row2k Features
In the Driver's Seat, with Lucy Fortner
November 15, 2022
John FX Flynn

Racing the Stotesbury final in 2022 with her crew.

Next up In The Driver's Seat--where we hear from the folks who keep the shells straight and the crews fast--is coxswain Lucy Fortner.

Lucy is a junior at Nardin Academy in Buffalo, raced her Senior Four into the Stotesbury Final in 2022 and then won at the CSSRA's in St Catherines just a few weeks later.

She tells row2k that she is a devoted reader of the 'Driver's Seat' series and we are thrilled to have her participate this week.

Let's hop In The Driver's Seat with Lucy:

row2k - What are your top three essentials for being ready on Race Day?
Lucy Fortner - Being prepared, confident and calm.

Before a regatta I set out all my layers and clothes, charge my cox box, and check the weather. When I arrive on the course or am warming up to the start, I figure out where the wind is coming from. Knowing who you're racing against, what lane you are in, the two events before you and the one after, the course map and landmarks, etc., are all essential to being prepared as a coxswain.

Having knowledge of the course and being able to confidently relay this information to your teammates is extremely important to their trust in you. Many things can go wrong during the day of a race, even at the start, or getting into your stake boat. Keeping a calm tone and relaxed mindset is crucial to keeping the boat relaxed. Rowers can easily tell if you get flustered or are not sure of what you are doing.

row2k - What is your favorite drill to run with your crews? Any tips on how to the drill well, for maximum effectiveness?
Lucy Fortner - I wouldn't necessarily say I have a favorite; however, I personally enjoy "Minute On, Minute Off."

The minute goes by quickly, so being precise and accurate leaves no room for hesitation. This helps me fine-tune what needs to be said and done during the intense period.

This is especially useful during sprint races: "Minute On, Minute Off" closely mimics the last 250 meters of the race. As a coxswain, staying calm and keeping your boat in check is crucial to cross the finish line with clean catches. If you're losing accuracy in your calls, the boat can quickly feel flustered and rushed.

I also love rowing on the square. In high school, finding the set can be a constant issue and rowing on the square really forces the rowers to match their handle heights off the release. Whenever we are warming up to the start I prefer to row on the square to help the stability.

In terms of running through drills, I would say to focus on what the coach wants and asks of your crew throughout that drill. Furthermore, before a drill, I will try to briefly explain why we are doing that particular drill. This helps the rowers know why they are doing this and keeps them from "mindlessly" rowing. Even writing down the purpose of the drill in my notebook after practice helps so I can effectively run that drill on the water without a coach if needed.

Stotes Time Trial in 2022 for Lucy and the Nardin Senior Four: Haley McMullen at stroke, Lauren Bauer, Mary Mangan, and Esther Littlefield
Stotes Time Trial in 2022 for Lucy and the Nardin Senior Four: Haley McMullen at stroke, Lauren Bauer, Mary Mangan, and Esther Littlefield

row2k - What's some of the best coaching advice you've received about your coxing?
Lucy Fortner - I have had amazing coaches that I can not thank enough for the hours put into working with me and developing my skills. Multiple coaches and teammates have given me such important advice that I almost feel like I cannot specifically pick one.

Some advice that really helped me engage my rowers and connect with them was during the beginning of my Spring season in 2022. I reached out to my club coach from the previous summer, because I felt that my calls were not as motivating and I was saying the same stuff on each piece. We talked over the phone and as I began going over my calls, she relayed the calls back to me but with changes in her tone. I really loved how this coach shifted her tone with each call, and I began to differentiate my tone between drills, steady state and pieces. I also spent a lot of time watching races and began picking up some things I really liked from multiple different coxswains, making them my own on the water.

One of my favorite things is building into a piece. I have the opportunity to really deepen my voice and change my tone to tell the rowers we are about to get full pressure.

I would like to add that some amazing advice has been from coxswains sharing their tips online. I have been reading row2k articles since I was a freshman and they have truly helped me become the coxswain I am today. I have followed some amazing coxswains online, too, and reached out to NCAA-winning coxswains to ask for advice. There are so many amazing people out there willing to help and give coaching advice, you just have to listen.

row2k - What is a mid-race call or move that you've made that you'll remember for the rest of your life? If so, what did it involve and how did you call it?
Lucy Fortner - If I am being honest, making a middle move hasn't always been my favorite tactic. I prefer to make moves when I feel another boat is walking or when it is otherwise necessary to do so. In my experience, it helps not to do a middle move exactly at the halfway point. Normally other crews will be making their move at that exact time as well. For a 2000 meter sprint race, I have called a move at the 750 mark and/or 1250 mark.

I called a "two-point" middle move on our very last race of Spring 2022, at the 1250 meter mark of the final at the Canadian Scholastic Nationals. The "two-point" middle move was taking a high twenty, split up into two tens.

An ongoing tradition at West Side Rowing Club is to paint your name on the wall alongside the city side of the Black Rock Canal if you win a National or Canadian Henley title; it is a privilege to have your name on the wall.

During our race for the title that day, I used that tradition to motivate them during our middle move. I felt every single rower give it everything in that moment and we took the lead.

Another important call I made during this race was mentioning the colleges my juniors have been talking to.

On the medals dock in St. Catherines at CSRRA's (photo credit: Dawn Littlefield, courtesy of coach Aileen McNamara)
On the medals dock in St. Catherines at CSRRA's (photo credit: Dawn Littlefield, courtesy of coach Aileen McNamara)

row2k - Can you tell us anything about you learned how cox to a land practice or erg tests?
Lucy Fortner - Living in Buffalo, the weather is always uncertain, but whether it's with icebergs blocking the river or snow in October, you will see our two green Hudsons out on the Black Rock Canal.

We maximize every practice indoors: as a coxswain I can learn a lot about rowers on the erg. I have the ability to talk to them individually and see how they react to specific calls. Even on the ergs I learn when my rowers need me to talk them through the piece. I can carry that information out onto the water during pieces or races.

During erg tests, I always relate it to racing on the water. For example, if they have 750 left, I might say "you have passed 'this landmark' and are racing to 'this landmark' now." These landmarks are usually from our at home course or a course I know they are familiar with. For the 250 meter mark, I might mention the buoys turning red, and that I can see the finish line. Many rowers have mentioned their relief when they begin seeing red buoys.

If I am not talking to them during these pieces, then I am alongside them on an erg. I believe working out with your team is equally as important to developing a relationship with your rowers, if not more helpful.

row2k - Tell us about the best race/practice you've ever had?
Lucy Fortner - My favorite race easily was Canadian Nationals during the Spring season of 2022. We came in first in the Senior 4+ category.

We had been racing the same exact lineup since the fall of 2022 and we had spent two full seasons working together on and off the water. Our spring season came down to that very last race, and it was especially important for my senior rowers. Every practice, race, and hour in that boat felt like it was all for that moment.

The plan for the race was mapped out so specifically and developed with the coaches. Then, with everyone's faces cheering us on at the finish line and our coaches nodding their heads on the award docks, it was indescribable. On the row back, I started feeling emotional. It was the best way to end a hard working season.

Thanks for riding along with Lucy -- and, remember, this column is open to all "drivers" out there, so if you are an experienced coxswain at any level--from juniors to masters--and would be willing to invite row2k to join you in your ride, just contact us here. We'd love to hear from you about what you see from the Driver's Seat.

If you enjoy and rely on row2k, we need your help to be able to keep doing all this. Though row2k sometimes looks like a big, outside-funded operation, it mainly runs on enthusiasm and grit. Help us keep it coming, thank you! Learn more.


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