Oy! Here's the bad news... posted by: Trish Downing (September 1, 2011) What an experience this has been! Today capped my World Championships journey and although I did not end in the fashion I had hoped, I can’t walk away (or even roll away) with my head down. Needless to say, my race did not turn out the way I had hoped. What seemed like a doable task (finishing 8th place or higher) ended up being the prize that got away. There’s not too much to tell about my race. Simply put, I made mistakes and was just not fast enough to make up for them. Right on the start I buried my left blade and my first stroke was off. So was my second and probably my third. Once I finally got into rhythm, I tried to put myself back in the race, but I just don’t have the rowing fitness, skill and technique I need yet to come back from such a bad start. I gave it everything I had though, which I am proud about and kept my mental talk positive, which for me is a good step, because I can tend to be unforgiving with myself about mistakes. I stayed with it through the end, but in the end it just wasn’t enough. Not only did I not get 8th, but I didn’t get 9th, either. I will have to settle with being 10th. And, now It’s up to me to decide if I want to think of it as getting a measley 10th place or being 10th in the world.
However, I can’t say that my time in Slovenia was a loss. Yes, I am disappointed I couldn’t earn a slot for the U.S. at the Paralympics. Fortunately, there is another chance in Belgrade next May and I intend to make another run at my goal. But in some ways, I am glad that things turned out the way they did. Had I come in here and cleaned up or even been in the top six, I might wonder about the state of Paralympic rowing at the World level. Considering that I have been rowing for four months, to think that I should be on par with the top women here, would belittle the sport. But I can confidently say, that rowing is alive and well at the World level and will require me to put forth every bit of effort I can muster, in order to add up. And for me, that’s what makes sports worthwhile. It’s the journey, the challenge, and doing the things that you never thought possible. That is why I’ve been so addicted and dedicated to the Ironman distance of triathlon. It’s not the eight hour training rides I love (they are actually quite boring, if you want to know the truth), but it’s knowing that you can do something that few other people can do. It’s knowing that you laid it all out there in blood, sweat and tears to accomplish amazing things. And that’s what I want for my rowing. I don’t want to go out there and say I won with no effort. If and when I stand (or sit) atop a podium, I want to know that I earned every ounce of that medal. That I worked hard and reached deep.
Last week when I got here, I was having a conversation with Natalie, who is here from England assisting the U.S. Adaptive Rowing Team. She came here, on her own dime, because she wanted to be part of our support team and coaching staff. And when I remarked on how much money she had to spend, just to volunteer her time to our cause, she told me that it was worth every penny. She said that she decided long ago that experiences, not things, were what life was about. She said that for her it wasn’t the absence of things in her life that would cause her the greatest regret, but the absence of experience.
When I look at my time at the World Championships in that way, Bled has been an absolute success. In the past ten days I have had the opportunity to wear the red, white and blue and represent my country; meet new friends from all over the globe and got to cheer for my competitor and new friend Moran, from Israel, who earned the bronze in our category; got to laugh with and spend time with great teammates and coaches; and gained more knowledge and skill in my event so that I can go home and know just what I want and need to accomplish in the coming months.
Some people will say that winning is everything or that it is the only thing. And don’t get me wrong, I LIKE to win. I WANT to win. But this time, experience is the teacher and I am the student. So I won’t leave here deflated, but rather renewed in my vision of the athlete I want to become.
What I Have Learned About Rowing posted by: Trish Downing (September 1, 2011)
Not in Oklahoma anymore . . .
As I sat in my boat at the launch yesterday and looked down into the turquoise water, I could see all the way down to the bottom of the lake. “I’m not in Oklahoma anymore, I thought.” Long gone is the brown Oklahoma river and replaced with this pristine body of water. In every direction you turn, all you notice is the natural beauty of Lake Bled. Surrounded by trees and mountains, there could not be a more amazing setting for this race. But, as Muff pushed me off the dock, my surroundings were little consolation for the anxiety that was building inside of me. But, strangely enough, those feelings didn’t have much to do with the actual competition, but more about would I do everything correctly and following procedure? There are traffic lane rules out on the course for warming up, pulling up to the start docks and getting there on time, getting into the best starting position and stroking off in a straight line. These are all things the newbie has to contend with and I was no different. But soon, each country and lane was announced, then the word “attention” and the red stoplight in front my eyes turned to green and we were off.
