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Rowing at Stotesbury: A first-person account

This is a condensed version of a paper written for an English class on competing in the 2010 Stotesbury Regatta.

This is a condensed version of a paper written for an English class on competing in the 2010 Stotesbury Regatta.

"Come on girls! We have to really push it this week." That was the sound of my crew coach. It was Monday, and the next weekend was the most important race of the season. I was in Seat 2 of the women's JV8 for Absegami High School.

The Stotesbury Cup Regatta is one of the largest high school regattas in the world. That week of preparing for Stotesbury at Lake Lenape was a very strenuous week, consisting of many full-powered pieces for about 500 agonizing meters more than the actual length of the race.

When I woke up on Friday morning, I remember the instant strike of nerves traveling through my body. The never-ending bus ride to Philadelphia came with attempts at sleeping, but really, moratorium was spread thick throughout the bus. Finally arriving at the Schuylkill, there were crew boat trailers spread everywhere like leaves in the fall and vendors lined side by side, ready to make sales. Every face had the distinctive look of anticipation and desire.

Waiting. This was the worst part of all. Then finally, as if centuries had passed, it was 10 o'clock and time to stretch and launch the boat.

"Bow No. 351, you are approaching the starting line, ready, ready . . . go." That was it. We were off to our headrace, just us against the clock. The puddles were swirling around us, flying by at the speed of light, hearing only the music we created together, only occasionally the sound of my coxswain's voice coming into earshot telling us to pull a power 10 or raise the rate at which we pulled. It seemed faster than ever when we reached the 500-meter mark, where we were to pick up the rate, and power even more than we already had. I felt us walking up on the boat ahead of us, and the adrenaline met its height as our concert continued and finally ended, "beep." Our first race was over, exhaustion pouring out.

We walked, boat on shoulders, back to the trailer, and it was there that we found out we would be coming back the next day to race in the semifinals. Our time of 5 minutes, 39.39 seconds put us in the third-place position out of everyone in our division. Our placing would put us in the third heat and third lane; we would have to make the top two out of that heat in order to make the finals.

After a long day, the happiness at the end drowned out the rough patches that got us there. The last straps were tightened around the boats, and the events of the day finally caught up with me, and so I slept all the way back home. I was thinking that the next day would hopefully consist of two races and that my bag would weigh down a little more than when I had gotten there.

The Absegami parking lot was dark and quiet so early in the morning, the sun just peeking up above the trees. There was only one problem. The bus was not in sight and our race was to be at 8:12. After half of us piled into our coach's car, the rest of us waited close to 45 minutes for the bus's arrival. The bus finally arrived, and the ride to the river felt as if we were on a never-ending trail. We ended up arriving in enough time, and before we knew it, we were on the familiar path to the start line numb from any feeling.

"Girls junior eight heat three, two to final, we have alignment, attention, go!" All eight of us drove our legs harder than we had ever done before, and we were in the mix of the five other boats, only wanting to make it to the next round, hoping to walk away from the other boats. Only, we knew that we needed to push our bodies to the limit until the last possible seconds of the race. Our coxswain's voice got loud above the nothingness in our heads, which signaled us that we were walking away from the pack of boats. We knew that we had to keep our emotions in check, though. Then she warned us that James Madison, in the next lane over, was neck and neck with us. Passing under the wire indicating 500 long meters were yet to be rowed, we heard nothing but a muffled sound from the shoreline, screaming, yelling, chanting. Our sprint was in action, but it was not enough to get that first-place slot. We were second.

Our coach was proud of us and only wanted us to rest. Our final race was not until 2:40. Six hours of sheer boredom and anxiety was all that ran through us, until that very moment when our hands were on the boat and felt the soft touch of the water upon them.

"That's it, girls, start and twenty, one, two . . ." Everything was just right. Our competition was so close that it seemed impossible that any one boat could win. Our coxswain's voice grew louder and louder with every stroke telling us that we were fighting for the third-place position. Focus was key to get what all of us so badly wanted, to be the very first Absegami boat to place at the Stotesbury Regatta. The first two boats had crossed the finish with two "beeps." The third would mean so much - it was in our grasp, so close. "Beep." As soon as we crossed over, I looked to my right to see James Madison cross over not even a second after us. We had won the third-place medal!

As we rowed up to the dock, there was nothing but cheers coming from the grandstands. All of our parents were snapping pictures of our proudest moment, tears streaming down many of their faces. Our coach placed our bronze medals around our necks and congratulated us. We proudly rowed away to the other dock, where we would raise the boat out of the river for the last time. As we walked with the boat on our shoulders and medals around our necks, nothing could ever compare to the spirit in our hearts.