Sunday, April 15, 2007

Revenge of the fit

Today we got a rematch against the club that edged us out by 2 seconds in San Diego. Today they were without their ringers (though they kept their cox from the national team). We were without two of the guys from my San Diego crew, and the guys we had in their stead were arguably not as quick as those they replaced. But still some of our best.

They obliterated us off the start. Sitting in 2 seat, I could detect the stern of their boat moving deeper and deeper into my peripheral vision with each stroke. 300 meters into the piece they had taken nearly a length. By 600 down they were no longer in my vision. They had an open water lead very early in the 2000 meter race. Just like San Diego.

A funny thing about the high performing crews I've been with is that you develop the ability to feel what everyone is thinking. Yes, that's mystical. But the Force is real. (Our Bow man is like Yoda. Little. But the force is very, very strong with him.)

And at 700 down, I could feel my crew think. Thinking, "They're killing us. This is where most would resign to failure and just try to contain the damage." And then my crew thought "Fuck that."

Our cox did exactly what he should have. He focused us on short term goals. Not "Let's pull even", but "Let's take 5 strokes hard and move one seat back". We started taking fives. He told us we were moving. Which was good, because I still couldn't see them. So I didn't know whether he was telling us things to keep us from giving up, or whether we were really moving. It was unfair of me to think that, though. A cox doesn't lie to his crew. We need to know the truth, no matter how bleak. And Nick said we were moving.

At the halfway mark, he called the 15 for length and power that was in our race plan. We took it with the usual "row these 15 like they're the last strokes of the race" fearlessness that we do at the halfway mark.

After the move, I noticed that a boat had materialized next to us in my peripheral vision. We had gone from open water down to perhaps 5 seats down.

My first thought was that this was some kind of clever ruse by our opponents. They were letting us come back, and were then going to move out again, crushing our hope and breaking our spirit. But we had moved back a lot. Their cox would never let us get that much ground back. They must be fading.

One of the most satisfying calls one can hear from one's cox is the half sing-song, half battle cry "MOOOO-viiiing!" (Sung with the same pitch and tone as "Air-ball" in basketball.). It's half to encourage one's own crew that they're indeed moving on their opponent. It's also half to demoralize the opponent and to exacerbate the opponent's experience of the futility of their struggle. So when your cox makes that call, you've gotta back him up.

And Nick made that call. And we were moving. They had gone out too hard, didn't have the fitness to keep that pace for 2K, and were now paying the price. They were watching a fresh and vibrant opponent bring it while they had nothing left to fight with.

The only question: Were we to run out of race course? Would we catch them in time?

We hit 500 meters to go. No call for the sprint. We pulled even at 400 to go. Still no sprint call, still even.

Then an interruption in the cox's stream of speech that told me our stroke, a superhuman machine of Eastern Bloc heritage, was ordering us up.

And just like in San Diego, we pressed the legs harder, sped the hands away, sharpened the explosiveness in the instant our blades cut into the water, and we began to move.

The other crew began to move further and further into my field of view, at the same speed they had left it in the first 500.

I waited for them to surge back. I waited for them to find a way to stop our move. I expected them to stop the bleeding.

It never happened.

The margin widened, and our cox called last 15. He had to add another three, but it still didn't matter. I kept pulling till I heard the one sound I'd been looking for.


We crossed the line.

2 seconds.


They crossed the line.

We had just come back from open water down to beat, by 6 seats, the club that beat us with a healthy dose of ringers in San Diego two weeks prior.