Hello from Canal 54! If you read my last post, you’ll know that I was still in need of a doubles partner with less than a month out from Olympic Trials, and that it was increasingly looking like I would not be racing. Well, friends, I am disappointed to report that I won’t, in fact, be competing.
The post that follows came together in the immediate wake of this certainty and during a week when I was deeply hurting. It’s weird (for lack of a better word) to read it back now, from such a wildly different place of emotion. And I’ve questioned whether I wanted to share something so personal and raw. I decided on yes for two reasons.
First, as always, I hope that you, my readers, will gain something that you can take with you into your own lives or athletic careers. This, after all, is my mission. Second, I was surprised to find out that in sadness, reflecting on my friendships and growth in this sport served as an incredible catharsis. As a result, I ended up with a partial personal history of sorts, which I know will be fun to look back on.
To that extent, thank you to all the women who agreed to let me share my memories, lessons and stories. Race hard, unleash all your work and enjoy it! I wish I could be there and look forward to celebrating on the backend.
A Moment in Time
All doors closed today.
Today, February 24, 2020.
My heart hurts. I literally feel heaviness deep in my chest. And I keep tearing up, sporadically and without warning. Like right now, in the middle of a coffee shop downtown.
I am so sad.
Earlier this afternoon, I clicked on a link to a YouTube video that has been sitting in my inbox since the beginning of February. It is a NBC Sports Regional Networks presentation called, “Headstrong: Mental Health and Sports.” The video highlights the stories of several renowned athletes who have struggled with mental illness, and is meant to help break the stigma that surrounds mental health. Hayden Hurst, tight end for the Baltimore Ravens, is the first athlete featured. Hurst talks about his career as a pitcher, his retirement at age 21 and subsequent rise in professional football, and his battle with depression, including when he hit “rock bottom” and started to reach out for help.
What served him most during his road back to health? Journaling.
I think journaling is an incredible outlet for anybody. You can just sit in your room, go through your thoughts and put everything on paper. It’s an easy way to get toxic things out of your head. ~Hayden Hurst
“Everything that crosses your mind needs to go on the paper,” said Hurst’s dad, citing a psychologist’s recommendation for his son.
Everything that crosses your mind needs to go on the paper.
I paused the video and wrote.
And discovered that there are layers to my heartbreak.
I wrote, and discovered an entirely new aspect of my why.
I wrote, and realized that my times of great pain have led to some of my greatest moments of clarity and growth.
And I learned that even in sadness, I am at peace. I am at peace with who I am in this sport, and proud of the way that I’ve navigated more than a decade of incredible ups and downs. I am grateful for the relationship I’ve gained, and teams that I’ve been privileged to be a part of.
Layers of Heartache
My family and support team
When the pen hit the paper, here’s what came out:
My heart hurts.
And I know that I have so many people who love and support me.
I think that I am sad that I let them all down.
And yet, I know that I didn’t. Because this is the thought that just made the tears stop.
I gave them something to celebrate last year. And I want to give it to them again.
This. This is my motivation. This is where I’ll find strength for the next six months. I want to give my family something to celebrate again.
What an unexpected “ah-ha!” It saddens me (obviously!) to think about how my family and everyone who’s wholeheartedly supported my rowing won’t get to see me lineup for a shot at what would be the pinnacle of my career. Yet, it feels powerful to have made a connection between my people—my family and support team—and the reason for why I still do what I do.
In the beginning, it was easy to point to pure passion, and when friends, family or coworkers would comment on the sacrifice involved in pursuing a sport, I understood it cerebrally but never deep inside. Years later, the sacrifice is real. On top of that, motivation is finicky and fluctuating. We are athletes and we are humans. There are plenty of days when I am tired and hurting, and don’t want to train. Knowing what drives you, as a general point, is essential during times of struggle or pain. It provides the impetus for staying focused, committed to the path, and fired up for the work that’s ahead.
I am grateful for my inner fire. I am grateful for a new, deeper understanding of my why.
