Tuesday, 21 June 2011

There's No Place Like Home

We've made it home, safe and sound.  Coming full circle I have included photos of that darn oar box rolling off the plane!   Look closely at the condition of the box:  Great symbollism!  Like the box, we took some bumps and bruises, but ultimately this was an amazing experience!  To conclude, recent graduate Bridget Stevens has posted our last athlete post!  Thanks for following along with our trip!

BRIDGET STEVENS, Class of 2011

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Last Day in Henley

Today was the last day of racing at Women's Henley.  We finished our trip with a final practice down the course at 7AM followed by a return to our old stomping grounds: The Henley Rowing Club.  How long ago last week feels!!!  We derigged the boats said our farewell to our friends there, and then headed out to watch the racing.  The weather was its usual rain/sun combo, but the clouds eventually cleared with the last race of the day...an irony not lost on the crowds that have suffered through the elements during this three day regatta.  The TRC was eliminated in the semi-final by the eventual winner of our 8 event Nereus Boat Club (Dutch).  We did have opportunity to cheer for fellow Americans in the Final.  Purdue University put up a great fight throughout all of the rounds, but fell short of the title against that very quick Dutch boat! 

We finished the day with a wonderful meal together, glad to be going home but sad the experience is over.  Despite the trials and tribulations I believe each member of this Grand Adventure will carry few regrets.  It has been a once in a lifetime trip none will forget.  We appreciate everyone's support during the last two weeks and during the many months of preparation.  It has been an amazing team effort of athletes, coaches, parents, alumni, and fellow administrators.  You have the gratitude of all who have had the privilege to be here.

Please stay tuned for one more post.  Bridget Stevens, Class of 2011 and now officially eligible for the HOCR Alumni boat has promised to share her thoughts on the trip.  We hope to hear from her in the next day or so.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Gladitorial Arena

We have heard the term "Gladitorial" frequently during our stay.  The definition of this word highlights the central theme of combat.  For all of the civility and incredible hospitality we've encountered, this rowing nation revels in the primal aspects of this sport.  Two opponents waged against each other in a test of strength, skill, and will.  Upon reflection, I suppose that for all of the idyllic sunrises, team bonding, physical and mental wellness we derive from rowing, it is the thrill of competition that keeps many of us enraptured by our sport. 

The outcome of combat:

The Four: 

I couldn't have been more pleased with the four.  This group; Jessica Prashaw, Brooke Cotta, Olivia Durand, Liz Audet and Dominique Throop have become affectionately known as the Fabulous Four.  All first year-students, four of the women had never rowed prior to September 2010.  They have learned an incredible amount during this year, but at the end of the day "experience" is not something you can learn, it is something you must live.  Entered in the Senior 4+, an event that captures many post-college/pre-elite rowers, our freshmen saw an end to their Henley experience with a gutsy race against York City Rowing.  They understood they needed to row beyond their limits and swung for the grandstands.  They lead the race early but ultimately were overtaken by experience.  They never gave in, and forced York City to earn the privilege to progress into Saturday's racing.  The final verdict was 2 lengths! 

An interesting post-script to yesterday's race.  As I wandered the course today many individuals inquired about the progression of the four.  Many saw the race from the start and presumed we had progressed.  Ed Hewitt, from row2k approached me and indicated he had a great shot of the four "bending" the oar off the catch.  Ironically a focus during the last month!  He claimed he hadn't seen bend  like this since the days of wooden oars!  A great indication of the role these athletes will play in the many years ahead!  Here is the link to the photo:


