Here I am, at the Tweed Heads Rowing Club regatta. The first of the season. I’m not feeling race fit and will soon find out whether I’m right on that score.
Chuffed to be invited to row in 2 composite crews, I am now feeling a tinge of ‘invitation regret’. I find myself entered in 5 races, 4 of them in the morning with barely an hour between each one. In 3 of these, I’m racing with people I’ve never laid eyes on before.
It’s raining, but warm. A subtropical summer’s day. There’s a gusty cross-wind (of course), but not so wild that the event’s going to be called off.
Mount Warning peeps out from behind the clouds now and again, as if to remind the 232 rowers of the natural beauty of northern New South Wales. Verdant. Bucolic. Fields of sugarcane. Brown cows grazing at the start line.
Race 1 is done. I’m warmed up.
Race 2 is looming – the Mixed Masters E 2X.
My Tattersall’s Rowing Club crewmate, whom I have known for all of 5 minutes, has only 29 minutes between races. There’s a suggestion of pulling out.
“Entirely up to you.”
“I’m happy either way.”
Neither of us is prepared to say it.
“Ok, I’ll have the boat ready.”
Off he goes. I’m committed.
I busy myself rigging the boat, guessing where my feet should be, anxious that I’ll let him down.
Then I remind myself why I’m here—to get some badly needed race experience.
And I remember Wayne Gretzky‘s words, which always bring me clarity when I’m dithering about leaving my comfort zone:
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
15 minutes later, we’re paddling up to the start line, me in bow, feeling like I’m perched on top of a bouncing castle—the boat is rigged for heavyweight men; I’m 64 kg.
“So, what’s our strategy?”
“Ummm… How about, you just go and I’ll try to stay with you?”
“Ok. How do you like to call it?”
“Ummm… I’m normally in a single. You’ll probably just hear me breathing.”
“Ok. We’ll keep it long, not too high a rating.”
We do a racing start. Not bad! A little confidence boost.
Up at the start, the cross-wind is causing havoc. The 6 lanes are not buoyed so it’s all guesswork with the positioning and the angle.
The smoke from the sugarmill up ahead is horizontal.
The brown cows are oblivious. Gary Larson’s Far Side springs to mind.
Early in the race, we clash oars with the boat to our left (our crewmates in the upcoming mixed quad!). Rapid assessment. No collateral damage. No instructions from the umpire to stop. We pick it up and are off again.
The umpire is yelling at us now to move over. In this wind the boat is slow to come around and the harder we try the scrappier we get as the stroke rate creeps up. The umpire veers away and yells at someone else. I guess we’re back on course. “Long”, I say, to myself as much as to anyone else, and we settle it back down.
Every stroke is feeling solid now, with the blades fully loaded. Strangely, I’m still in control of my breathing. Crikey—this boat is really moving!
I sense this first beep is for us but we row a few extra strokes, just in case. Safely across the finish line, we look left and right. Hang on a minute… there are no boats behind us. I slap my crewmate on the back and laugh at his incredulity.
We took the shot—a long shot—and it paid off.