I will never forget the moment I learned that my senior season of rowing was cancelled and that I would not be able to complete my 10th year of the sport that has become my passion. It was a Thursday at 2:59pm at the University of Virginia boathouse. I was dressed and ready for practice as my team was scheduled to leave for our first race of the season in Oak Ridge, TN the following morning. It was Spring Break at UVA, which meant that many of the students were on vacation or home; however, the rowing team was still there, training twice per day, in preparation for the start of a busy, competitive season. We had practiced that morning, and the mood had been somber in the boathouse as the Ivy League had already cancelled their season and there were rumors of other conferences following suit. I could not imagine facing the news of my season cut short; it felt surreal.
That morning, one of my teammates addressed the team before we started practice. She said that one of her best friends who was a rower at an Ivy League school and thus recently had her season cancelled, had said that her biggest regret was that she didn't know that her last practice was actually her last. The news had come out of nowhere and she felt that she was not mentally prepared. My teammate told this story to encourage us to appreciate every moment that we had left together in this uncertain time. She implored us, especially the seniors, to treat every practice as if it was our last.
We had a very tough practice that morning, but it had gone really well. My boat felt fast, and I was able to sit behind my best friend. When we were rowing back to the dock and warming down, the reality of the situation began to sink in. I started to tear up as I tried my hardest to take in all of the little details of the scenery and feelings that I had taken for granted for the past nearly four years.
I noticed the big bridge the we rowed under multiple times every practice. I noticed the smaller bridge to the right that I drove over every day on my way to the boathouse and back over when leaving the boathouse. I noticed the small white house on my left and wondered if anyone had ever lived in it. I felt the oar handle in my hands, and really tried to internalize the feelings and sensations of the rowing stroke and being in sync with my teammates, as I feared this was the last time I would have the opportunity.
My best friend, Reilly, started crying in front of me. I felt her pain. Even if this wasn't our last practice, the mere idea that it could all be over was unbearable and heart wrenching. I grabbed her shoulder and reminded her to take a deep breath and remember this. This is the water where we had some of our best moments together, suffered our toughest losses together, and fought to bring glory to the University of Virginia and all of the women who had come before us.
During that row back to the dock, when everyone in my boat was silent and appreciating the moment, I was astounded how well we were still rowing together. I was impressed how even when our minds were elsewhere and we were not necessarily focused on the mechanics and technical elements of the rowing stroke, we were able to be completely in sync as one body. Eight women, together as one unit, united by the swing, the pull, and the push of each stroke. I will never forget the feeling of being in a boat with 8 of the fastest, strongest female collegiate rowers in the country; it feels a little bit like flying.
That afternoon, at 3pm on the dot, my coach announced that the ACC had decided to suspend the season until the beginning of April. This meant that we would not be allowed to practice together as a team until at least that date. When he announced the news, my heart broke. Completely broke. This meant that the morning practice had indeed been my last. I felt empty inside at the news. I felt my world crashing around me as my career as a rower which I had so carefully built up over the past almost 10 years came to an premature halt. My whole team was teary eyed and shocked at the news. There is truly no way to prepare for news like that, even if you can "see" it coming. It came out later that afternoon that the NCAA had fully cancelled all spring sports and NCAA athletics for the rest of the year, and just like that, my rowing career had officially ended.
My greatest heartbreak stems from the sad reality that my sister Julia, a freshman on the team, and I will not be able to race together in college. We only rowed in the same boat a handful of times. We will never have the opportunity to compete together in the Virginia uniform, something I had been so excited for from the day she committed to row at UVA in high school. I feel blessed to have had at least a short time with her at Virginia, and we have become incredibly close for it. It has also been a blessing having her at home with me during this time of quarantine because she can truly empathize with me and understand my loss.
Even after half a year of college rowing, she understands how incredibly hard this news has been for me to process, and thus, she has been a beacon of support and positivity for me. She has been a part of the sisterhood that was the Virginia rowing team, and as such, she knows the longing that I feel for the people who I call my best friends and the sport that I call my passion.
I can only describe my feelings as similar to those when one suffers a loss. I am still devastated and overwhelmed. Rowing in college was my greatest and proudest achievement and accomplishment. Each morning, when my alarm woke me up at 6am, it certainly didn't feel like a blessing. However, I have since realized that every day I spent with my team and coaches on the water, in the gym, in the dining hall, and on countless buses driving all over the country, was a blessing. I went to college with one sister, and I have graduated with over 60 sisters.
I have also left college with something to show for it. I dedicated an average of 20 hours per week into something that had become more than a sport, but a way of life for me. It has been the most formative and rewarding experience of my life. I did not get the closure or peace that I feel I deserve after dedicating nearly half of my life to the sport, but I continue to search for the silver linings.
Since the news, I have tried to process what all of this means. I have spent time rediscovering myself without rowing, as my identity crisis has come to a peak in these weeks at home. I decided to run the New York City marathon in November with the same best friend who was rowing in front of me for our last practice. This has provided me with a sense of peace as I am able to continue to train (at least for the time being) with a purpose and an end goal.
Since being home, I have spent much time running the trails around my house and spinning on a bike. I have had to remember how to work out without a team around me, which has been an adjustment. I look forward to my team-wide Zoom calls each week with my coaches. We spend an hour all together checking in and updating each other on our favorite Netflix shows, recipes, at-home workouts, and family drama. It is cathartic to see them all and empathize together, even if only for a short time.
Trull in the two-seat at the 2019 NCAA Championships
Since that dreadful Thursday, I have been searching for the silver lining in all of this. I think I found it recently when I was reflecting upon my time as a Virginia rower. The silver lining is this: I feel so blessed and grateful that I have something that I am so proud of to show for my 3.75 years at UVA. My teammates; the art and skills of resilience, grit, and teamwork; and my passion are all attributable to my time on the rowing team.
I have developed as a confident, competitive, and collaborative woman who is ready for the next challenge. Ironically, I have used the skills that rowing has taught me about standing back up when you are knocked down to take on this turbulent and uncertain time in my life. What I would give for one more practice, even if I had to set my alarm for 6am, one more team huddle, one more long bus ride, one more blister or callus, one more breathless, rushed swig from my water bottle in the middle of practice, one more technical critique from my coach, one more fight to the finish line with my teammates, and one more hard fought victory with the people I love and respect most in the world.
But my rowing story is ended. And now I look forward to embracing the next challenge, whatever it may be, one which I feel confident I have the tools to take on and conquer.