Monday, August 20, 2012

The Race of My Life!

Photo: row2k.

  What do you say about the race where you won Olympic gold? It was the best race of my career, and we were lucky enough to have that on exactly the right day. I am so thankful I got to share the awesome races we had here with my teammates, and with everyone who came to watch us and who tuned in back home. So many people helped us get across that line, and it was so wonderful to know that we had won for much, much more than just ourselves.

100m to go. Redlining it.  Photo: Peter Mallory.

  I finally had a chance to watch the race for the first time when we got back to the US on the 13th, and everything looks much clearer than it felt. We executed the same strong first 500 that we had in our heat, and when we finally lengthened down to our base rate, we just moved on the field. Just like our heat, it was a little strange to be able to see the entire field, but this time, it didn't feel like a fluke--it felt like we were doing what we came to London to do. There was a strong cross wind that picked up in the middle 1000, but our boat and the rest of the crews handled the sometimes tricky conditions well.

  As we crossed through 750 to go, the roar of the crowd again got louder and louder. Even with the speakers turned to max, only stern pair could hear Mary for the last 500! But our experience and boat feel helped us execute the last 500 exactly as we'd trained to do. Canada made a last-minute push, but it wasn't enough. We kept rowing and rowing and finally...I saw the bubble line passing up near the stern. (No one heard the beep!) We were across the finish line! And WE'D WON THE OLYMPICS!

Can't feel my body, but WOW does this feel great. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
  Immediately, I was overcome with emotion. The night before our race, and the morning of, I had thought back over everything I'd been through, and everything our team had been through, to be there, on that start line. A lot of training, sure, but also a lot of sacrifice, dedication, and above all, the support of the people who'd helped us become athletes who could win Olympic gold. Though I was beaming, the tears came, and I let them. Totally spent, I leaned forward and hugged Taylor, and then flopped back onto Susie. My girls. So, so proud of them and of what we had all accomplished together.

The best feeling--this WE won feeling. Photo: Getty Images.

  The rest of the post-race time is a bit of a blur. First to the media dock, where we were finally able to hug each other and share the moment with each other. Lots of interviews, lots of happy crying, lots of smiles. Then back to the boat to row to the medals dock.

Clear eyes, full hearts, strong legs, can't lose.  Photo: Getty Images.

  Wow. This is our Olympic podium. I could see my parents, my boyfriend, my brother, and way, way up in the very last row of the grandstand, yelling her head off, Liz O'Leary, my college coach. Susan punched me: "You HAVE to stop crying. You're ruining everyone's pictures!" We all held hands, waiting for the Dutch and the Canadians to receive their medals. And then: "THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!!"

Hey, guys...we did it.  Photo: row2k.

  Such an incredible feeling. Just the nine of us, standing there at the end of a very long journey and a lot of very hard work, getting to share the pure joy of that moment with the world.

Photo: Charlotte Chuter.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Olympic Final: Last One, Fast One!

First off--thank you for the tremendous support! We had our first race Sunday and the outpouring of good luck and go get 'ems that you sent to me and the women in the 8+ were so wonderful. It was awesome to go to the line knowing how many people we have pulling with us!

Mary Whipple, Caryn Davies, Caroline Lind, Elle Logan, Meghan Musnicki,
Taylor Ritzel, me, Susan Francia, and Erin Cafaro off the start!
Our race was a good starting point for us--our first race together in this lineup. Some good things and lots to improve on. We lined up against Germany, Great Britain, and Australia at 11:50am, just after some brewing thunderclouds had us wondering if racing would be delayed. We were called into the blocks pretty early, so there was a lot of time to sit there, get acclimated to the noise of the camera overhead, the 20 or so photographers on the dock, the spectators shouting, and the huge buoys that mark the starting line and the boot. The boot is a huge plastic guard that keeps the bow aligned as the boats sit ready; when the starting beep sounds, there's a huge WHOOSH as the boots drop into the water and the boats surge off the line.

We had a solid start and were able to get out of the blocks and into our rhythm. The cheering of the fans on the shore built as we went--especially cheering for the home town boat in our heat! We were very internal and focused on executing our race plan. The conditions seem to be craziest in the middle thousand, but everyone in our event handled them well. As we reached the last 500, the grandstands surrounded us, lessening the wind a bit but also enclosing us with the thunder of thousands and thousands of spectators. It was literally deafening and so awesome!!!

Natalie Dell, Kara Kohler, Megan Kalmoe, and Adrienne Martelli
showing off the hard-work hardware!

Today, we watched the first round of USA crews line up and race for Olympic gold. Our women's quad pulled out an awesome bronze finish, the first time the USA has medaled in the event since 1984! I'm so stoked for these women--the rockstars we train with every day--Adrienne "Hammer" Martelli, Megan Kalmoe, Kara Kohler, and my roommate Natalie Dell!

Sara Hendershot and Sarah Zelenka, two of the biggest rockstars I know.

Our women's pair had a heartbreaker of a fourth-place finish, just 0.2 seconds behind last year's World Champions New Zealand. Sarah Zelenka and Sara Hendershot have had an amazing year, building up to an incredible race that was literally stroke for stroke, surge for surge. Tough, gutsy, and so confident--we are so proud to have you representing the USA!

David Banks, Grant James, Ross James, Will Miller, Giuseppe Lanzone, Steve
Kaspyrzyk, Jake Cornelius, Brett Newlin, and Zach Vlahos gettin' after it.

Similarly, our men's eight nearly caught Great Britain at the line, and finished just 0.3 seconds outside the medals. After earning the last spot here just two months ago, our guys performed so well, and did our country proud. Zach Vlahos, Brett Newlin, Jake Cornelius, Steve Kaspyrzyk, Giuseppe Lanzone, Will Miller, Ross James, Grant James, and David Banks, you are All-American all-stars.

Tomorrow, at 12:30, we'll line up against five other crews we've raced before: Australia, The Netherlands, Canada, Romania, and Great Britain. It's the Olympic final. But it's still 2,000m from start to finish, four 500m quarters to make the most of. I'm so excited to build off Team USA's momentum from today and leave everything I can possibly give out there on the water tomorrow.

It's been a long journey here, but now that we are about to race, I am thankful for every up and down along the way that has prepared me to give my best here in London. I know how much work (and good luck, too) went into being here, being the most physically, mentally, and technically prepared I've been in my career. I remember watching the Opening Ceremonies four years ago from a TV at my friend's house in Berkeley, excited to see what promised to be the most incredible Olympics yet, but so incredibly devastated at falling short of making it there.

The last four years have been a fight to be the best rower I can be, to push myself past what others and what I thought my limits were, to, if nothing else, make sure that I had used each day as best I could to never feel that feeling again. And I would never have been able to do those things without your support. The teammates who pushed me, trained with me, talked rowing with me, and who have become my best friends. The people who encouraged me, who believed in me, who helped me believe that the things I dreamed about weren't impossible. The people who housed me and fed me and who talked me through that tough practice or the ups and downs of selection or erg testing, even if you didn't know exactly what I was talking about.

So...thank you. Thank you so much for helping me get to the start line here in London, knowing that I am here in this boat with eight amazing women, that together we are ready to take on whomever we find ourselves lined up against. I am so proud to be representing my country, and I know that when we take that first stroke, we are each going to feel the hundreds of legs of everyone who has helped us get there pushing right with ours.

Thank you for giving us this opportunity. I am so excited to see what we can do with it tomorrow.