In my mind, I break my race into four 250m sections, so I don’t get overwhelmed thinking about the full 1000m. The first is for getting off the line and building power. The second is where I get into my rhythm, the third is a big test of how well I can sustain my chosen rhythm/pace and the fourth, if possible, I want to pick it up for the finish. During my first race, it went pretty well, except a few missed strokes and no pick-up in the end (because I was dead), but every race is experience and I felt good about my first effort. When I finished that race and was cooling down and heading back to the launch, I was assessing how racing in rowing was like or different than the sports I have competed in, in the past. For me, it’s nothing like triathlon, other than breaking the race down in parts and not thinking of the end while you’re some place in the middle. As in, don’t think about the run when you’re on the swim or don’t think about the 4th 250 when you’re on the second. Things like that. But in terms of how I feel when I am racing and when I am done, it reminds me of track cycling—specifically, the pursuit event. What I remember about doing pursuit races both on my single bike and as a tandem pilot, there was such a specific and intense mixture of pain and euphoria at the end of the race, that I have not felt since and definitely don’t feel doing triathlons. Part of it is that there is no coasting in rowing. No, let-me-take-a break-for-a-second-and-recover. It’s go, go, go once you start. I guess it’s the sprint kind of pain where your lungs burn and you’re muscles feel this gripping soreness, like you’ve pushed all of the power out of them and they just want to wilt. It’s hard to explain in words, but I loved having that feeling because it reminded me of being back on the track bike when all I wanted to do after the race was stop pedaling but you couldn’t ( because for one, you’d get thrown over the handle bars) because your legs would just seize up if you didn’t keep them moving. It’s a satisfying, if painful feeling and it makes you realize you put it all out there. And, not only was it satisfying, but I think that was truly the first moment in my rowing journey that I realized I could actually fall in love with this sport.
Worlds Racing Update posted by: Trish Downing (August 31, 2011)
There are so many things to write about my week in Slovenia, but we’ll see how long I can stay awake to report them. Needless to say, I have learned that rowing really takes it out of you. This week has been full of long days, time spent in the hot sun, frustrations getting my boat set up and training.
But now that training time is over, the 90-95 degree days are beyond us, the boat is dialed in and the training is in the bank, the second part of our journey has begun. Racing started Monday and I have a very specific task in front of me. My job is to come in, in the top 8 in my classification in order to qualify the United States a spot for next year’s Paralympic Games. Should I do that, it will be one goal down. But that doesn’t assure me that spot for London next year. Just the United States. But if I don’t earn that spot, well, it’s just a disadvantage going into next year. There is still a chance to earn one in 2012 before the Games, but that would require the athlete attempting to earn it (probably me, but could be anyone) to peak three times by August. Not ideal for anyone. So, to do it here, is best case scenario.
I’m not going to pretend that I am a superstar rower. I am all accounts, a rookie. Probably been rowing less than all the other girls in my division, but I do have an athletic background, the desire and the understanding of what it takes to race at the top of your game. What I am still working on, is transferring all I know about training and competing to the sport of rowing. That will take time. I guess you could say, I am thankful to be here, but would have loved to have a little more time under my belt.
Because there are twelve women in my division, we started with two heats on Monday. I raced against: Russia, France, Brazil, Korea and Belarus. We had a little bit of information about most of the racers and from that we could surmise that I could probably comfortably beat Russia, but that the others were likely out of my reach. This was not my coach and I being pessimists, but rather realists. I did need to race my hardest though to see where I shook out with the rest and see where I would fall in the overall field. As it turns out, in my heat, I was 5th out of 6 (beating Russia) and 8th overall. That was great news for me, because in the end I need to be top 8. The bad news is that the gal who came in 9th (Portugal) was only a second behind. After that first race, the winners were moved automatically to the “A” final. The rest of us would race again.