The Eight:
In my 20 years of coaching this race stands as one of the most memorable and frustrating.  This race epitomized the meaning of Gladitorial, providing a great lesson for myself and the entire crew.  To start, we drew Thames Rowing Club.  This is the largest rowing club in all of London and has a reputation as a very strong club.  They won the Senior 8 last week in Reading so we anticipated a difficult race....little did we know.  Off the start our 8 held even and Coach Pat (riding the umpires launch) felt we may have had a slight lead.  A clean start!  Within 10 strokes our opponent began to press towards the center line, encroaching into our lane and making the wooden barrier that runs the entire length of the course feel even closer.  For those who have not been to Henley you must picture our buoyed course only two lanes wide.  Replace the harmless plastic floating buoys with wooden pylons extending 5 feet out of the water.  Then fasten floating telephone poles between each pylon on the outside of the two lanes and remove the center line separating the crews.  The gladiator's arena is now set.  As the Thames Rowing Club continued to push our coxswain closer and closer to the outside edge of the course the referee continued to command Thames Rowing Club back to their lane.  He failed to yield, making no noticeable attempt to reduce the pressure on our coxswain, Emily.  We trailed only slightly at the 500.  The combat continued, the lane continued to narrow, and then the inevitable happened.  In an ongoing effort to avoid starboard clashing of oars with our opponent we collided with the pylons on the port side.  We limped through a few strokes, Thames moved to a two length lead, and held this distance for the remainder of the race.  The verdict was two lengths. Thames ended the day with one of the fastest time of the day and progressed to race on Saturday.  We lodged a protest, and while the Umpires reprimanded their coxswain harshly, claimed they "should" disqualify them, the disqualification never came.  Such is the life of our gladiators!   It was a very difficult circumstance but our women handled the situation with the poise and grace you would expect of this group. 

Below are some photos.  I also encourage you to read the HWR coverage at http://www.row2k.com/.  There are some great photo galleries and excellent synopsis of days racing.

I post any final observations from the athletes tomorrow.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Eve Before Henley

We are in the final countdown to start time for the big event.  Women's Henley commences tomorrow at 10AM with a variety of qualifying rounds.  Fortunately we do not have a qualifier and are scheduled to compete in the Senior 4 and Senior 8 tomorrow at 12:40 and 1:10 respectively.  We have all earned enormous respect for the quality of the crews that we mingle with each day.  Adjacent to our boat rack is the Princeton Varsity, winner of the V8 at this year's NCAA DI Championship and the the British U23 National Team 8.  The learning opportunity has been valuable, but tomorrow it is time to demonstrate how much progress has been made.  We face Thames Rowing Club in the 8 and York City Rowing in the 4, two strong programs that will demand our best performances.  I will update you tomorrow!

I will let Gabby Demac share a bit about our race preparation day.

GABBY DEMAC, Class of 2014

They say “if you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a minute.” Well, if you don’t like the weather here in England then that is just too bad because here, as we continued to experience today, the weather went from rainy and cold to beautiful and sunny then back to pouring. Conveniently though, it only decided to rain while we had practice so it didn’t spoil our free time in which most of us spent napping…inside. Before we returned to the house for our routine snack and nap, we stopped at the farmers market (or as I called it, the fish market) that had come to town to look at fun souvenirs and buy some tasty bakery treats.
There isn’t much else to say about today’s events. We had very successful and productive rows in preparation for our big weekend followed by a delicious team dinner we cooked ourselves. Now, as I finish up here, all 14 girls are relaxing, reading, and preparing for the races. We’ve progressed so much over the course of this year and season alone and I couldn’t be happier to be on such a strong, motivated and amazing team! Wish us luck!

Macauley's thoughts on Henley

MACAULEY KENNEY, Class of 2013

Well I don’t think I can compete with the novel the Fabulously Fresh Four posted (plus there’s a movie right now in the background) so I’ll keep this short. Today, in what we’re learning to discover is true English fashion, the weather pulled a 180 from yesterday- 90 degrees and sunny- and was morosely gray and rainy. Despite this the other women’s teams have started to arrive in Henley in preparation for the weekend, and the traffic on the river is unbelievable. It’s such an incredible change to be surrounded by so many crews (although all the distractions are making it a bit harder to keep our heads in the boat) and the race mindset is definitely starting to set in. Both the four and the eight are starting to get prepared for Friday, and in our down time we’re all trying to get the most out of the last few days in England. In addition to napping, of course, which may be the team’s favorite activity. Every day after practice there’s a mass rush towards food, and then an almost synchronized crash onto couches and floors as we all fall asleep. 
I promised to keep this brief (and I’m three minutes past the time coach wanted this sent in) so I’ll wrap up. Racing is in two days and we are without a doubt ready for it- wish us luck and we’ll be back on the other side of the pond soon!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A New Voice from England - Coach Pat

From Coach Pat:
Henley-on-Thames:  Where modern rowing was born.

