) followed by a great Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy.  While I was excited to continue playing banagrams with some of the girls, they had different ideas.  Within 20 minutes everyone of them were asleep and the naps lasted most of the afternoon.  One by one they awoke and eventually we were off to second practice.  Once again the water was great, and this time we got out in an eight and two quads.  Practice was going well, until we lost a little focus as we rowed by the house and saw our dinner being delivered.  Speaking of which, when I asked EP what I should blog about, she said "it was a good food day" and she was right!  The enchiladas were out of this world, and Mrs. Hite, Bobbit, Brennan, and Pierce topped off the day with make your own Sundays.  

After dinner we had a visit from Lizzy Fitzhenry, but it was the sophomores who stole the show.  Who knew some of them were youtube stars?  After a little mischief we learned of the cleverness of Jess and Katrina.  While watching episodes of Modern Family were were interrupted by a streamed video via air play.  There on our big screen TV Jess and Katrina looping "if you can see this, we are locked out on the front porch, please come rescues us"  At first we had no idea what was going on, but eventually we caught on, and the rescue mission commenced.  

With bellies full of enchiladas and the sugar rush of the Sundaes wearing down, off they went to bed, and day 2 came to an end.


Easter break in Corinth!

While most of the rowing world (well, the Northeast USA rowing world) is off to walmart for sunscreen and a trip down south.  Toga VG take a different route!  Heading NORTH for spring training.  After training in March, outdoors, maybe I am just crazy, but there is open water up north, and 40s is downright balmy compared to a month ago.  So, with a little trepidation, the athletes loaded up the creeper van and set forth to climb Corinth Mountain road and prepare for a week of bonding in the house on the hill.

We arrived to find that it is a few degrees colder up here than in Saratoga.  And, the snow banks are just a little higher.  No worries though, the house, this year, is complete and with tvs in every room and enough bathrooms to fit 30 girls, and a hot tub waiting for them after practice - we were prepared to brave the temps.  As soon as we arrived, the girls sprinted for the door to claim their rooms -- and I headed for the kitchen to set up my keurig.  Waiting in the kitchen was the mystery teammate sporting some classy attire. 

Since we did not get up there until late, we watched a little TV and reviewed our plactice plan, and Izze brought out our nice list supplies (each athlete writes on nice thing about every other athlete).  The girls actually headed off to bed a little before curfew and I tried to catch a little basketball (but I started dozing off).  

The morning began with Carissa and Mystery girl runing upstairs to jump on Alida's bed and wish her a Happy Birthday.  They were disappointed when she was already awake, and then they were scared out of the room when they saw a big bug which Alida was in no hurry to kill.  We had a quick snack and off to Corinth Park and Beach (according to some "one slide does not a park make").  It was quite an adventure rigging the boats and carrying them across the road and over the fence.  Then it was even more of an adventure trying to get our launches going.  One of them started right up, the other one required a few engine changes.  Finally on the water, we had only 90 minutes left to row.  Fortunately the water was BEAUTIFUL and the temps were climbing over the freezing mark.  I was so encouraged with practice that I allowed the girls to row by all 8 for a few strokes... They did great!  Also, this morning was the first time that Rachael Signor took some strokes on the water.  She did a great job but came off the water saying "that is a lot harder than I thought" and I heard she even said "my brain hurts" later in the day.  

After practice we had a nice long break.  What a difference it makes not driving back to Toga for practices.  Not only is the water awesome here, but it saves 2+ hours of driving each day.  Brunch was prepared by Mrs. Price and Mrs. Casey and it was delicious!  Last year I missed the apple brownies, and I have been craving them ever since.  After brunch it was TED talk time.  (I force them to sit through a TED talk after brunch).  Today was Shawn Achor and The Happy Secret to Better Work.  While some went off for afternoon naps and some went to write their "nice" lists.  A few of us really got into the Bananagrams for a few rounds.  And a few got to making snowmen.

2nd practice went from 4:00-6:30 and was much of the same.  We took out the 2 eights and proceeded with drills and steady rowing - venturing up river and around the corner a bit.  We didn't make to much ground though, there is a bit of a current to row against.  The current makes the row home significantly faster though...