Tuesday’s results would send the top two from each heat directly to the “A” final and all the rest of us would go to the “B” final, which will be on Thursday. Therefore, no matter what I did, as long as I crossed the finish line, I would go to the “B” final (because clearly I was not going to be top two…again just being realistic…). With that in mind, Muff and I decided that my strategy would be to keep an eye on Portugal (my main competition for 8th place) and see how she raced and figure out how I am going to beat her on Thursday (should things play out the way we’ve figured based on the first day of racing times). I went hard the first 500 meters and pulled up a little the second 500 meters so as not to beat up my body. All went to plan and I ended the day with the 7th fastest time.
Today is a rest day and then Thursday is the moment of truth. Can I end up in 8th place? I sure hope so, but it WILL be a race. And I know that on race day, anything can happen. The best can fall and those at the back of the pack can surprise you. Nothing is a given. That is why we race. That is what makes it exciting. THAT is what might make me lose a little sleep tonight. :)
This week has been a whole new experience for me with a lot to take in! Being at a rowing event seems to remind me of all that I have experienced through my last 15 years of racing. It seems to be like road and track cycling with a little bit of triathlon thrown in, all at the same time. The atmosphere reminds me of triathlon. There is a big grass field here that looks similar to transition at a triathlon race, only instead of bikes, there are hundreds of boats and boat racks. And the rigging on the boats is reminiscent of track racing. You have to find just the right gearing on your boat for the race, just as on the track bike, and any small change could throw off the whole performance. I haven’t quite nailed down the personalities of the able-bodied racers yet, but the adaptive team though serious in goals and desires, is still a pleasant and entertaining group to hang around. And of course, to top it all off, there are hot bodies all dressed in matching lycra outfits. We have five people here working on our staff. My coach “Muff” who has been working with Jeff to make sure our boats are set up and ready to roll, as well as coaching us through our training and race strategies. Karen and Pat work with the four-man boat as well as the men’s single. Natalie, a beautiful and sassy Brit, is over here jumping in and doing whatever she can to assist. In the boats are Ron Harvey and me for the men and women’s AS single, Tony Davis and Jacqui Kapinowski in the TA mixed double, and Eric McDaniel, Andrew Johnson, Eleni Englert, and Emma Preuschl and Alex Stein (as coxswain) in the LTA four. And I can’t forget the two most adorable service dogs, Briggs and Jamaica. We all have our work cut out for us while we’re here.
My goal is to finish in the top 8 of my classification. This will be a challenging task for me considering my inexperience, but I’m hoping my competitive past will cross over and help me get the best out of myself, even though I have been at this such a short time. I think that Paralympic sport offers sort of a blessing and a curse in that, there are so many opportunities to compete at a high level of sport and sometimes they come around quickly, such as this did. The curse is in the fact that even though the numbers are small and there is not always a deep pool of racers, that does not make the competition any less talented. On the contrary, there are several of these girls who could chew me up and spit me out. Today, for instance, we were rowing in the warm-up lane and as I was going in one direction, the Ukranian woman was rowing in the other direction. As we passed each other, we glanced eye-to-eye and all I could envision was the bout between Rocky and Ivan Drago, when Drago says, “I will break you.” Those words could have easily come out of this women’s mouth as she is twice my size and looks like she could cream me without even trying. But, through it all, I am staying positive and am getting ready to race in the heats tomorrow.
The way my racing will work is that we will have two heats on Monday. The winners of the heats will go directly to the finals. The rest of the heat will go to the Repechage round. Of that round, the top two will go to the “A” finals. The remainder will go to the “B” finals. All of the “A” round finishers and the top two “B” finishers will earn a slot for their country to the 2012 Paralympics. So my goal is top 8 and I hope I can make it. I will definitely have to work HARD for it, have excellent races and a good bit of luck, but I am excited to race against a full field of competitors . Should be exciting!
Tomorrow at 9:36am, I will line up against: Russia, France, Brazil, Korea and Belarus. Wish me luck! I will report back when it’s over.