I have mentioned before that Maurizio and I are attempting to start the first real rowing team in Colombia. There is a club in Medellin that hosts a number of water sports and owns a few rowing boats, but as far as we can tell, it is just recreational rowing. Our plan is not only to produce competitive rowers, but to take them to competitions in the United States and elsewhere. In order to achieve this dream, we have been in at the process of acquiring used equipment from the US and having it shipped here. This has put us in touch with all sorts of people in rowing communities, from Jamie Stack on the Cooper River to Robert Englehardt of Pioneer Valley to Bob Klinger of Klinger Engineering, and recently we have also become good friends with Tom Feaster of US Rowing. It was Tom who invited us to Tampa near the end of March, to pitch our idea to 25 members of US Rowing, and to participate in the Tampa Mayor's Cup while we were there.
We debated for a long time, because I could not take off from work, so it would have to be just a weekend visit. We had also been invited to row in a double, which is a difficult boat to manage if you have never done it before. I had rowed one once, during my undergraduate days, and Maurizio had never been in one. However, the timing was good, because that Monday was a holiday, and the opportunity to spread the idea to officials from US Rowing seemed an excellent one, so ultimately we booked the flights and prepared ourselves to go. Tom was thrilled, and he began immediately to tell everyone that his regatta was now international!
|Hello, Old Sport|
After a quick breakfast of Raisin Bran and coffee in Tom's kitchen, we followed him over to the Hillsborough River, a beautiful expanse of water that runs from the Green Swamp to an outlet on Tampa Bay. It was a lovely morning, dark but warm, with the promise of a stunning sunrise on the horizon. There were lots of boat trailers on the gravel next to the grassy park, and a number of blue-clad rowers from Tom's team, the Stewards Foundation, were warming up on ergometers and setting out food on tables inside the boathouse. Tom introduced us to the high school coach, Mike, and to some of the parents and masters rowers on the team, including a Colombian lady and her daughter, and two of the rowers we would be racing later in the day. We had hoped we would get a chance to practice in the double before the actual race, but Mike informed us that there were no spare sculling oars to be had. I spent about 45 minutes asking all of the high school rowers what it was like to row a double, and what advice they would give to newbies--some of them were highly encouraging, while others laughed and said, "just try not to flip over!"
|See the Colombian flag??|
Around midday we went back to the boathouse to prepare ourselves to row. We were given a Wintech double and some brand-new Concept II oars, though I have to say we did not much enjoy the latter. They had those hard-plastic handles that make grip nearly impossible if your hands are even slightly wet, and in that Floridian humidity, we were sweating from every part of our bodies before we even got to the start line! Once we were off the dock without flipping over, I became extremely nervous about steering us properly through the course. I kept stopping abruptly to change our point, and we would clash blades. I think Maurizio was a bit frustrated with me, because of course he was all calm confidence and had no doubt that we could go straight and fast the whole way. Practice proved otherwise, and after narrowly making it through the fourth bridge we found ourselves accidentally out in the middle of a wide bay where we were probably not supposed to be. A US Rowing official sped over in his boat and called out with a heavy Australian accent, "there's always one. I guess that's you guys." We discovered that the other person in his boat was actually Steve Boyce, from whom we had purchased a double a few weeks earlier (which the wonderful Chris from Penn AC transported up to Massachusetts for us). We briefly said hello and told him who we were, and then they showed us where to turn (a tricky business in that windy bay!), and we made our way to the start line.
|Catching a crab at 250 meters to the finish|
Wait...what? A speedboat? In the lane which our competitors had been using moments before? Apparently it had ignored the marshals’ request not to come up the race course, and they had no legal power to stop it. The surprise was such a shock that we stopped rowing again, and the wake rocked us about dangerously. Once more, we had to restart, and this time we managed to stay roughly on-course, but we had fallen behind the two boats immediately next to us. There was one more in the far lane, and we were still ahead of them, so it became our goal to maintain that lead. The race was only 1,000 meters long, but we had time to suffer one more incident about twenty strokes to the finish line. We were passing the dock from which our friend Tom was announcing the race, and I made the mistake of saying cheerfully to Maurizio that we were “at the dock,” which he misinterpreted as us having crossed the finish line. He stopped and turned to look, and we caught a major crab on the stroke side which almost dumped us into the river (Tom later told us he thought we were done for at that point!). Fortunately, we were able to recover and cross the line, AHEAD of that final boat. So, we had successfully rowed in a double, had NOT capsized, and had not come last in our race. A major achievement! (The boat we beat contained the two women we had met earlier in the day, and they were not particularly happy, because they knew we were complete novices in a double.)
|Maurizio and me with Tom Feaster|
|The organisers of the event|
(I'll tell about the rest of our trip in the next post!)