Now that the 2021 Winter training season has neared its end, I thought that it would be the perfect time to look back on the highlights of my first rowing seasons... Some of the things, like the races, I already wrote about in previous posts, but there are other things that I haven't until now.
For me, it all started after more than a year in self-isolation, when after moving from Florida and seeking something to do, my Mami asked me if I would be interested in rowing. At the time, I just wanted to go out and do something, so I said yes and just a few short days later, I found myself participating in a week-long summer rowing camp.
The first day we learned how to row and practiced our strokes on the water, but never left the dock. It was super hot and I barely had any time rowing, but I was excited to get out on the river! Then the next day we pushed off the dock and spent some time out on the water, and although it was still hot, I instantly knew that I loved the sport!
On the fifth and final day of the camp, after learning all of the basics, we had a little race, with three short sprints, where my eight won one of them! In the moment, I knew that we weren't that good - few of us were in sync and the boat rocked from side to side a lot - but looking back on these races, I can see already that we've made some big improvements, like the fact that I haven't been hit in the back with an out-of-time oar again.
That day, I was surprised when Tia Alicia and Madelyn came along to cheer me on! I was on the water when I looked up and thought that I recognized them, and it turns out that I was right! My little sister, Ariana, is on the left, my cousin, Madelyn is in the middle, and I'm on the right.
But before the day was over, Coach had us row a "Power Ten" on the ergs to look at our wattage - I have no idea what mine was :) Then he gave us our Row Huntsville T-shirts, and later that day, he told my Mami that I had made the competitive travel team!
So, the next day, I went back to Ditto Landing for my first practice as part of the team!
But my official first day of practice wasn't until around a month or so later. Being sometime at the beginning of last autumn, and because so many things have happened since, I don't recall what we did exactly, but around that time period we had a mile run test, and considering that I'm not a runner, it was absolute torture! My time, along with that of some of my other teammates, was so bad that I'm not sure if Coach wrote it down or simply lost it later on. Regardless, the season went on with many practices on the water, trying out several different types of boats, with most of them being quads or doubles, since there weren't enough girls for our own eight. Lucky for me, I prefer sculling over sweeping, so I'm happy with both these types of boats.
I'm also happy that Coach has teamed Laney and I in a double, as we've gotten along great and I hope that she keeps us together, as I really like this pairing! At races we chat a lot on our way to the starting line, same as when we have time to spare, so I'm going to work hard to make sure that she keeps us together! I don't think that a better partner for me does or ever will exist!
This picture below is also from one of my first days of practice, and no, we are not out of time...we're heading out to the main part of the river and I'm not rowing at all, but instead just helping to keep the boat balanced.
For the first part of the fall season, carrying the boats to and from the water was probably trickier for me than actually rowing due to my lack of upper-body strength, but I got better at it throughout the season...
Our practices were 5 times a week, and during weekdays they took place after school, but on the weekends, we woke up very early to get to the marina, warm-up, and get out on the water while the sun was still low. We don't go out when it's too foggy, but once we did go out when there was some on the water...it was like an adventure movie, as, watching from the guys' eight, I saw the quad disappear into the fog, and I was told later on that the view of the eight was similar...the only thing missing was the music!
Bad weather doesn't stop us either...unless it's a serious storm, we still went out to practice...like this day, when the rain caused us to do a land-based workout on the pavilion instead. If I had to guess, I'd say that we dragged those ergs about a quarter or third of a mile from the boat enclosure to the pavilion just up a small hill.
Once, we were out on the water when it was pretty choppy, and when we were far upstream and about to turn back, it started raining and we had to battle larger waves and a headwind on our way to the dock! Laney and I were in the double then, and she said that the day's weather resembled what rowing on the ocean would be like!
There's also that day when we worked out at the pavilion, when it started to drizzle, so we exercised under the roof. But it wasn't long before lighting and thunder ensued, and without warning, the rain picked up so much that we could barely see anything in front of us! The wind also picked up, so we started getting wet even under the gazebo, so practice was cut short, and it was mayhem as we all ran towards our cars for safety!
One of the things that I love about Ditto Landing, the marina where we practice, is the nature around there. It's really green, and even though litter is present, the local scenery is still really peaceful and I enjoy going there!
