If you have spent any time at the SportsDock at UEL Docklands, you have probably seen between 1 and 4 loud women walking around in lycra wearing at least one article of burnt orange clothing. This is a very specific color; not rusty orange, not pumpkin orange, not construction orange. Burnt orange. As is the case for most people who went to my alma mater, this color signifies a pretty uncontrollable amount of school pride for The University of Texas at Austin. I graduated from UT in 2010.
In the three years between there and now, I was training full-time all over the country for the national rowing team in the United States. While I was doing that, three of my favorite teammates graduated in succession: Jennifer VanderMaarel in 2011, Felicia Izaguirre-Werner in 2012, and Laurel McCaig in May 2013. Somehow, we were all at the right place at the right time in our lives and we applied to UEL as a crew. After being awarded sports scholarships, everything seemed to happen smoothly, but now that I know Matt Tansley in person, I see that there was an impossible amount of what we call ‘cat herding’ in Texas: trying to get four totally unorganized women living in different places all over the world to get all their paperwork in on time, organized for travel (ever heard of a Visa?), and physically present in the city of London, was mania. Thankfully, we all made it in one piece (with more than a few pieces of luggage) and hit the ground running.
We started training immediately. The excitement of getting to row together for the first time in 3 years, living half way across the globe, and our naturally aggressive communication style resulted in one big, loud, giggling entity for the first couple of weeks on the water and in the gym. Cyril Cornet is our head coach and I am regularly impressed and appreciative of his patience and ability to laugh along side us. When the four of us are together, it is generally a good idea to steer clear, but people like Cyril, Matt, and our Strength & Conditioning coaches, Lee and Annie, come at us head-on and make sure we stay on task.
The first time we got to row a 4- (a coxswain-less, four-person, sweep boat) was one of the easiest experiences of my rowing career. It was hard to believe how quickly we settled into a rhythm and made the boat fly. It might have been too quickly, because the next day, Cyril had us in a different boat, intentionally taking us out of our element and challenging us to get a 4x (a coxswain-less, four-person, sculling boat) to move as well as the 4- did. This was equal parts frustrating and amusing. On one hand, we all had the mentality that we came to London to race and win in a 4-, a boat we are confident in and enjoy rowing. On the other hand, we are all competitive, adaptable athletes and Cyril knew we were capable of being fast in other boats. The ensuing mess was a great learning experience for all four of us. Patience with oneself and with the crew, body awareness and the ability to apply sweeping proficiency to sculling, and acceptance of the fact that at the end of the day, sculling can do nothing but help you get faster in every other class of boat. It balances the body as much as it stresses it, and forces you to keep your brain turned on for every stroke you take (which is not the case in a 4- when you can more or less go crazy).
Amidst 3 of the 4 of us revising our lower back injuries in the first few weeks of training, the physio Simon and the masseuse Amy kept us moving and let everyone else know what was going on from a medical standpoint. The communication system within the athletics department at UEL is incredible. No need to repeat yourself to every coach or explain why you shouldn’t do something a certain way: they know, and they have already planned something else to keep you on the mend, while preventing future injury. In addition to all of this consideration, Cyril arranged for us to have lactate testing a couple of weeks ago at the UEL Stratford campus. The Sports Science staff there spent several hours testing each of us on an ergometer, taking blood samples, monitoring heart rates, and providing us with the resulting data. This type of testing is huge for training in rowing because we spend a comparatively exponential amount of time rowing, lifting, and running around for a 2-kilometer race that takes less than 8 minutes. If we fail to train in the right heart-rate zone for any given workout over a training season, we run the risk of over-training or not being fit enough to perform. Neither of those is an option for a crew of women that came to UEL to win and set a high standard for the boat club.
Time is already flying by. It’s the 8th in 10 weeks of class before Christmas break and exams. London is a bustling city and we have a lot left to explore. Our first two competitions are this month: an indoor 2km race on the ergometer (BUCS Indoor Rowing Championships 2013) and a longer ‘head race’ style regatta (Head of the River Fours) in a 4+ (4-person sweep boat with a coxswain steering the course for us!). Both events will be a great opportunity to test our speed, both individually and as a crew. We have so much to look forward to in terms of racing, academic performance in our courses, and enjoying the experience. I will be blogging again early 2014 to let you know how everything went and when the UEL Boat Club will be racing again!