Thanks to Mrs. Kenison for the delicious lasagna, which was followed by Adam Sandler's "Big Daddy" and then, while there was lots of talk about "One Tree Hill".  I fell asleep for a few minutes during "Big Daddy" so maybe they decided something else, but in any case, most are now off to their rooms, and a few are watching their you-tube channel on the apple TV.


Australia Update #9

You may think I planned this blog to be 9 segments for the 9 athletes in the shell... Nope, in actuallity, none of my planning for this blog worked out!  You might have figured that out, given that I am writing the last segment several days after returning home.  Things have just been hectic and time has been short (though I guess I could have used some of the hours between 2:30-4:30 in the morning when I seem to be awake these days)  So, here is the final installment (to be followed shortly by Corinth Trip blogs)

After the race we got to work derigging our shell and sectioning it and changing out our shoes and packign up our oars, etc... there was plenty to do, and we were trying to move quickly because we all wanted to watch the USA eights race the final of the world cup.  Whatever I had remaining of a voice, and whatever McHart had remaining was to be spent chanting "USA,USA".  By the time the eights were to race, the temps were pushing up into the 90s.  We made our way to the barrier and waited.  The race course was set up so there was a narrow road which ran parallel to the course, and the event sponsor (Audi) had a car following each race.  The car had the announcer as well as a video camera on top.  I mention this because this car might have represented the biggest danger we faced all well.  I only made 5 mistakes driving on the other side of the road, and the beaches were closed the day before we went to Manly Beach because 2 people were lost to rip tides the day before... but this race following car... it stops for nothing!  They had protected the road with significant barricades, so there was no chance of wandering in front of the race, but as we chanted USA, USA we were leaning forward over the barricades (as if shouting from 8 inches closer to the race course would enable them to hear us better).  With a big rush of air, the car zoomed by only what seemed liked inches from our unsuspecting faces.  We were so enthralled with the race and urging team USA as they were fighting from 2nd place and trying to challenge for the lead.  Alas, they did not make it to the front of the pack, but at least we survived the camera car, though my voice did not survive.

Following the race, I made arrangements for our oars to be shipped home with Team Canada (probably going to take 10 weeks to get here) and then we waited for the USA women to land.  We tried to wait patiently as they met post race and got food and derigged their boats, but they saw us sitting off to the side excited to talk to them.  The coxswain came over and told us she would gather them up in a little bit to sign a poster for us, and then she proceeded to tell us that the boys from St. Kevin's were looking for the Toga girls -- of course.  After waiting a bit, we were able to connect up with Team USA for the poster signing and then chat with them a while... Of course Elle Logan told of the time she almost got me arrested when I was coaching her at Dev camp (long story about a van ride and kids running into the woods to go the bathroom on a road trip).  The women were so awesome to talk to and while many of them were tall (there were some elite rowers in the Aussie eight that were not tall at all - including an 18 year old!), the general consensus was that they were people just like us.  It was so cool to get to know these role models in this fashion.

Before we left the course for good, there was one more important project... trading!  The girls were pretty popular and their gear was pretty desirable.  I warned them that they would want to bring several uni's shirts, hats, jackets, etc... but they didn't understand the full scope of the trading.  Everyone made some good deals, but I was particularly impressed with Lexi scoring an Italian Uni from Gavirate, and Battle intercepting a deal for an Interstate Uni from South Australia.  Too bad Alida wasn't with us, I am pretty sure she has 28 unis from her high school and college rowing days.  Oh, yeah, Unis are called Zooties in AUS

When we finally left the course, we were again pressed for time.  We had some shopping to do, and Pymble Ladies had invited us to their year end rowing banquet.  The girls needed time to get dressed, and I needed time to drop them off, get back to my house and change, and then get all the way back for the dinner.  When I finally arrived boy was I impressed, their dinner is over-the-top.  I mean almost black tie... I was probably the only guy without a jacket (fortunately I had black pants and a tie) and the ladies were dressed to the nines.  People dress up for our banquet as well, but we are missing one component... The rowers were piped in with bagpipes as the coaches held oars for them to walk under!  The school principal gave a speech, along with the Captain of boats.  The coaches gave out awards, and the administration was toasted.  The last speaking role, however, fell to ME!  Nothing like being surprised the evening before that I would be presenting the award for the Captain of boats.  "2 minutes" they told me, "just speak for 2 minutes".  If you are a follower of the blog, you may think that 2 minutes would not even get me warmed up -- well, for some reason, I am a long winded writer and a very very short winded speaker.  2 minutes is an eternity for me to speak.  

