10

Race Day

It's an early Saturday morning and your phone alarm is vibrating and ringing nonstop. You give a small grunt and rub your face against your pillow. You don't want to get up, but you know that your phone alarm will only continue to get louder. Flipping your pink blanket off your head, you smack the angry red screen to give you a five minute snooze time. You turn your head to your bedmate, squinting through the dark and because you're utterly blind without your glasses or contacts. She's still breathing shallowly, laying flat on her back, her arms resting on her chest. She looks dead to you and you smirk. You also notice that the covers are completely tangled around her and you're just glad that you bring your own blanket to sleep with.

You turn your head so that you face the hotel ceiling and toss your hands over your head and begin to stretch. Your arch you back upwards and you make a grunting noise as your shoulders, hips, and knees pop. You flop back down on the bed for a moment before turning back to your phone, which you take note reads 5:22am. You unlock it and turn off the alarm completely, knowing that the other occupants in the room have their phone alarms set, so you're not worried about them sleeping too late. Except for maybe Steph who can sleep through seven alarms, including the extremely loud radio alarm that most hotels have.

Sighing, you slip completely from under the blanket that you always bring with you on long rowing trips, and completely off the bed. You begin to make your way to the bathroom and get your foot caught in the strap of someone's duffle bag and you stumble. You give a small noise of annoyance and shake your foot violently to remove the offending strap. It slips off and you continue your way to the bathroom, hitting on the light as you close the door. You have to pee like a madwoman and nothing is going to stop you from that, except the fact that you forgot you put your Unisuit on. Only 5:30 in the morning and you can already see how the day is going to go as you fight with the straps on your shoulders. They slip off easy enough, but getting the rest of the Uni off to actually use the toilet is going to be a trip as you begin to shimmy and wiggle, struggling to pull off the tight material. You finally manage success and go about your business. You struggle to put the Uni back on, jumping up and down slightly to pull the Uni back onto your shoulders.

After the fight with your Uni, you exit the bathroom, taking note that there is a light on in the room, meaning someone was up. It is probably Gina, as you and her are always the first ones up. You turn to the sink to wash your hands, making sure to use a lot of soap because Steph is funny about hygiene and you don't want "Bow Pair" to avoid you because you didn't use soap. You can feel the calluses and dead skin on your hands catch and pull at each other, but it doesn't hurt anymore and it's mostly just an annoyance. You flick your hands dry and fumble around for your contact case. Without using the mirror you pop both contacts into your eyes, blinking rapidly to get rid of the extra contact solution. You then reach for your blue hair brush and begin to yank out the knots that make up the rat's nest you call hair. It pulls at some points, but you're used to that too and eventually manage to pull your hair back into its usual pony tail. You snap on the headband people make fun of you for because you're never without it, but you aren't the one getting hair in her face, now are you. You then begin brushing your teeth and by this time Gina passes behind you for her bathroom trip and you smirk, thinking that she doesn't realize she has her Uni on to. The door closes and you turn back to stare at yourself in the mirror taking note of the dark circles under your eyes. You think to yourself about how you'll never get rid of them when you hear a muffled "shit" coming from the bathroom and you chuckle a bit.

It's time to start packing up your things, so you finally move from the counter and back into the bedroom. You see Hannah moving sluggishly about and Steph still in bed, not moving at all. You give another small chuckle and begin to pack up your bags. In the duffle bag goes the wet clothes from the day before and the homework that you said you were going to do but didn't. Into the Underarmor bag that is made of heavy material goes your Underarmor leggings and sleeves, along with three extra pairs of socks, a hat, gloves, sweat pants, and an extra hoodie. Buried in there is also your iPod, phone, band aids, athletic tape, and your green Gatorade bottle the athletic trainer gave you. The bag is crammed to the seams, but you pull the draw strings hard to close the bag anyways. You then move on to folding the blanket, think that maybe you'll bring it to the race with you and toss it on your duffle bag, followed by your pillow. You think you're done packing and put on your hoodie, getting ready to leave, when Hannah tosses you your phone charger. You seem to forget it every time and Hannah seems to remember it every time, so you just nod your head in thanks.

As you're making your way to the door, you notice Steph is still sleeping. You give a sigh and pull hard on one of her legs. She only mutters a heartfelt "no!" and buries her head further into the pillow. You just shake your head and make your way out of the hotel room, knowing that either Gina or Hannah will get Steph up. You're hungry and you want to get breakfast before you have to leave for the race course. The hotel clock said 5:49am when you glanced at it before leaving the room. You know you can wolf down some food in the ten minutes that you had.

