Monday, July 22, 2013

Getting Back on the Horse

One of the hardest things about our sport is the "we would have" stories. You know--that season that the team was doing so well, and then that one guy fell down the stairs and broke his leg and you didn't even make the final. Or the race where there was a miscommunication about which move would happen where, and the boat finished just outside the medals. You swap those stories and inevitably someone says, "Come on, you know that if things had been different, you would have won."

The thing is: they weren't different. The crew that won, won. Our sport, just like every other, is affected by freak acts of nature, mistakes, health problems, and plain bad luck. Just like every other sport, the crew that wins the race is the fastest over that particular course, on that particular day. You train not just to be the fastest, fittest rower, but also the one best able to recover from a bobble, the one healthy enough not to get sick easily, the one who can anticipate not just the expected but also the unexpected.

In our final at the Lucerne World Cup last Sunday, we were in fourth place coming into the final few hundred meters. We called our final sprint...and seconds later, I heard a sickly crunching sound and the boat pulled hard to the side. Looking over my shoulder, I saw something I've never seen before in my career--a teammate's oar sticking directly up, jammed in the oarlock. We responded as practiced rowers do to a crab: (1) get the oar un-stuck! (2) everyone okay? (3) get back in the race! But as we started step 3, the oar snapped completely in half.

It was not a happy feeling for us, nor for any competitive athlete, to paddle across the finish line, make a U-turn, and then row past the medal docks, past every spectator on the course, back up to the dock and the boatyard. We'd all just spent the last several months training for a race that we did not get to finish. Having the opportunity to race taken from you is a feeling worse than losing.

We all took a bit of time to calm down, cool down, and then headed to the grandstand to cheer on the rest of our team--in what turned out to be the United States' best World Cup ever. As we watched our teammates make history, we committed to coming back to our next race with this one as fuel for the fire--to channel our anger and frustration into boat speed.

The next day, someone emailed me the World Cup points tally--the listing of every country's performance across all events. The United States sat at the top, just two points ahead of New Zealand. Tracing my finger down to the women's quad, I saw that for finishing our race--instead of U-turning and taking the broken oar back to the dock--we'd earned our team...two points.

The rest of Team USA set a very high bar at Lucerne, and we are back to training hard and rising to that challenge. For now--lots of miles, more selection, and working every practice to earn the results we want in South Korea. Getting back on the horse is a lot easier when you know exactly where you want to go on it.

From Princeton--happy training and Go USA!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lucerne Finals Day!

First 500, long and strong, in our repechage yesterday.

This morning, we line up against Australia, Germany, Poland, Italy, and Belarus, and race for gold. The women's quadruple sculls will be a great event to watch--there are boats with pedigree and experience, and boats like us that are coming in with focus, excitement, and the knowledge that if we have a great race, we can exceed all expectations.

Staying focused at the start with the swimmers and cowbells!

Yesterday, we raced our repechage, and had our best piece together yet. With so many things going on around you--from the giant, singing Dutch crowd at the starting line swimming area, to the warm-up area wash that shakes up the 500m mark of the course, to the other countries in the race who throw in moves out of nowhere--it is important to be finding our rhythm and race, with awareness but not distraction, and we did a great job of that yesterday. I'm very excited to race today and build on that--and to put all of the work we've done together into something awesome!

We line up at 11:27am local (5:27am EST/2:27am PST) and you can watch a live video and audio feed here. You can also check results post-racing here.

Team USA is doing a fantastic job at this regatta, and we have many, many boats contesting for medals today. Send fast thoughts our way--we're racing to put USA on top of the medal stand!!! Go USA!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

America Rocks: Team Byron and Team USA!

Hi, readers! For the last several years, I've written on here about everything rowing. On this day, celebrating everything amazing about our country, I'm switching gears for a moment to talk about a different goal that's extremely close to my heart. I would love if you would support me in pursuing it.

Right around the time I found out I made the Olympic team for London last year, my cousin, Byron Plapp, was graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, where he was also one of the Black Knights' top swimmers. As I was competing overseas, he was getting married and reporting for duty in Huntsville, Alabama to receive training for flying Blackhawk helicopters.

The timeline of his plans changed very suddenly when he was diagnosed with T-Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, a highly aggressive variety of non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, or blood cancer. Byron is now partway through an extremely intense chemotherapy regimen at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, where I had the chance to visit him in February. He's kicking cancer's butt, but I know he'll kick even more with your support.

I am running the Marine Corps Marathon this October for Team in Training, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's fundraising team. We're required to raise a minimum of $1,500, but I'd love to raise much more than that with your help. You have been incredibly supportive helping me with training, and I know that you will continue to be for fundraising towards The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's cure- and treatment-focused research.

Please help my cousin know how many people out there are pulling for him! You can find my fundraising site here: I'm making him a "Team Byron" shirt with every donor's and sponsoring company's name on it so he'll have something to wear for his first workout back in action this fall--your name will look great on it!

As a thank-you and way to continue to support Byron--and help you say Go U.S.A. year-round!--donors will receive awesome American flag "Team Byron" wristbands, with big thanks to our team sponsor Boathouse Sports! The U.S. National rowing team that competes at the World Championships this year in South Korea will also be rocking them. Donate today to support research for a cure and join Team Byron and Team U.S.A.!

Please make a donation in support of Byron--to get him back swimming and flying helicopters in support of our great country--and to help advance the research for blood cancer cures. If you can't donate now, please leave him a message of support and let him know that you are pulling for him!

Thank you for continuing to support the causes and dreams close to my heart.