I closed my eyes as I listened to the splash of the oars sink into the water around me. I could feel the boat lunge forward and slow down as the six rowers behind me moved up their slides to take the next stroke. These were the only sounds anyone made. All nine members of Central Catholic’s Second Varsity crew, myself included, had been dreaming about this moment and were speechless as we made our way up to the starting line of the Grand Final of the Scholastic Rowing Association of America’s national championships. Nine months of training had been spent in preparation for this one race and not a single member wanted to go home with anything less than a gold medal. Not only would it be a feat to accomplish in itself, but winning nationals would mean that we would have officially broken “the curse.”
“Bow pair out, stroke pair add in in two. One…two.” My coxswain, Nick, counted from two seats ahead of me. Stroke pair was my pair, I was rowing now. I effortlessly moved into the same pace as the rest of my crew, moving us slowly forward to the start of what would be the most taxing race of our rowing careers, and the last one of mine.
This so-called curse was the idea that any Second Varsity crew from our team was destined to accomplish one thing: second place. Countless crews from years past set out to achieve the same goal but came up one place short. I was in one of these crews my sophomore year and my older brother his sophomore year. I planned to change that record.
“Way-enough, in two. One, two,” counted Nick and simultaneously all eight oars lifted toward the sky. “Down.” The blades slammed down to the water just as quickly as they had risen up. “Okay, we’re just going to wait here until they call us up.” Nick’s voice crackled through the sound system that was wired through the boat.
He could tell that I was looking at him through my sunglasses and met my gaze. I could tell that he was nervous and he could tell that I was terrified. He had been my coxswain the season before and our performance at nationals then was nothing short of embarrassing. I nodded at Nick to let him know it would be all right, to comfort him. He returned my nod and comforted me more than I could ever comfort him.
The clouds had dissipated and the sun began to beat down on our backs. The five other crews had pulled up beside us in the staging area, each in their respective lane. No one spoke a word besides the occasional coxswain having his bow or second rower take a stroke to keep the boat straight in the lane.
The wait for the race marshal to call us up was painful and what had started as a comfortable warmth from the sun now was an unbearable heat. I began to lightly sweat and I swear I could feel the sunburn coming onto me. And then we heard the megaphone blare from some twenty-odd meters behind us: “All crews, approach the starting line please.” My stomach dropped a few feet.
Nick had all eight rowers take a couple strokes to get us to the line and we moved into the starting block, or “stakeboats” as they are called in rowing. All eight rowers moved into the starting position as the rest of the crews around us did the same. In a matter of seconds, every single possibility of something going wrong flashed through my head; I did not know if I was going to pass out, throw up, or both. And then the countdown began: “All crews ready. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Attention.…Row!”
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