You waddle down the hallway, your duffle bag hitting your leg uncomfortably with every other step, but it's just another thing that you're used to. You make it to the elevator without incident because there is no way you're going to walk down five flights of steps and punch the down button. As you're waiting for the elevator to arrive you hear the voice of your coxswain, Olivia. You'd know her voice anywhere, even when she sounds like hell because of her allergies. She'd sound even worse after the race where she would be yelling like a crazy woman.

You watch the corner intently as Liv turns it and you wave at her once she spots you. She waves back with a huge smile that shouldn't be on someone's face so early in the morning and says, "Megan! It's race day!" She laughs a little bit as does the shorter girl that is with her, the other coxswain Kristy. You also give a little laugh, understanding the implication of that statement because it's probably what Kristy woke Liv up with while jumping on the bed.

The elevator doors ding just as Liv and Kristy come to stand with you and the all of you walk onto the elevator. As the doors are sliding closed again, you hear a "waaaaiiiitttt!" coming from down the hall and you know it's Hannah. Kristy's shoulders slump in defeat and Liv brightens right up, excited to see her "Little." You find it amusing that Hannah is Liv's "Little" and that people have taken to calling Hannah that because Hannah has to be a good five foot seven while Liv is maybe five foot three…on a good day, really early in the morning, before gravity has affected her. You hold the 'door open' button as you wait for Hannah who is undoubtedly followed by Gina and Steph.

You see three girls hurrying down the hall and you know you're right. Steph is in the middle – you can tell because she's the shortest of the three, meaning Hannah and Gina are to either side of her. They all scurry onto the elevator, which is close to being cramped, with six girls who have at least a bag each. The elevator doors close this time and you, along with the others, make your way to the lobby floor. You tumble out of the elevator when it hits bottom, along with four other girls, the sixth one, Liv, is laughing. She's farted on the elevator and you think that people shouldn't be allowed to do that on an elevator with six people in it at nearly six in the morning.

You throw a dirty look over your shoulder to the laughing girl and stomp your way to the main lobby where the food is being served. You immediately spot an open table and dump all your things there, going straight for the bagels, yogurt, and orange juice. You snatch a small box of Frosted Flakes for the van ride to the course on your way back to your seat. You plop down and begin digging into the food before you. It'll hardly fill you up, but you won't have another chance to eat until later in the day, when you're on your way home from Philly.

Hannah, Gina, and Steph all join you for breakfast and the four of you begin to make light conversation. The four of you are nervous for today, but you're also really excited. It's the finals of the biggest race of the year: Dad Vail's. Your main coach, Sarah, was really proud when the boat you were in managed to make it to the finals, and not just any finals, but Grand Finals. The heat race had been pretty easy, taking first with a few seconds to spare. The semi final was hard though, placing second, but still being able to move on to Grand Finals. Today was the day that you and the others in the boat planned on proving yourselves. You were going to take the gold, even if it meant killing yourselves to do so, even if you couldn't stand up to get out of the boat at the end.

Coach Sarah makes the call for everyone to pack themselves into the vans and you quickly clean up after yourself. You stand by the doors, waiting for the rest of the girls in your boat, watching the alternate girls, the girls in the varsity four, and the girls in the pair pass you by. They don't matter as much to you though as the girls that are lagging behind, the girls in your boat. Liv is with them too, looking like she is trying to rein in Steph and Hannah, the two troublemakers. In reality she is probably just fueling the fire. Gina shakes her head at the antics of the three girls and looks at you with a look that clearly said "they're lunatics." You give a laugh as the four girls join you and you make your way to a van.