And on calm, sunny days, the water is quite peaceful. But once I was given the chance to coxswain, or for the non-rowers, command and steer, the eight. A fellow teammate explained how to steer, saying to pull on a certain cord to go right, and on another to go left, but I later discovered that those instructions were false. I learned that the hard way, as I nearly crashed the boat into those very rocks pictured below, because the opposite was true. I had to push on the cord, not pull, but luckily, two more experienced rowers at the rear managed to get us clear of the rocks and away from the currents, and Coach explained the right way to steer. Afterwards, I think I did a pretty good job as a coxswain!
Another great thing about Ditto is all the wildlife that's there; especially ducks and geese such as these! I've even seen some tiny ducklings, what I believe to be a bald eagle, and perhaps an otter or beaver (I didn't get a clear look). My Mami is also pretty sure that she's seen an otter there, and she's also seen cardinals and woodpeckers during her walks waiting for me.
Among that wildlife, there'll also be times when we stumble across animals that don't belong there, which has happened once during my time at Row Huntsville. This event took place November 1st, 2021, when, loading the trailer for our final race of the season, I met River. River, is a duckling that I saw from across the street, and one of the first things that I noticed about him (or perhaps "her") was that he had a limp, and after he wandered into the crowd, I also noticed that he only had down feathers, and so was still a young duck and could not fly. He was also calling out for his mother, who was nowhere to be seen, and unafraid of strangers, coming up to us and not being cautious when crossing the road...
Thinking about all of these things, I decided that he would not be safe out by himself, so I went up to my Mami's car and told her that there was a duck that needed help. Being an animal lover like me, she was confused about the situation (I wasn't very clear when I told her - I was trying to be brief because I was afraid River would venture away from us) but didn't hesitate to follow me to where River was. She tried to grab him using her sweater, but in the end, it was Laney who caught him and handed him to Mami. Then, after practice was over (only a few minutes were left), Mami and I placed River in a pet carrier that we had in the car (Mami had rescued a stray cat whom she named "Tiger", just a few days prior) and took him home with us. We spent the majority of the car ride home thinking about names for him that were gender-neutral, and of course, we decided on "River".
In fact, it was a good thing that we did rescue him, as we later found out that River was actually a domestic duck, so it would be dangerous for him if we'd left him!
After bringing River home, Mami gave him a quick bath while I set out a bowl of water and lettuce for him, along with a blanket so that he would be nice and warm that night. I didn't see what happened when he had his shower, but there was a lot of laughter coming from the bathroom that night (according to Mami, River kept drinking the water that came down her leg and his bill tickled!). Well, that and the sound of his cute little webbed feet padding along the tub floor.
It was funny when my Daddy came out from his room that night, watching his expression change when he saw that we had a duck in our living room! Boy was he surprised!
Then the next day I woke up to a strange sound, which I then found out was River's bill clanging against the metal food bowls as he splashed around the water!
Knowing that we were looking for a new home for River and that he wouldn't have much time with him, I spent the entire day with him, and once, River decided to hop out of his blanket "nest" and out onto my lap, where he pecked at the strings on my pajama pants, which tickled a lot, as did the scratches that he left as he climbed on my leg!
Later that day, we brought River to the Greater Huntsville Humane Society where one of the volunteers was waiting to pick him up; she'd agreed to be his foster. It was heartbreaking for me, and I cried as we gave him away, but I know that it was what was best for him, and we were recently updated that he has found his forever home!
This picture to the right was sent to us by River's foster and was his adoption photo, said to be his "glamor shot". He's all grown up now!
For more pictures of this sweet duck, you can visit my post "River the Rescued Duck".
Before our first race, we had to give the boat trailer a makeover, as it was rusted with many scrapes on the paint, and the floor was nothing more than some warped and flimsy old boards. So one day the team got together to paint it, which was a lot of fun (I enjoy climbing the racks) and when we were done, Coach added some nice flooring to it! It looks a lot better now :)
Of course, racing was a big part of the rowing season, as every aspect of practice was to improve our racing... My first ever regatta was the Music City Head Race in Nashville, Tennessee.