The evening was a great success and my speech was well received (I spoke about being a leader) and as I ducked out the girls were busy on the dance floor with the Pymble Girls.  Monday would be a long, long day (actually, we would have 2 mondays on the trip home)

I am happy to report that the trip home was less eventful than the trip to AUS.  We had a little coordination to manage as I dorpped the girls at the airport, then dropped the van at the rental place, then got picked up by Mr. Hart in his rental.  He dropped me at the airport with the girls, then dropped his car, and walked over to meet us.  Going through customs was kind of funny, McHart had pretty much every illegal item in her bag except the firearms.  (There goes a bunch of tools).  The flight from SYD to LAX was long, but it was daytime (kind of) so the girls watched 4 or 5 movies a piece.  Meghan vowed to never eat airplane food again.  When we got to LAX, we had a little adventure.  Once through a long customs process There was a bit of confusion as to what terminal our next flight would depart from.  We traveled back and forth between 5 and 6 a few times.  Fortunately on one of the trips there were 2 big golf carts willing to drive us (Mr. Hart offered our driver $10 if he could pass the other cart, but as he was making his move a pedestrain came around the corner and foiled our plan).  At this point we had gotten over all frustration of airline travel and we were just rolling with the punches.  It helped that we were going to have a 7 foot tall guy on our plane with a handlebar mustache.  Life is just better when to see a 7 foot tall guy with a handlebar mustache.  From LAX to DET the movies cost $ so most of us slept (probably not a good idea) and then it was an easy jump back to Albany.  

The trip of a life time concluded with a happy (relieved?) set of parents waiting eagerly for the tanned versions of their children to walk through the gate.  Hugs were flying all over the place, and one of two even landed on me.  I wish I could express how fantastic the trip was, I will certainly be dropping hints to all my AUS contacts that SRA would love to do this trip again, and even if the team cannot get sponsored for the trip, I know that I will someday return down under.  Thanks for the help of all involved, and thanks for the well wishes from all those following.  Next stop... Corinth, NY


Australia Update #8

With our final at 9:00 am, we were sure of 2 things.  First, we would get nice flat water (yeah!)... Actually, this race course has been tremendous, we dealt with a little tailwind, and a lot of crosswind all week, and the water remained very rowable and relatively fair throughout.  There was one day that I would have preferred a different lane, but overall it was probably my favorite of the international courses I have visited (Amsterdam, St. Catherines, London, Lucerne, Sydney).  The other part of the 9:00 race time was the early morning alarm!  If there was one piece of this trip that I didn't plan well enough, it would be the Saturday night accommodations.  As soon as I found out we were racing at 9:00 am on Sunday and our housing was about an hour away from the course, I should have found a hotel nearby... However, by that time all the hotels were full.  Backing up from race time, we had 9:00 race, 8:00 launch, 7:00 arrive for warm-up and preparations - which meant 6:00 departure from Pymble... which meant the kids were getting up around 5:00.  Not the best of scenarios unfortunately.  However, the girls are used to dealing with this type of challenge, so we were very positive on the way in.  (well, once Meghan and McHart realized I bought them coffee and it was waiting in the van for them when they arrived... then we were all positive).

We arrived and I got to work with the boat washing while they warmed up and prepared for the final.  We again emphasized racing our race and put a little more emphasis on starting our sprint earlier.  While we were really happy with our semi-final race, we felt that we could have started sprinting a little sooner because we had just a little bit more at the end, and we were gaining ground quickly.  Also, because the semi-final had a head wind, and the final would be flat-water, we also recognized the race would be about 20 seconds shorter without the head-wind - so we needed to expend our energy in less time.  As they lunched we were pretty positive about the race, and we were happy with the flat water and that we were racing before it got REALLY hot.  