My hope and my dream
Of course, there is personal sense of loss. I’ve wanted to make an Olympic Team since watching Amy Van Dyken compete in the pool in the 1996 Games. I was 13 years old at the time, which made me the perfect age to watch and to hope and to dream. Ironically, though, this sense loss is small compared to the others. My biggest regret is that I’m going to miss out on one of the last opportunities to line-up against many of my longtime competitors and friends. This hurts me in a way that I did not anticipate.
Why is it one of the last opportunities? It is near the end of an Olympic cycle: Athletes are going to retire and things are going to change. Knowing this has made me think about how much we’ve all collaborated, competed and grown. It is remarkable when you step back and take stock. So, while I can’t give my legs on the racecourse, I can give my appreciation and say thanks.
With Respect and Admiration
Thank you for being such a great teammate and friend during these past two months in Sarasota. Thank you for trusting me enough to share some of the more personal aspects of your own rowing journey, and for lending your support and wisdom when I needed it most. You have the maturity and perspective of a true veteran, which is something you’ve earned over time. The way our relationship has developed on and off the water is one of the best surprise gifts that I’ve gained on this roller coaster leading to Trials. If anything, I regret that we haven’t had an opportunity to officially line-up together during our (very long!) careers. You are fierce and intelligent on the water; you understand racing and training; and you know what you need to succeed. I admire you immensely, and look forward to our ventures ahead!
You sized me up the first time we met! Do you remember that? We were in the weight room at Vesper. We literally stood shoulder-to-shoulder to see who was taller. I think it was you who insisted on this. Although I guess it could have just as easily been me! I have great memories of us rooming together at the Lombardi Inn in Miami (I was jealous of your ability to sleep soundly through the night), and Marilyn’s home in Austin, TX. We’ve had some unforgettable wins together too—a few National Championships and Canadian Henley Gold! When I think of you, I think of someone with integrity, inner strength and resolve. Thank you for listening during these past few weeks. You’ve been a great friend and competitor, and kindred spirit when it comes to the pair!
Oh, how I wish I made my way up to GMS earlier in my career! We’ve been practically neighbors so long! Between the gorgeous water and Gman’s professionalism and skill, you’ve been immersed in an absolute gem. Some of my early memories include racing you on the Schuylkill in singles and asking you to jump in on the quad at Nationals in 2014 (such a fun win!).
It would have been awesome to bang out a training block with you and Helen this past fall but, unfortunately, those stars were not aligned. It might sound strange but it’s been gratifying to see your double come together from a distance, I think because it is further testament to what focus, commitment, and good planning and execution can yield. Thank you for letting me join in on some of your workouts pre-Trials. It was fun to mix it up and I hope that it helped you better prepare!
If this is in fact your last race, God, I desperately want to be there so I can give you a huge hug, and cry and say, “Congratulations!” Honestly, I’ve shed more tears over the idea of not being there with you than you would believe. You’ve had a heck of a career (so far!), and I’m honored to have been a small part of it.
I remember you dominating at quad camp in 2013. I got crushed! You took the time to talk to me on the phone before I went home. You were patient and kind and told me I did a good job. I remember training together on the Schuylkill. We worked so hard with Liz and Maginnis in the quad! And, I remember when I first saw you back at GMS after I returned from Worlds this past fall. Helen, you hugged me and smiled and I could sense that your excitement for my win was genuine and real. I was humbled and touched in the moment. Thank you for your kindness, and the years of competition and friendship. You have such a good heart, and are hands down one of the toughest competitors I know.
Our partnership last summer was such an incredible gift! It embodied everything I knew could be true in terms of teamwork and friendship in sport. Your courage and ability to speak your mind gave me a new sense of courage and audacity, which, I am confident, came to life in our boat. Your commitment to high standards pushed me daily and, no doubt, helped lead to our wins. You enabled me to grow as an athlete, and gave me the chance to live out a dream. Thank you for believing in me and saying, “Yes!” to the pair; for your patience as I learned how to toe; for training and racing in Canada (a memorable trip in so many ways!); for your ownership and confidence in bow seat; and for always racing your heart out and giving your best to the boat. You are an amazing athlete, partner and friend.