When I got there, my Daddy, Ariana, and I went to look for my team while Mami went to look for a parking spot. With so many trailers present, it was a bit tricky, but I eventually found them and helped Laney unload our boat and put the riggers on. We were the only two girls that would be racing at that event, so we decided to stick together!
The guys would be racing before us, so we hung out in the team tent with Mackenzie, another teammate of ours that came for support, but not to race. I'd brought some blank paper and a pen, so we played a few games like hang man and 20 questions. I also brought a Greyston Bakery vegan cinnamon roll blondie for each of them, which they both liked! But after a while we decided to head up to the pedestrian bridge to watch the boats that were coming in. When we were up there, it started drizzling, and before we knew it, the rain was coming down fast so we returned to our tent.
Due to this rain, the races were postponed and most of our team, and multiple parents too, joined us in the tent while we waited for the rain to die out.
Before long, the racing continued and by the end of the day, Laney and I had completed our first race together!
Our next race had better weather, and also ended up being the first race that I medaled in! It was the Secret City Head Race near Knoxville, and this time, the turnout of our team's girl rowers was a lot better!
Being a little further away, we stayed at the team hotel for this race. It was nice seeing my teammates when we left the next morning, and supposedly there was somewhat of a party in the lobby around 10pm (I was in the room by 9)! Some of them were waiting because they thought that Coach would want to have a meeting, but instead there were races down the stairs because evidently, a meeting was not on Coach's mind...next time I'll join in on this fun :)
After Mami dropped me off with my team and then went to park, Coach told us to follow him and so we helped unload the snacks and other items from his pickup. I don't remember who exactly said it, but she said that we must look like zombies by the way that we were climbing up the side of the car :) Then, Mami later told me that after she returned to where she'd left me, she got nervous after seeing that I wasn't there and asked my other Coach if she'd seen me, to which she explained that I was with Coach Coy and the rest of the team.
While we waited for our turn to race, the team stayed by the trailer, sometimes going to our second tent a little further away to get a snack. That's when we came up with our team's "family tree"; it's a really complicated one too! I'm not sure if a copy of it survived or not, but I do remember that my "parents", which I think were Hayden and Zoe, whom I also think were sisters, filed for divorced. Some were also married twice, and a complicated part of this family tree that I remember clearly, is that Laney was married to "Mr. Bones", a small plastic skeleton that's a Halloween decoration of mine, and their child was Jacob, Laney's dog. It gets even more complicated, as Mr. Bones and Jacob are also Laney's parents, so we're still debating, what came first, Laney or Jacob? Feel free to comment your opinion...
Anyways, we went on to racing, and when Laney and I got to the starting line, we realized that the other three boats in our race were all from the same team...North Carolina was our nemesis that day! By the time we crossed the finishing line, we had left one of them in our wake, ending in third and beating the last boat by over a minute!
Meanwhile, Mami and Ariana watched, and poor Ariana was tired and chilly...
In the image below, we're waiting for Coach to present the medals, and I'm personally very proud of mine :) I'll have it displayed in my future room as the first medal that I've won rowing, and the first one that I feel that I truly earned.
Before the Head of the Hooch in Chatanooga, one of the largest regattas in North America and our final race of the season, we had to load the trailer, as always, but this time Mami took a picture of us doing it :) When we load the trailer we have to remove the riggers, store them under the racks, with a net over them to keep them from flying off, and secure the boats to the racks. The last thing that we need is a boat flying off the trailer while traveling at 70mph on the highway, possibly taking out a few cars as it does!
Like our other races, the Hooch was really exciting! I think that Laney and I could have done better, but unfortunately, near the starting line, there was a bit of a traffic jam, with what I guess could very well have been a hundred boats, most of them being doubles. We got to chat with some of the other doubles from our race, like one double that came from Florida, and even though we'd be enemies in the race, they seem very nice! The reason that this traffic was a problem for us, is because we got stuck near the shore, in a shadow, so our muscles cooled down, and at least for me, rowing like that was torture and my lungs burned near the beginning! By the end of our 5K we had good form and speed, but I nearly threw up as soon as we were done!