During finals, they extended the race such that there were 10 minutes between races instead of the 5 minutes they had during the previous days.  Normally, that is not really a big deal because the officials will ask all the crews if they want to start the race early (assuming everyone is there).  However, because this race was televised it would be a real negative if they started the race early (someone might tune in to find the race already done).  So, we got up to the start, and even though all 8 crews were locked into the stake boats, we had to sit and wait for 8 minutes before the green light.  

Once the race finally got started, the girls got off to a decent start, but shortly after the start they realized something was wrong.  McHart was quiet -- in fact, she was her normal self, but they could not hear her because the coxbox stopped working.  While the girls are always good at pulling as hard as they can, and could probably do just fine without the motivation side of McHart's calling, being so early in the season, they really needed her to keep them in singular focus, and they needed her to call the race strategy and help them achieve their rhythm.  After the start, the confusion did not allow them to find their singular focus and did not allow them to find their rhythm.  They all knew their first 30 strokes pretty well, but being so early in the season, they were really relying on McHart to help them settle into the race rhythm.  After a few shouts of "coxbox" they started to figure out that McHart was not silent, and McHart figured out that they could not hear her... However the damage was done in that 2nd 500.  We should have taken about 1:41 to do the 2nd 500, but we were 1:44.  Entering the 3rd 500 of the race, we had some serious ground to make up, and we had to put together a middle race move without the help of McHart's organization.  Fortunately, I think it was Lexi who called the move from the 5 seat and they put themselves together for a very strong 3rd 500.  I was extremely proud of that 3rd 500.  They had every reason to let that race go with a perfect excuse for a less than stellar performance, but they refused to take the excuse and they dug down deep and raced the strongest 3rd 500 of the field.  (the 3rd 500 is often considered the most difficult 500 of the race).  Like I mentioned in the previous post about the semi-final being worth the trip... the 3rd 500 of the final was worth the trip as well.  It may not be rewarded with a medal to hang on their bedroom wall, but inside these girls were rewarded with something way more valuable than that.  They found belief in themselves, and the ability to fight through adversity, and the ability to be handed and excuse but refuse the excuse and take a chance instead.  In an age where people are afraid of failure and where people often take the easy route and often pre-excuse their efforts... these girls said "no way -- I will put myself on the line and I will not excuse defeat -- I am willing to risk failure and I will not let obstacles curtail my desire or my effort"  I was SO proud of them.  Just as in the Charles, when they got tangled with the other crews, they responded to circumstances like Champions.  Heading into the last 500, they still had ground to make up, and they continued to fight for that ground, but without McHart's calling of the sprint, there was a little confusion as they all tried to make the sprint happen in their own way... When a crew is rowing at the peak of their exertion and as efficient as this crew is, there is little additional they can "Dig in" to find -- some crews can sprint because they were not already using everything... These guys use everything. We rely on our rating bumps, and the magical thing which happens when every person in the boat is thinking the exact same thought at the exact same time.  When McHart can make us feel the finish line fast approaching and when she can tune everyone in.  So, while the last 500 was good speedwise, it lacked the cohesiveness necessary to find that extra percentage that enables them to find that last little bit of speed.  In the end the race was awesomely competitive with the top 3 boats finishing within a second, and then the next 2 (including us) a boatlength behind.  

While I thought, and still think, we had the stuff to be up with those top 3... I could not be prouder of those girls for how they faced adversity within the race and for how they responded.  We all thought the race was a good race, and would have been ok with the effort we put forward in the race even if the cox-box had not died in the race -- We were just a little frustrated that the whole world didn't get to see what I know about those girls.  And that is that they are some of the worlds best racers!  After the race, no excuses, we put our best on the table.  It wasnt the perfect race, but it was our best, and they did respond perfectly.  I am very proud of that.

One more update to go with the Sunday post race and the monday flight home!


