The Henley

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We weren’t the fastest boat on the water, some might of said some of our rowers were dare I say, weak. Our technique was lacking some hours, and our brute force was almost nonexistent. We did have other things though, Heart, control, and the will to fight for a place in the finals. We have been working all summer, dawn to dusk to even stand a chance at the Canadian Henley.

Two of us were fly weights, the other two, including myself, were becoming lightweight. All of us fourteen years of age, no older and no younger, we were only freshmen who had been rowing less than a year. Now we were racing against the pick of the litter; most of the girls were 17 and had been rowing out of the womb.

We rowed to the start line and we emeditly looked at the other boats, we only had to beat 2 other teams to make it semis, seems simple I thought to myself. I noticed I had raced against one of the boats before and had no problem wining that race, the I spotted lane 4 I had seen there unis’ before just strips, they stuck out because they always ran out of there lane, and came in dead last.

I turn to the girl seated behind me, “Hey, we might be able to do this.” I told her with confidence.

“You think so?” She said with a slight grin. I told her about the other two boats and her grin matured in to a full on ear to ear smile.

We were locked on at the start I was the person the others need to follow, if our oars did not enter the water at the same time there would be no way we would advance.

“Alright girls I want you to make this your best race ever this is the Henley you don’t get a second chance at this.” My Coxswain began to pump us up for the race. “I know you can do this you have the muscle, you have more than them, I want you to show them what a small team from Virginia can do.” She was right everybody has underestimated us thus far, that’s why we are here to set them straight, or so I had hoped.

“Set ready!” the regatta official yelled, “Attention,” Now is the time to show them Kara, show them how much you want it. “ROW!”

We need to come out ahead of the pack, get out early and settle hard. “Come on crank on it girls!” Our Coxswain was screaming, “We are in 4th place now, we need to pick it up it’s 3 to final! Bow to stern on 3rd come on I want to feel the boat jump!”

As we advanced down to 2k course my legs became kindling to a fire that soon spread to my abs, through my back, and down my arms. It hurt and we were only 500 meters in.

“We are still bow to stern we need to walk through them, NOW!” She was right I started to be more cautious of every move I made. We pass the 1,000 meter marker; here is where the fun begins.


“POWER TEN!” Now we take ten strokes as hard as the rushing water will let us. We take the ten but don’t walk up in the least bit. Then by impulse I run through my mental check list, Slide control check, I am not rushing up to the put the oar in the water, which would cause the boat to check down, neither are the other three girls behind me. My strokes per minute is spot on, my form is as good as I can make it, and I am pulling like there is no tomorrow, because as my Coxie stated you only get one chance to win, one chance to prove yourself! I scream at myself in my head, “Its THE HENLEY! One of the biggest regatta in the world,” what is wrong with this? We are still in 4th one place away from semis.

“500 meter left pick it up!” I do just that we were her puppets she was our master, she sees the other teams and where they are located, therefore she knows best. The Stokes before the sprint zoom by but still no movement in our placement.

“250 meters left I want your sprint to bring them to their knees ladies!” If only she knew how much I want that to. I push the rate up to places we had never taken it before.

“That’s it now we’re walking! I don’t want bow to bow it’s not good enough I want us ahead, show them what you have been working for!” I scream out in pain, my left arm starts to go numb, my head is spinning as I gasp for air, I want this so bad, I don’t know why we don’t have it!

“Final ten strokes at the Henley!” I grunt as I pull through the water, the other boat the one in strips started to walk away again, no oh please no!

“PUSH YOURSELF!” My throat feels like sand paper, my coxswain counts the last three stokes and it’s all over. “Way enough,” I lay back in the boat gasping for air and crying out in pain. “4th place girls,” I hear. Once I climb back up on my seat I see the other teams celebrating their victory, I’ve had to go through a lot of things in my past, I’ve seen a lot of thing that have hurt me, but this, watching other teams smiling at our defeat, it makes the top ten.

We row the boat back to the dock I have no earthly idea what happened. I have no idea what we did wrong? After the boat is strapped I find my coach. I hurry over to him he turns to me, I try to read his face, but I come up blank.

“Coach,” I hesitate, “what did I do wrong?” I need to know what happened if I didn’t it would eat at me for the rest of the regatta.

“You just weren’t as strong as them Smitty, you tried we all saw you try, and you didn’t lose.”

“We also didn’t win.” I said,

“You looked good I didn’t see anything wrong with the rowing. You are 14 and a Novice, I bet you none of the other boat had all rowers fresh out of the 8th grade. They have years on you Smith, and you can’t help that. You just need to keep rowing and gain those years, I know you all have the heart and I am positive that you can do it. It is you who doubts yourself work on that and come back next year, see what happens. I bet you the outcome will be better”

With that he was gone. I shouldn’t have sized up the rowers before the race; it made me think that we had this in the bag. I figured it would be easy. I had never been so wrong. Now that I think about it there is always next year so I do get a second chance. Now I will make sure to take that one seriously.





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