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Athens Here I Come
by Alexis Chartouni
posted on December 4, 2002

This little rowing misadventure begins with a Saturday night out on the town with some friends, a few gin and tonics too many, and a woozy feeling of: "I think that I'm forgetting something" as my head hit the pillow at about 3am.

I eventually woke up at 9.20, to realize (and I quote): "f#$&, it's Head of the Lake, and my race starts at 10.10!" I jammed a banana inside me (the last brown one that I had been avoiding all week), threw on the all black Social Club gear (I race as the Seattle Social Club - for obvious reasons), broke a few traffic laws motoring to the boat house, jumped into a boat, got held up at the dock (boat traffic), and finally made it to the starting line just as my event, the open single, was getting started.

Now, usually when this sort of thing happens to me (which is often), my aim is simply not to come in last. This time, however, was different. This was my sixth time in a single in as many months; I had a very fine hangover; I had carbo-voided the evening before; and hadn't slept nearly as much as I would have liked. I was under no illusion that my natural athletic ability would be able to overcome the paired adversities of alcohol in my veins and a rather attractive beer belly at my waist.

Some who find themselves in this situation adopt a 'hell for leather' approach, hoping to see how far they get before expiring. I, however, had far loftier aspirations: my goal was to cross the finish line before any of the women (who were starting 3 to 4 minutes behind me) managed to overtake me.

And so the race began. My number was called, and I hit the starting line hammering comfortably along at an 18. One guy overtook me in the first few meters (you know who you are, and I know where you live…), and then there was no one for a while. Emptiness. I settled into a nice race pace of 18, sometimes dropping down to 17 or 16 as things got boring. Which was, in fact, pretty quickly.

And as I cruised along, I'd smile at the cheering masses, chit-chatting a little here with a pretty one, giving a "how you doin'" there as another hottie entered my peripheral vision. As I could honestly think of nothing more boring than watching ME row a head race at 10 in the morning on a cold Sunday in Seattle, I would drop the odd quip merely to entertain. Not that I actually knew any of these people, but you get the picture: they were there; I was there; and god knows I wasn't exactly breathing hard.

And through all of this, way, way off in the distance I could see a little gray speck on the horizon.

Never the less, I will be the first to admit that I was starting to get a touch tired (too much talking, I think). Some high school/college kid was struggling at a super high rating and was slowly overtaking me. Kudos to him, he beat a guy with a bitching hangover. Some old dude was banging away at his oars and went by on the other side. And some overzealous chap was criss-crossing behind me trying to figure out which side he could overtake me on. I started to mess with him a little (I just wanted to make him work a little harder) and managed to make him steer a very nice zigzag course until he finally made it past me with a shout of "which way are you going?" Cruel, I know, but that's head racing…

As you can tell, I was starting to enjoy things a little. But way off in the distance, that speck was slowly taking shape: it was the first of the ladies from the open women's single. "Nothing to worry about," I thought, "just a girl, after all. AND I'm already at the half way mark."

So, I don't know if you are familiar with the Head of the Lake, but at a green channel buoy, the course makes a sweeping (the organizers calling it sweeping; it is, in fact, a hairpin) turn to port. This turn had been niggling at me since, oh, I stepped on a map on the floor of the boat bay prior to launching, and realized that there was a turn in the course. I caught sight of a green metal thing out of the corner of my eye and started making the turn. Only it was the wrong buoy, I had another 200m or so to the right one, and had to crank it back onto the racecourse. On my return, I saw that young whippersnapper fighting to get his single to pull away from me. Now I was motivated: I had to reel this kid back in. I looked down at my speed coach, saw (oops) a 15, and decided I had better bring it up a touch.

15½. Now that was better, suddenly I was flying. I had reached a moment of rowing nirvana: 'swing.'

But this gray speck was growing, and slowly taking on some color. Visible was a nice blue unit suit, maybe splashed with a touch of red, and I think I might have even caught a hint of white. "But," I thought to myself, "she's miles away, and oh look, here's that channel marker."