Australia Update #7

With a gold medal in the u19 race and having completed a race that was more in line with our own rhythm and race plan, we met Saturday morning a bit later than normal and made our way directly to the race course.  Our race was not until 2:30, but we wanted to make sure we go there in time for a few festivities.  We arrived around noon to watch the Roulettes - a group of aerobatic airplanes - perform over the race course just before the start of the Interstate Regatta.  The interstate regatta is a very cool tradition they have in Australia.  Each of the 6 states (Western Australia, Australian Capital Territories, Tasmania, Queensland, Southern Australia, and New South Wales) have a selection committee of some sort who keep tabs on every rower living in their state.  Over the course of the year they organize the best squad they can into the different categories (which include heavyweight, lightweight, u23, u21, men, women and several classes of boat sizes).  The athletes then try to get together in a central location once or twice a month to start, and then a bit more often as the race draws nearer.  There is a lot of tradition in this regatta and a lot of pride in the states.  What I thought was amazing was the attention that was paid to the development of all the athletes in the state, and also that this is such a tradition that the Olympians participate alongside.  So, the NSW eight might have 3 Australian Olympians in it and the Queensland eight might have 2, etc...).  As you can imagine these races were fast!  The best race was probably the women's single race which was very tightly contested between a former Olympian Sally Kehoe (who we met earlier and is not very big) and someone whose name I didn't recognize, but I am sure I will in the future.  The only downer of watching the roulettes and the interstate was the sun... It was so hot I was dripping sweat just standing there trying to get a good picture of the airplanes. 

After the interstate men's 8 I got to washing the boat and the girls headed off to warm up.  In our Pre-race meeting I just kept telling them to find their rhythm and row their race.  I emphasized that they do not have to win the first 500.  The most important thing in the first 500 is to find their rhythm.  This boat is not big and not strong, but when they are in their rhythm they are very fast.  Their strength is in their efficiency.  It was hot enough to completely soak themselves in the shower before launching, so, with the cold water quickly evaporating they launched off into the warm-up pond and I got on the bike to go follow the race.   Our semifinal included Melbourne as well as Methodist ladies. (both heat winners I think) along with a few other quick crews.  After the heat 2 days ago, we had 10 seconds to make up.  And, if you were just looking at times across the heats from the other day, it would be a real challenge just to make the final.  However, I knew we were faster than we showed in the heats so I was confident they would advance... Still 10 seconds was a lot to come back from.  When the green light and buzzer sounded they were off, and after only 10 seconds or so, I already knew it was going to be a much better race.  They looked more like I expected them to look, and while they were down off the start and continued to lose ground for the first few hundred meters, I was still riding a wave of confidence.  We looked to be moving pretty effortlessly (I know it is far from effortless, but there is something about really good rowing that looks much easier than it actually is).  About 750 meters into the race, the other crews stopped walking away and I felt as if the tables were about to turn.  The only strategy that we had really been able to focus on was to unfold in the middle part of the race.  Over the next several hundred meters we stopped the other crews from walking away and then began climbing back one seat at a time.  It was an amazing race to watch alongside on the bicycle.  Riding along I couldn't help but cheer (it was allowed - don't worry) by the end of the race I was riding alongside the coach of the Methodist ladies college as our crews were battling at the front of the pack with Melbourne right nearby.  (by the way, we think the Saratoga rowing girls team is big??  From what I overheard, Melbourne has 80 girls in their seniors school - that is 11th and 12th graders only!). At 250 meters to go, we were still behind by a little and we were still walking on the field... Did we have enough room to get by before the fast approaching finish line?  As we crossed the line the announcer said it was really close, but he initially gave it to Methodist... It wasn't until the times went up on the board that I found out they won the race.  And it wasn't until I landed them at the dock that they knew.  It was an amazing race.  In fact, while the Friday win was fun.  This is the race I was hoping for when we boarded the plan for AUS.  We were all thrilled with the race and the intensity of it.  We all also agreed that we were most proud of ourselves for rowing our race and our rhythm.  It is always fun to win, but we agreed that the most important thing in this semi-final was that we rowed our own race under extreme pressure.  I would have been no less proud if they had finished half a second slower in 2nd place.  This was exactly what we needed (actually it might have been a little better to finish 2nd in the semi) to prepare ourselves for a great spring season.  This race alone was worth the months of planning, fund-raising, missed school, hours of travel, etc…

