On July 18th, at the USRowing Summer National Championships, Sophia and I earned silver in the lightweight women’s double sculls (LW2x). And that’s where our 2020-2021 season ends.
News surrounding the regatta, from a broad perspective as well as within my own personal sphere, feels insignificant and ancient by now. With the Olympics going on and COVID numbers again on the rise, stories, information and events on the world’s athletic stage have been evolving at a blistering pace. Still, I’m taking a moment to pause and rewind, process the abrupt end to the season and share.
Recent rowing news
World Rowing nonchalantly announced the cancellation of the 2021 World Rowing Championships (Worlds). It said:
Following comprehensive discussions and considering all possible options, due to the pandemic and related mitigation measures, the Shanghai Organizing Committee (OC) believes that it is not feasible to stage the 2021 World Rowing Championships.
The news seemed surreal due to the unexpected, short, and casual nature of the announcement, as well as the fact that other major international sporting events including the Olympics continued as planned. Many athletes including me held their breaths thinking that another venue would pick up the regatta and preparations for Worlds would resume. Full press release HERE.
World Rowing announced the “definitive cancellation of the 2021 World Rowing Championships.” The announcement came after the World Rowing Executive Committee met to determine whether it was feasible for another country to host the event. It “reluctantly concluded that … there [was] not enough time to identify, confirm and prepare for a World Championship regatta this year.” Full press release HERE.
Due to the cancellation of Worlds, the USRowing Summer National Championships replaced the USRowing World Championship Trials (Trials). The transition is seamless because Trials had already been slated as part of the National Championships. In other words, USRowing had planned a single regatta to contest both Trials and non-Trials events. When Worlds was cancelled, Trials Events were simply renamed Open Events with no impact on the overall schedule.
During an ordinary year, the winner of each Trials Event would earn the right to compete for Team USA at Worlds. Now, athletes would instead race for top finishes at the US National Championships. Sophia and I had planned to race both the lightweight women’s double and lightweight women’s quad at Trials, with the quad being what we hoped to pursue at Worlds.
We woke up to an email from USRowing that included the following: “Weigh-in Update – We will no longer be following the FISA weighing rules originally listed in the entry packet. Athlete and coxswain weigh-ins will follow the USRowing weights. We will not be taking boat average.”
Misinformation—little things like practice times and the availability of the practice scales for weigh-in—had been trending at the regatta all week. So, to be clear on the rule change, I emailed the regatta director who confirmed that lightweight athletes needed to weigh in at 130 pounds (59kg in metric units) each. The change is a significant break from FISA rules, which require athletes in team boats to average 57kgs. See Rule 31, page 56.
July 16th—LW2x Time Trial:
There’s a raging headwind on the back half of the course. We crossed the line somewhere around 32 strokes per minute, which is low, even considering the wind. I think we’re both shocked by how hard the piece felt. We posted the fastest time by nearly two seconds. But it’s only fair to acknowledge that one of our competitors had raced in the open women’s double event as well. This was their second time trial of the day.
July 18th—LW2x Final:
Conditions are again insanely challenging, and truth be told, we didn’t handle them well. We placed second in a four-boat field and were never really in contention for the win.
Week of July 19th:
When Worlds was cancelled, my coach redirected the team to the 2021 Henley Royal Regatta, scheduled for Aug. 11-15th in Henley-on-Thames, England. Racing at Henley would have marked the end of our season and given Sophia and I a chance to put out some racing more in line with what I know we can do in the boat. We missed our opportunity at Nationals. And I know there’s a lesson in that. Regardless, to give more context to the month of July, simply note that there was a lot of back and forth about going to Henley all week. We ultimately decided to stay put in the States, and, just like that, our season was done.
Why all the rowing news?
During the past three weeks, within my small sphere, there’s been an undercurrent of uncertainty and change. More than once I caught myself subconsciously on high alert for unexpected emails, texts and news. I highlighted the “big” events for context, but it doesn’t do justice to all of the back and forth and up and down.
The uncertainty about Worlds, for example, was complicated by the fact that Sophia and I were slated to race the lightweight women’s quad at Trials with two athletes from the U23 team. The announcement cancelling Worlds came while the U23 women were away competing in the Czech Republic. Do we still pursue racing the quad? On paper, the easy answer is, “Yes. Because, why not?”
But there were other factors to consider, like the travel and cost for our two other teammates and what it would take to setup and transport our racing shell. There was also the entry fee and change to the regatta rules when the event became part of Nationals. Ultimately, we did not go down the course in the quad.
The announcement about the change to the weigh-in rules effectively made life easier, which most would consider a positive. But it was also one more thing to gain clarity around and absorb.
None of this is large in sheer magnitude. What was challenging was the constant barrage, and how it required attention, conversation, audibles, and time. Did any of it affect how we showed up at Nationals? No. I cite the events to give context, and maybe give reason for why it’s taken so long to wrap up the year in my head.
Inspiration to write (at last!)
On July 27th, author and writing teacher, Laurie Wagner published a blog post called: It’s all in the frame.
The lines that stuck with me are this:
All in the frame, Nan said, by which she meant we can’t just curate our lives into a catalog of pretty pictures – pick and choose what we want, what will make us happy – because there is room in this frame of life for all of it.
After the Final at Nationals, I felt flat. (I subsequently felt sheer fire thanks to the back and forth about Henley. But the focus here is the Final!) I didn’t have much to offer in terms of what went well and what didn’t. And I intentionally refrained from trying to analyze our racing or sum up the regatta in its wake.
Generally, I’m quick to draw lessons from racing and identify areas to grow. I’m fired up if I feel like I crushed it, and even more fired up if I feel like I underperformed. The lukewarm sensation was new. When I read Laurie’s post, Nan’s words to be exact, I think I understood it as permission—to feel uninspired and just be.
Our performance fell short of our standard and the result, in my opinion, reflected a combination of little things that added up to a lot of time. We got off the starting line tentatively and perhaps a little bit scared. We didn’t take full advantage of the clean water in the early part of the race, and looked for way too much load in the tailwind. And I failed to call the sprint, partly, to be completely transparent, because I was afraid of it getting messy (more accurately: messier—it was already quite messy in the chop!) and losing an oar.
Leading up to the race, we did everything right. We nailed our training and brought an incredibly high level of focus to the work; we paid attention to details and made technical gains; and we stayed healthy and had fun. I loved every bit of our 2020-2021 campaign, even the times I felt dead-tired and didn’t think I could get my body to move. I’m sad that it had to end early. And really looking forward to continuing to build!
There is room in this frame of life for it all.
In Bird by Bird, in a chapter on how you know when you’re done with the final draft of a work, Anne Lamott references an image: putting an octopus to bed. She writes:
You get a bunch of the octopus’s arms neatly tucked under the covers—that is, you’ve come up with a plot, resolved the conflict between the two main characters, gotten the tone down pat—but two arms are still flailing around… You finally get those arms under the sheets, too, and are about to turn off the lights when another long sucking arm breaks free.
It’s time to put the octopus to bed for the year. Full stop. As for any long, sucking, lingering arms? Let’s call them Curiosity and Drive—the arms that’ll propel me for as long as they’re strong and supported, healthy and free.
Cheers, my good friends! Train and race hard, have fun, take care!