And, as elegantly as can be expected from a ragged fat guy with a hangover exhausted by the first 15 minutes of the race, I started cranking it around the turn, intent on cutting things as tight as possible. Bang! Got it, the first marker buoy. Ok, lets find the next one: Bang! Got that one as well, things are coming along nicely. Crap, missed the last one, ok and now for the home stretch (deceptively so mislabeled to lead one to believe that the finish line is 'just a few strokes' away.)

So at this point I'm thinking to myself: "Ok, I've had a nice Sunday row, maybe its time to really break a sweat, and just see if a 19 or 20 is possible. Oh, look at that, it is! But it's so tiring." I dropped things back to a venerable 17, deciding to bring it up again at the last marker instead, about 30 strokes from the finish line.

But this woman is gaining on me. And the damnedest thing was, I couldn't see any other women anywhere near her. What the hell was going on? Fortunately, she was still far enough away, and I wasn't stressing. After all, it wasn't far to the finish line, I had a bitchingly athletic sprint lined up in but a few strokes, and I was in Seattle. People just don't get stressed in Seattle.

Then it happened: CRAB! I got my oar stuck on some weeds coming up from the bottom. Being the accomplished sculler that I am, I got my crap back together again, carried on sculling, managed to dig up a few more water lilies, enjoyed two subsequent exceptionally classy crabs, righted myself, and got right back to it. I know, I know, no easy feat. But in certain circumstances, exceptional people do unexceptional things, and this was, most certainly, one of those times.

And as I was busy trying not to bury my oars too deep to avoid the marine flora (I am, after all, very ecologically minded), suddenly, THERE SHE WAS! Like a ghost ship coming at me full steam ahead, charging me make an otherwise forgettable Sunday truly memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.

I had no choice: it was sprint time.

I managed to bring the rating up all the way to a blinding 21, and was ripping on it. I was missing buckets, nay barrels, of water at the catch, and washing out at the finish like a Laundromat on a Sunday. Through all my death throe thrashing, I managed to rough up the water to such an extent that I believe I actually slowed my nemesis down somewhat (I doubt very much that I was going faster). And I was starting to really get tired. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw junior again, slowly getting reeled in.

Perhaps it was I going faster? After all I had the fear of god in me that I was about to be overtaken by a girl who started at least three minutes behind me.

And then, like a coup de grace, the finish line came. Bow to stern we crossed it, she and I (naturally I was in front). I had accomplished the impossible: I had snatched victory from the jaws of ignominy!

So it was that we sat at the finish line, bantering a little. I mumbled something along the lines of "sorry if I got in your way," to which she countered "no problem, great water isn't it?" And while I was thinking "ARE YOU #@$%#$% KIDDING ME? There's ripples at least an inch high on this lake, not to mention the man eating flora underneath it, and with that howling breeze it was all I could do to stay upright," all I managed was a feeble "yes, lovely," and started to get the hell away from this woman who had come so close to completely emasculating me.

And then the race to the dock began…

POSTSCRIPT

So here's the kicker: turns out that my racing nemesis was none other than Carol Skricki (sp?) wearing a fetching unisuit of red, white and blue (these colors don't run). How many people out there can claim to have crossed a finish line ahead of her? Not many, I assure you…

While my performance was abysmal, I was amazed to find that I did not manage to DFL. While I don't know how this is possible, there was some dude even worse than me out there. Life's little comforts…

And as a final thought, I offer you this: despite not being in any physical shape to go racing that day, I nonetheless feel that I got an awful lot more out of it than did most of my other competitors. My time was a lightening 23mins 26secs. Now, if you take into account the entry fee of $15, I ended up paying only about $0.64 per minute of racing, while the winner shelled out a whopping $0.78 per minute.

That's almost 25% more expensive on a unit cost basis.

Who do you think really came out the winner in this one?


Authored by Alexis Chartouni, a very macho less-than-part-time single sculler.



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