After the race, we decided to stay at the regatta for a bit to do a little shopping and watch the World Cup racing (maybe not the greatest idea given the temperature).  But it was such a great opportunity to meet the team and everyone was excited to chant “USA, USA”.  We were determined to make our 10 voices heard over the thousands of Australians.  At the end of the day we hit the road a little earlier than usual in order to let the girls have a final dinner with their host families.  Of course, after a strong race, they were all eager for ice-cream – so, even though we were tight on time, we had plans to stop at Mackers (McDonalds) for some soft serve.  On the way, however, we saw an ice cream truck off in the distance.  Pumped from their race, I floored it to come up behind the pink truck and just give a friendly little bumper tap to let him know we were hungry, unfortunately he didn’t respond as we had hoped, so we floored it again and came up alongside.  Half her body hanging out the window, Meghan grabbed the coaching megaphone and shouted for him to pull over.  When he tried to speed away again, I pulled the van in front of him and forced him over to the side.  He got the message.  (actually none of that happened, we just happened to be behind him when he pulled over to close his back window and we pulled in behind him, but I promised the girls I would make it more interesting).  After ice cream, with promises to get to bed early, off they went to dinner with their host families and I went off to dinner in Sydney with my host.  Tomorrow would be the finals and our last day of the trip.




Australia Update #6

So now we were into it.  The racing is heating up and lessons were learned.  Friday would be the final of the U19 eight.  Again we started with some library time at Pymble (I think all our studying has impressed the coaches as well as the school administration – If I can jump ahead a little bit, the School Principal and deputy in charge of foreign exchange sought out myself and our underclassmen at the end of year banquet and suggested we work out a 4 week exchange program with them.  Our underclassmen could go there during our summer (their winter) and not miss any school… Sounds awesome, just don’t stay there!!!  After studying we again headed off to the SIRC.. this time we had some valuable race experience and some ideas of how we could improve our race and establish our own rhythm.  The girls were excited to head off, and I realized that I hadn’t washed the boat before our race yesterday… Granted it was still clean from the thorough cleansing of Monday, but that is my thing.  Call it superstition if you want.  It is my ritual before big races to let my brain quiet down for a bit – wax on, wax off – (well no wax actually… they didn’t even allow soap to be used for washing – eco friendly race course.)  - water on, water off).  As was then my custom (if could be called a custom after 2 races) I hoped on the bicycle and made by way up to the start.  Because our warm-up is extended, I can get up to the start a few races before ours and watch as crews lock in and then sit patiently waiting for the green light.  I must say, McHart was probably one of, if not the best at getting locked into the stake boat.  I knew within a few strokes that this was going to be a better race than yesterday.  It was still a little high, but it was much better connected to the work, and they looked composed and powerful as they shifted down to race cadence.  I think they knew it pretty soon as well because they began a slow and steady march to the front of the pack.  Riding alongside I also pushed my way to the front of the peloton (my housemate had scared me the previous night when he shared a story of a coach who was following a race on a bike, clipped a tire in front of him and ended up in the water in lane zero.  If my camera was going to meet the athletes at the podium to take some pictures we both had to get to the front of the pack.  Executing their race plan very well, they took their first stab at a planned move in the middle of the race.  While it was not world breaking, it was just enough to break open water on the pack and from there they never looked back.  It was a very strong race and once finished, I had to crank it up a notch on the bike to make it over to the grandstands and see them on the medals dock.  Unfortunately I did not have weekend grandstand passes (I guess even coaches need to pay for those) so my pictures were off from the grassy knoll on the side (which was fine because resourceful Mr. Hart found his way into the grandstands).  I almost got in there as well.  My host is a regatta organizer and shouted for me to jump the fence… which I did – until security trotted down with a stern look and a pointed finger.  I was thinking of making a break for it and grabbing my Gold medal and waving that back at him… but you know this was the kids day, and I didn’t want to steal the show (actually, I was just recalling the tv show “locked up abroad” as I jumped the fence back out of the enclosure).  Mr. Hart took some great shots, and while several spectators (enraged that I was forced back out) offered me their tickets I found my way to the edge and taught some Aussie boys from St. Kevin’s how to do the TOGA chant.  We sent the girls off in fine style as they climbed back into the shell and headed back to the cool down pond.  What an experience it was.  This was more the Toga confidence and rhythm that I am used to.  