You gave me the courage to go after the pair last year. Yes, you. I watched you sit at the start line at Worlds in 2018 and thought of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
You were in the arena, sitting at the start line, on the world stage. You paved the way in an event that many people judged and criticized. You set an example and paved the way for me.
I am sorry that our friendship suffered in 2017. I think it speaks to our professionalism as athletes the way we were able to team up in the double (and, side note, absolutely crush it) at Judith’s camp the following year. I’ve always thought of you as an incredibly fierce competitor (I learned that at quad camp in 2016), and sensitive soul (like me!). Good luck at Trials, I am excited to see you thrown down!
You mentioned how far I’ve come over the past decade on my voicemail and it literally stopped me in my tracks. A decade! In that moment, it hit me how so many of us have grown-up alongside each other in this sport.
For me, our relationship symbolizes how much I’ve grown as a person. Soon after you came to Vesper, the team got together for a barbeque. Instead of openly welcoming you, I played up my friendships in that passive-aggressive way that women know how to do. I was intimidated, of course, and clearly wanted to protect what was mine. You hardly knew me at the time so I bet that you didn’t even notice. But it is something that’s stuck with me and I’ve always wanted to tell you, “I’m sorry.” Please know that I hope I’d make a better choice in a similar scenario today.
Fast forward to Senior Trials in 2018. I got goose bumps watching you win! You were down going into the last 500m, and then clearly and convincingly moved into the lead. The way you turned it on and dominated… it was awesome to witness, to be honest. I remember feeling genuinely happy for what you achieved. This, for me, was a huge sign of growth and positive change. You’ve been through just as many ups and downs as me with injuries, coaching changes and moves to various cities. You know the highs and the lows. I admire your courage, your strength and your incredible resolve. Thank you for the inspiration and the years that you’ve given our sport.
We have so much great history! It was hard to pick and choose so I decided to go all middle-school-girl style and share some of the memories that stand out in my mind.
Easily just the group we had with Bryn, Casi, Lindsay and Nicole. We were babies! And we had no idea at the time. We crushed it in the quad (times three) with fellow Sea Cows on the Schuylkill; celebrated wins in Canada after you saved our line-ups at the last minute and somehow worked magic to make weight; went through quad camp together in 2014; “ran” countless minutes along the Schuylkill (does what we did qualify as running?); and had more than one epic night out in the city, many of which included Jose Pistola’s, hanging out with Sean Clarke, and more nachos than two women should ever consume!
In Miami, I remember our dynamic warm-ups in the parking lot by the trailer and one very hot 3 x 10’ + 1 x 7’ workout on the erg. In Austin, the biking, of course! You essentially taught me how to ride. I have no idea how we biked to and from Kim’s house on top of all the training. It’s unlikely that my legs would ever survive that again. Favorite memory: the gallon of ice cream we shared in Sean Clarke’s truck in the parking lot of the HEB. In Amsterdam, I was pumped to see you—I had finally made it overseas! You treated your roommate and me to dinner with your race winnings. Then we ventured out on one very wet, cold and unfortunately fruitless (i.e., sans ice cream) bike ride.
There is a conversation I think about from when we were still rowing for John. I must have asked you what you would do if he didn’t give you an opportunity to race. You said with complete clarity and conviction that you would make your own opportunity to race. I can still hear your tone—so certain and self-assured. I learned a lot in that moment and think of you saying those words often, particularly when faced with my own set of challenges or roadblocks. To this day, I look to you as someone who knows what they want and puts in the work to get it done. You’ve been patient, tenacious, smart with your choices, and diligent on your path. I am glad to see you back in action and pumped to see perform.
It’s just the beginning of the season, friends! This is not how it ends! It has taken me a bit to regroup but believe me when I say that I have boat speed and World Championships at the forefront of my mind. This may not be the path I envisioned and it is most certainly the premature end of a dream, but there is plenty to look forward to ahead!
Thank you, as always, for reading. Have a question, need some support, or simply want to say, “hi?” Reach out to me HERE.