There are other things that happened throughout the Fall season, but I don't have pictures for everything that happened, and I'm also not sure of when they happened.
Leaving your oars on the dock is one of the worst things that you can do in rowing, aside from crashing or dropping the boat, since they're surprisingly very expensive. That's why the penalty for doing this is pretty great. I myself haven't left my oars on the dock, but once, the girl's quad did, and one day, Coach made them pay that penalty by completing 200 "jumpies" when we were done with the day's practice. I had to help them count the jumpies, and "just for fun", Coach made me do 20 as well. It might have been fun for Coach but not for me!
And speaking of crashing, we did once, when I was in the quad with Laney, Zoe, and Mackenzie. We were coming in after a day of practice out on the water, and in doing so, we turned a bit late and ended up brushing against the branches of a tree filled with spiders. They were just grand-daddy long legs, but I think that I might have a mild case of arachnophobia, so it wasn't a pleasant experience, especially when half a dozen of them crawled onto the boat.
Then, at the Hooch, as I mentioned earlier, there was a sort of traffic jam at the starting line, and one of those boats was the double of Allie and Hayden, who are on our team. They saw us before we saw them, and as our boat approached theirs, Allie shouted something at us, and I don't recall her exact words, but the message was something like she would stab us if we crashed into them. Of course, it was all jokingly, but when Laney and I heard that, we didn't know where it came from nor who had said it, so as far as we knew, someone was threatening us, and it could have been one of the U17 doubles, or one of the adults that were there too. When we realized that it was Allie, we started laughing and wished each other luck in the race!
Prior to the Hooch, following one of our practices, Laney and I had docked and were getting everything set to lift the boat out of the water, when my sunglasses suffered a horrible fate. I leaned over to tie the seats down with a bungie when my sunglasses fell off of the collar of my shirt where I had placed them and hit the boat. Upon impact, one of the lenses popped out! I then put the lens in my pocket and the frame back where it had been, but when I leaned back over, failing to learn from previous mistakes, the frame fell off again, landing in the water. I finished what I needed to do, but was disappointed with myself because I hate littering, but then I looked down in the water and saw the outline of my sunglasses! After stretching my arm into the river, with the water level being halfway from my elbow to shoulder, I grabbed my sunglasses and realized that an underwater plant (or I hope it was a plant - it resembled seaweed and was slimy, but the water was murky so I'm not sure) had caught them, so I was not responsible for litter anymore! They got disposed of properly :)
Then began the winter training season. Overall, it was pretty uneventful, and most days consisted of rowing on the erg, including 2K tests, weights, running, and some other exercises. We did stations on most days, where we were divided into teams and each team had to complete certain tasks together, like erg for 10 minutes while the others completed a list of weights, box jumps, lunges, and the like. For me, running, amongst other things, was painful, and one day I crossed a small wooden bridge that was slightly wet, and my shoes lacked proper traction, so inevitably, I slipped and hurt both my tailbone and wrist. Another day, we were all running outside on the grass, and after running back and forth a few times, my foot found an invisible hole, tripping me, and nearly spraining my ankle (honestly, I'm surprised that it didn't - if I recall correctly, I saw my ankle bend 90 degrees, but when everything goes so fast, it's easy to imagine certain details like that).
Today was a day of winter training, where we did a relay race on the erg, with each of us rowing a fraction of a 2K (not to brag but my team won). We also did the stations, with all 11 of us that were present being divided into 3 age-based teams, and the 3 stations were rowing on the erg for 8 minutes, weights, and high-intensity exercises. Afterwards, we ran from one side of the gym to the other until Coach said to stop.
Also, during the winter training season, one of the guys from the team, Patrick, was asking for help for a Ditto Landing beautification project, so both Laney and I helped out (I stole all of the pictures of this project from Patrick's Instagram account :)
Here's a picture from before we did any work....
...and this is after we were done!
As you can see from this picture, we dug out the weeds and some dirt, spread out the mulch, and created a barrier of rocks around the mulch! It honestly looks a lot better now, and the light drizzle that we worked in was quite refreshing!
I'm excited to get back out on the water and start the spring season, and I hope that it's just as fun as the last fall season!