Australia Update #5

Today we really get into the racing.  After yesterdays trip to the Zoo, I could feel it was time to begin paying attention to our bodies a bit more.  Today we would race the heat for the schoolgirls eight and, to be honest, I was a bit confused with my emotions.  I would love to win that event in the same dominating fashion as we took the heat for the U19 eight.  However, while that might make it easier to spend more of the trip sightseeing and continuing the adventures of the past few days, it would have been pretty anti-climactic when it comes to the real reason for the trip.  To have a positive training effect on the girls and their rowing, we needed to be placed into pressure situations.  In fact, before we left Saratoga I remember telling the girls this same thing.  I told them how important it would be to make sure we faced the pressure of a tight race before we ended up in the final and facing pressures we had not felt since August.  While these thoughts tossed around in my head, the kids spent the morning at Pymble studying.  Today we finally got every thing sorted with the morning routine.  The girls found the café on campus and the wireless internet was finally working reliably for us.  Being such a beautiful day, and with no coffee allowed in the Library, Lexi chose to do her reading on a bench in the garden – life is rough here – not.

At 11 we packed up the van and hit the road for SIRC.  This time we found a great stop for lunch along the way – well lunch and shopping.  It is pretty amazing how any stop can become a shopping stop.  Even if they are only given 30-40 minutes to find lunch.  Once to the race course I will have to admit I was not in the right state of mind, I was excited to race, but not prepared for the kind of challenge we would be presented.  (In the USA most times the U19 eight would be a much faster category than the Schoolgirls category).  I was not really happy at the thought that it could be easy, but I was not fully prepared for the thought that it could be hard (as much as I hoped it would be).  It was also difficult to wrap my mind around the 4 crews advancing to Semi-Finals (we are used to 2)… talk about a lack of pressure.  All these things piled up in my mind (and I am sure some of theirs) and we went about our pre-race business as normal, but something was missing.  When we got out on the water, and up to the start to face Melborne, Walford, and 5 others, we did not remember to play to our strengths or to row our own race.  With the background of the heat for the U19 and our quick move to the lead we tried to win this race off the start.  Off the line in the 50s and struggling to settle we found ourselves very ineffective, spinning our wheels and tiring ourselves out.  This crew, when they are in their rhythm, is tremendous, but it would be like the Chicago Bulls of the 90s and the triangle offense trying to play like the Phoenix suns of that era.  You have to establish your own game and execute it.  That is the most challenging thing of this early season racing.  Usually our “game” is well practiced and tested and refined by the time we race our championship level events.  This week we are hurrying to squeeze a seasons worth of seasoning into 5 races.  Well, there is one sure thing about the fly and die strategy… it always dies at the end.  It was before the 1K that McHart recognized the mistakes we made and quickly shifted the emphasis into “qualify” mode.  With our fatigue from the previous day (and weekend) overcoming that early mistake would have probably knocked a few of them out for the rest of the week if they had been able to fight back into contention.  So, through the line they went, third and frustrated.

As much as I would have liked to dominate AUS racing and continue the celebrity status we were receiving after the U19 heats… This was actually a much better result!  It is moments like these that make a crew.  We lost that race by 10 seconds and we had some lessons we needed to learn from that.  In my estimation, the losses we have had over the past few years are the reason this crew is as strong as it is.  Wins are fun, but the losses teach the lessons necessary to achieve at higher levels. 

Digressing for a moment, I heard a tremendous interview a few years back in which a business expert was explaining why there is an inordinate amount of former top athletes in CEO and Director positions of the major companies.  I had expected him to talk about teamwork and leadership and relational skills, etc… but that was not his take on it at all… If I can paraphrase, he basically said:  top athletes react to failure much differently than the rest of us.  They understand failure as part of the process and whereas others shy away, they learn, strategize, resolve, and get back to it.  Every person and business faces failures along the way, those who can respond like a top athlete to those failures will bring success everywhere they go.

So, post-race, we had what I can already envision as a season changing meeting.  In fact, most of our best seasons have had this kind of meeting at some point.  We need it to get better.  This is why it is SO important that we seek out competition that will challenge us to ever increasing levels.  You know how fish are said to grow only as large as the pond they are in?  To be a big fish in a small pond is like that.  Entering races you are sure to win restricts the growth potential.  This may be the most challenging part of coaching in these days of grade inflation, instant gratification, and “everyone deserves a medal”.  I remember most vividly my greatest growth periods in academics, career, and in sport and I remember the failures that spurred those growth periods.

