Nancy McLoughlin 'on a slightly less sunny day than the one I wrote about' - photo by Jill Austin
The sky could not have been bluer, the water could not have been flatter, the boats docked along the way could not have shone brighter in the sun. We moved separately and together. Each in our own world of technical focus. Catch at the end of the recovery. Slot the blades. Flat wrists. Look out at a distance. Perfect, undisturbed puddles in our wake. Reasonable rests to catch up and enjoy the scenery. It was a Sunday morning row on a Saturday.
When we arrived back at the beach, the others were already there, their boats put away, ready to help. The most efficient masked and socially-distant teamwork followed: slings were set up, oars sanitized and put away, singles racks rolled down and loaded. All of us got to coffee sooner than we had hoped. The laughs, the serious conversations about Covid, the reflections on who is sculling and who is not. The concern for who we have not seen in a while. Are they okay? How are they doing?
WOW (Women on the Water) is a team of resilient women. This thing of ours-THE TEAM-that Covid tried to take away, we have held onto with the firmest grip. All of us miss our eights and quads. Our practices with four boats across. Competition. Racing. Pushing ourselves to the limit. Getting in a quick, hard practice before showering hurriedly and putting in a full day at work. Being and reaching towards being exceptional. Stretching to our limit. Constantly in motion. Pushing each other in the weight room. Hanging out on a random Saturday night. Celebrating after races.
In the beginning, we focused on getting the most out of what was supposed to be a six-week shut down so we would be ready to come back and kick ass at Long Beach. In the middle, many of us faltered. Too much erging in the hallway. Too much or too little work. A sudden loss of any external goals. Too much time away from each other. Too much uncertainty and worry about the future.
And then the singles came. First the boathouse opened for private boats and those that had them hit the water. Some banded together to buy boats they could share and use on alternate days. Then club boats became available. Finally, our Executive Director, Billy Whitford and the West Coast Vespoli rep, Ed Maxwell, arranged for three Vespoli demo singles to be lent to our junior and masters program. We made spread-sheets to organize the sharing of boats among masters and juniors. NAC had boats for everyone. We all rallied.
People who could fly at light speed in a double, quad or eight, slowed down and faced these tippy boats that were a challenge to take any distance. The bridge suddenly was much farther from the boathouse than it had been before. The water on the other side of the bridge suddenly much rougher and intimidating than it had been before. All have confirmed the existence of the sea monster underneath the turning basin. Some believe, and rightly so, that buoys are animate objects that move strategically to trap the inattentive sculler. Fortunately no one has been eaten by one. Apparently buoys are restrained in their behavior when scullers travel in groups.
Those who are optimistic and enterprising naturally have lent their courage and encouragement to their more timid teammates. Calming them by introducing them to the path of many bridges and flat water. Tricking them into taking their tiny singles out to the jetty. Forcing them to complete Lido laps on windy days by staying just far enough out of earshot to hear the words "I think I want to turn around now."
Our coaches, who have enough going on in their own lives, have provided us with solid workouts we can do at home since the beginning of the shutdown. Once single sculls were allowed, they coached us in pods. We learned so much because we could hear their voices! It is a gift to be able to see your own rowing in isolation from everyone else's even if it is more fun to row together in faster boats. In some very special moments, the singles seem to almost take flight, gliding a few inches above the water rather than sitting in it.
People are finding and sharing strength wherever it is available. We have had Concept 2 challenge teams. There is an Apple Watch Close the Rings Challenge Team. Twenty-five of us have participated in our own "Around the World Meter by Meters" virtual travel game. We have walked, cleaned, MM'd (multi-modality land training), biked, erg, swam, sculled, hiked, and exercised in countless other ways to earn enough meters to get us from Newport Beach to Boston, Boston to Linz, and Linz to Athens by way of Istanbul and Ephesus. We are on a sightseeing tour on the way to Tokyo and then home.
Despite the challenges, we are getting stronger physically and mentally. Despite the separation, our care for one another has remained just as strong as it was before. We should reflect on this because it is amazing. Brought together through love of a sport, we have created a supportive community. In the past, we have carried each other through life's personal challenges. Now, we are guiding each other through this moment that is difficult for the entire world. We keep moving forward as individuals and also reaching out and bringing our WOW sisters with us.