It has been a while since we raced, and it has been a very long time since we did not have a good idea of where we would finish within a place of two. There is something incredibly awesome about the unknown when it comes to racing. The unknown is a powerful force to drive us to reach inside and strengthen our confidence. You know the old saying "pressure turns coal into diamonds". I am not saying these girls are coal, but the unknown provides just the pressure we need to bring out the hardness of the resolve and the beauty of discovery of strengths inside ourselves we didn't know we had. Tuesday began with another trip to Pymble for some studying. While we were there, Mr. Hart went out and bought us a mobile hotspot! You cannot imagine the excitement that brought. In fact, I have discovered the most effective tour guide strategy since the leash… All I need to do is turn on the wi-fi and they will follow me like ducklings (actually, since they are only looking at their phones, they follow more like lemmings). Before we left for the course, team manager Tom gave us a tour of the school. It was unbelievable. Cooperative learning centers, Cisco distance learning conference room, outdoor pool, 20 something tennis courts, and everyone’s favorite – the gymnastics studio with the foam pit. At 11 we packed up our stuff and hit the road for SIRC and our heat in the U19 eight. I had heard many different versions of who would be fast with the most often mentioned being the Queenwood girls (who we drew in our heat). Not knowing what to expect and knowing we were just at the beginning of putting together an effective strategy, we decided to keep the race plan pretty simple. Try to start strong (with the pack) and then find a rhythm at which we could be effective this early in the season (low 30s). We would just try to power along there in our rhythm and not get shaken by the other crews and just wait them all out to see what moves other crews might have. No special moves for us, just find a rhythm and stay there. As we prepared to launch 1 hour before our race (you have to wait in line for 30 minutes as they cue up 5 races between the top of the warm-up pond and the starting gates) we did our customary 1,2,3-TOGA cheer just before launching. Apparently that is not a thing here in AUS as we got a few turned heads and a chuckle from our competition (which Kelli decided was extra motivation to win). On the way to the line, the referees were among the nicest referees we have ever encountered. I am used to kids getting off the water saying how mean the referees are. Here it was opposite “no worries girls, you have heaps of time” Once in the gates the anticipation hit its peak. The girls were not joking when they said there were like 10 seconds between the “attention” and the “go”. According to Claire, 10 seconds is a lot of time in which your hands can shake with nervousness. Once the green light flashed and the horn sounded they were back in their element. Off to a great start they jumped ahead of the field and started pulling away within the first 500. To be honest, that race was a bit too easy. (even for me… I led the coaches Peloton from start to finish!) It didn’t give us the pressure situation that we needed to test ourselves. It was, however, nice to be very famous for a few minutes. Our friend Ellen Tomeck from the USA 8+ was standing in the stands wearing her USA jersey and someone said to her “do you know those girls?” “Umm… Hello… I’m the Olympian” must have been what she was thinking, but graciously she replied, “yes, actually, I do”. As we pulled into the dock one of the other Olympians came out to share with us the irony of the announcers commentary “these Toga girls are like amazons”. On the inside Mr. Announcer, on the inside. We finished the race with a 6:41… After hearing the course record for a U19 girls eight is 6:38, I kind of wish we had pushed a bit more, but once we were over a boat length of open water, we decided to keep the focus on being comfortable inside our rhythm and hold back our “surprise moves” for the final.
After racing, the Pymble Ladies arranged a catered meal at the race course parking lot so we got plenty of pasta and then hit the road for some ice cream on the way home. It was a long day, and the Pymble girls and their parents were happy to see us beat Queenwood (the New South Wales Champions) so convincingly. Two other great things happened that day. The first was the advancing directly to the final (which means we get to go to the Taronga Zoo on Wednesday) and then, personally, my friend Sarah Hendershot (Raced the USA womens pair in the London Olympics) shared a story with me. She told me of a day back when I was coaching her one summer with the Jr Dev Camp – we were in the midst of a rain storm at the Independence Day Regatta in Philly and we were all sitting around and waiting for racing to start back up. Apparently I said “You know what I love about Hendershot? Hendershot is a RACER” Sarah was kind enough to share with me that was a very important thing to her and her rowing career. She said she recalled it often in the year leading up to the Olympics.
We humans are a powerful people, truly the tongue is more powerful than the sword, and as a corollary to that, our actions and faith in people are more powerful still. (If I can digrees and take this to its final step, the one weapon we have in our arsenal that can put an end to any dispute and change the world in an instant is FORGIVENESS) Sarahs story – the sharing of which I am very grateful – is proof to me that the influence we have on each other extends far beyond the reaches of our imagination. Referring back to a previous Blog, we improve in spark moments and we improve through the consistency of applied intent like a stream… Sometimes, we do not even know when a spark has been lit. In Sarah, those few words and that little bit of faith placed in her 8 years ago continues to burn as she strives to perfect her craft and achieve the Olympic gold. Each story I hear like this reminds me of the awesome responsibility we have as humans. If a small comment made in passing time can affect a person so deeply still 8 years later, do we not wield incredible power that can be unleashed for good or evil at a moment’s notice (and sometimes outside of notice). That is an awesome responsibility.