Even for those following the blog who are old rowers like me, understanding the mystique of Henley requires that you visit here at least once.  Henley, and other River Thames towns have rowing roots older than our United States.  The history and tradition is amazing.  For a rower, the river can be absolutely magical at times.  Our hosts at the Henley Rowing Club have been extremely gracious and accommodating.  I asked if I could row a club single or double sometime and without the slightest hesitation they set me up with all the needed equipment to explore the Thames around Henley and invited me to use the equipment whenever I wished, following a few simple club rules of course.  The rowing contingency at HRC is several hundred strong and they row often and all are skilled rowers of all ages from 10 to 100.  Last week, Linda and I took out a double for a tour of the race course from the water. The weather was a bit windy but still nice enough as we swung down around Temple Island.  It was neat being out there.  Yesterday the weather was delightful and I launched a club single from HRC at about 630 AM with one or two other club members in the early morning sunshine, but many row in the afternoon (no power boat issues here).    As I swung down the course and past Temple Island with a good steady state swing, the still water, beautiful English countryside, mist rising off the river and fields, and a slight hint of wood smoke on the damp air was an intense experience for all of my senses....spiritual really.  I am thankful that I am here with our team.  It is truly a rowing mecca where excellent rowing is expected rather than an exception, and it has been a privilege to experience it while representing WPI.  Someday, I will return, only then I will know where to find those gemlike pubs off the beaten path, which platform to be on to catch the Twyford train from Reading, which side of the car to get in on, and I will know not to rent a car with manual transmission.  My morning coffee (with milk not cream) is "takeaway", not "to go", I need to order my meal at the bar, and to "mind the gap" while exiting a train.  I will also never forget the charm, hospitality and good cheer of our English hosts which has been truly memorable.  Cheers!     
More photos from our semi-pro team photographer, Coach Pat -


Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Practice Days

Monday and Tuesday have been two practice days, and as such have been relatively uneventful.  Both boats practiced once yesterday, leaving time for some sightseeing.   The four practiced early and then made their way to Oxford University to see this historic college town. The eight opted to practice in the evening, leaving the entire morning and afternoon for another trip to London. 

Today was back to double sessions.  We made several line-up changes to the four and settled on a new combination with Brooke as our new stroke seat.  Other than the fact that Brooke towers over our coxswain, Jess, and completely obstructs her view, this new line-up has potential!  Both boats did steady state with drills and short power pieces in the a.m. and finished the evening with a piece down the race course.  The rowing has improved significantly and  both boats are rowing better than at any point this seasoin.  We hope it will be enought! 

We finished the day landing at our new home for the rest of the stay.  We are no longer boating from the Henley Rowing Club, as the race venue has officially opened.  We were amongst the first to arrive and were greeted by American crews such as Princeton and Purdue. We look forwared to the next several days as the other teqmw arrive and the competitive atmosphere continues to develop!

Below is Caitlin Heindl's contribution to the Blog writing about Monday's activiities.  I will attempt to do an update of photos with tomorrow's posting.  Be sure to check back as we have some great shots to share.

CAITLIN HEINDL, Class of 2013

We all relaxed today, having a short practice and being tourists. In the eight, most of us (Suz wasn't feeling so hot earlier in the day :/) went into London and saw the changing of the guard and walked down Portobello Road. It was fun, for the changing of the guard a local tipped us that everyone mistakes the first passing of guards to be the the ones changing, so while everyone followed them we got in front of the crowd to watch the new guards walk by. It was interesting to see how many people were there to watch, as it is something that occurs every day. Portobello Road was cute, we stopped by lots of shops and looked at antiques. We were baffled by several small stands selling clothes for 5 pounds (about $8) that probably would have sold for at least $15-20 in the US. We later had practice, a quick row working on blade work at high speeds. Unlike our cold, wet weekend, the weather was beautiful today. A little cloudy in the morning, it cleared up nicely in the evening. We were also surprised to see another crew traveling to Henley while we were on the train. They had brought their oars on the train with them, and carried them with them as they walked through town (we were happy to have been able to send ours on a plane). All in all a good start to the week, hoping the weather holds out for us and looking forward to racing on Friday!