So, this is what I was hoping for with this trip.  I know, that sounds crazy, but that loss we perfect.  Actually I would have preferred a 6 or 7 second loss… If forging strengthens metal, too much too quickly can also do damage.  These girls, however, are tremendous when faced with this type of hardening.  They reacted to 10 seconds as if it was only 3 or 4 and endured the forging.  Tomorrow we will be stronger.


Australia Update #4

Having earned a day off racing by advancing through the heats in the U19 eight, we decided to have one last day of touristing adventure before the racing got hectic.  Originally our plan was to go to the Koala Park.  I explained this to each person I met when I was asked what we planned to do while in Sydney – every Aussie replied, “don’t go there, go to the Taronga Zoo – it is right on Sydney Harbour and it is the most beautiful Zoo in the world.”  You know how there are people out there who really think they know everything, or at least they are very protective of their ideas – I am not one of those!  If a local tells me to go to a certain restaurant or see a certain sight, I will scrap my idea in a heartbeat (if a local tells me to try the Kangaroo pizza…)  Rarely am I disappointed and in this case the Zoo lived up to the hype plus some!  The only downer was finding out that it is illegal to hold the koalas.  Kelli was so disappointed, but as soon as she looked into their eyes her heart melted and there was no room for anger or disappointment.  After that little disappointment as we walked into the park, things immediately turned to the positive.  The 2nd exhibit was a Kangaroo and Emu pen in which you could actually pet the kangaroos.  We were warned as we entered that the Emu was a little “randy” and if accosted we should ignore him… Not being a fan of birds (nevermind big randy birds) McHart fell locked into an internal debate, while the rest of us walked around petting the wallabies (small kangaroos) McHart weighed the options: pet a kangaroo vs have an unpleasant encounter with an emu.  Eventually the kangaroo won out, but the tension in the air between she and the emu was thick.  Glances were made, but restraint won out.

After the kangaroo and the koala, one would think it couldn’t get any better… boy would one be wrong.  Next we headed off for the the seal show (featuring Lexie and Murphy) we almost didn’t make it though as we got distracted by the gorillas.  The Male Gorilla was HUGE but the baby stole the show.  I am sure he knew he was being watched because he was really showing off and flirting with the girls (kinda reminded me of the boys at the beach ;-)  We had to pry Kelli away from the gorillas if we were to make it to the seal show in time.  I am not sure of Kelli’s career ambitions, but it would not surprise me at all if she ends up working at a zoo.

The seal show was pretty amazing.  When we were warned that the front few rows might get wet, McHart quickly found herself a seat halfway to the back (not sure if she was avoiding the splash or soaking in the sun).  The seals were very smart and very funny.  We managed to keep our phones dry and were all sad when the show ended.  Meghan almost got a chance to shake one of the seals flippers… but alas there was a group of elementary school kids there and she knew when they raised their hands and did their best Arnold Horshack impression she didn’t stand a chance.  (Only a few of you will get that “Welcome Back, Kotter” reference, but it was still worth putting in there).

From the seal show - on to the elephants.  There we learned that elephants pout and sulk.  The keeper kindly explained they are much like teenagers when it comes to their emotional state.  That visit had to be brief though, we were on a schedule to make the bird show (another highly recommended exhibit).  When you combine the beautiful setting, with the amazing choreography and intelligence of the birds, it definitely lived up to the billing.  My favorite part was holding my ground as the Owl did a low altitude fly over.  The other favorite was the approach of the Andean Condor.  I didn’t get my camera out in time, but this thing was HUGE like small plane huge.  Wingspan of 3 meters!  The zoo trip continued with the next highlights being the Zebra butts (they wouldn’t show their faces) and the Giraffes (who had the best view of anyone in Sydney).  Not everyone was excited about the reptile house, but one last visit to the koalas and a trip by the penguins brought us to the SKY Safari where we were treated to a view of the Harbour to match that of the giraffe.


We left the Zoo over 6 hours after arriving and still had a little practice to do before the day was done.  So off we went to the SIRC to practice our starts and shifting to race pace.  The practice was very short because we promised to be back to Pymble to meet our new families at a reasonable time.  Since we were changing families we wanted to give some time for the kids to have dinner with the families.  What a long and exciting and exhausting day that was!