Liv hops behind the driver's seat, but you decide to not sit up front with her and move to sit in the back with everyone else. You take the seat behind Liv's and without delay turn around to talk to the other girls in your boat. The four of you are chatting nervously, but with such excitement. The boat line up that you are racing in has always placed in a race, getting the gold each time. You say that you plan on keeping it that way and the others laugh and whoop with agreement. It's a strong lineup, you think to yourself as you leave the conversation for a moment. Liv is a good coxswain because she had been a rower the year previous. She knows what rowers need to hear to get their asses moving. Then there was Hannah who had never rowed before, but makes it look effortless. She is the stroke seat, the one that sets the rhythm and who everyone else follows. With her leading the boat rating, hitting a thirty two race pace is easy and is just as easy to keep it. She makes it effortless for the rest of the boat. Gina comes next in three seat, a powerhouse for sure. She's nearly as tall as Hannah and nearly as powerful. She was consistent with her erg numbers over winter and could keep her power all day long. Even if she did flip catch like no other and normally had you dripping with water. Then comes Stephanie, as seat two, your Bow Pair. She is smaller than either Hannah or Gina, but taller than you. She is powerhouse too for her size and her technique is pretty good. She is also someone that you work well with when it came to rowing, and you have a bond that came with being a pair in a boat. Lastly, in bow seat, is yourself. You never really understood how you fit into the lineup, as the three girls ahead of you are so much better at rowing than you. Even with a weight adjusted score, you still are low on the totem pole. Really low. The only thing you could think of is the fact that you were a relatively good technical rower. You still have to work on holding your lay back, but you don't rush the slide too much, and you definitely have better roll ups than the other girls but that was pretty much it. You had been told that you were a smooth rower before, and maybe that's what it was. And those times on the ergs where your scores got so low because there were people who depended on you and you wanted to show your worth. Those were times where you couldn't walk away from the erg because you were just too tired.

You are pulled from your thoughts when Gina asked what you were thinking about. You hadn't realized you were that obvious, but you have no reason to lie to her or any of the other girls, so you just said "our lineup." The others just bobbed their head in understanding and go back to talking and being goofy.

Your thoughts about the lineup come back to you as you watched the girls interact with each other. It suddenly clicked that it didn't matter about the individual in the boat, but the boat as a whole. All five of you girls worked well together, better than any other boat that had raced this past season. You also liked each other which helped a lot with the boat dynamic. You think about all the times that you had gone to the start line, laughing and talking the entire way, being relaxed and not tense or overly nervous about the upcoming race. You remember when even Liv's mom had commented on how lackadaisical the girls in the boat were, but that you had all worked really well together. It was a complete change though once the boat was at the start line. Everyone in the boat was locked and loaded, game faces on, and dead set on being out front. When the race came you and the other girls were serious, taking names and kicking asses. The boat you were in walked on other boat and stole inches away from them. The drive to win in the boat and to prove yourselves to the varsity was so strong, that it could overcome anything, even the fact that your boat was the underdog.

You come back to yourself again as the van came to a stop and is turned off. You have arrived at the race course. You clamber out of the van, followed by the other girls in your boat and trudge your way to the tent that is set up right alongside the river you would be racing on. You drop all the stuff you would need for the race under the tent and wrap yourself in the pink blanket you brought with you. You are joined by Hannah, Steph, and Gina for whom you unfolded the blanket to share. All of you cuddle close together, sitting in wait for the time when you would launch the boat.

Your coxswain joins the little pow wow that is going on and began discussing the race plan. The race plan that you knew better than anything, so ingrained it had become. Start five, high ten, shift five down two or maybe four depending on how high the rating is out of the shoot, and then settle. Then at the fifteen hundred mark you would take a focus five for ratio. At the thousand meter mark the boat would make a move with a power ten and then a focus five for length. At the five hundred meter mark a focus five for power on the drive. The two hundred fifty meter mark started the sprint where the boat "emptied the tank" as Liv put it. The rating would go up to a thirty four and the power would build up to a power twenty where it was all or nothing. You remember how the power twenty fells so strong underneath you because you could feel everything in the bow. The race plan was only a skeleton though, and it would change depending on how the race went. At every five hundred meter mark a power ten might be thrown in. Or the last five hundred would be taken as the sprint if needed. But that wouldn't be decided until you and the boat were racing.

Liv gets up and walks away after going over the race plan, which she would do again once you and the others got out on the water. You and the other girls begin talking again, only this time about the past couple of months and how all of you got to where you were. You laugh with the girls about the funny memories or make fun of the senior rowers. You talk about each other's technique and make fun of Gina's horrible backsplash. Each of you critiques yourselves because you all know you're not perfect rowers, but then you give advice on how something could be fixed. You know how it's supposed to go in your head, but getting your body to do it is a whole other thing.

You and the girls quite down at the looks some of the older girls give you but then begin to laugh once they turn away. You want to tell them the reason they don't medal is because they don't know how to have fun, but you know that would only piss them off so you just whisper it to your boat instead. They laugh loudly in agreement which gets another looks from the older girls.

You settle back on your hands, choosing to listen now rather than participate in the conversation. Once more you get lost in thought. This is the last race of the season and then you'll be going back home for the summer. You plan on lifting, running, and erging through the summer, between work, classes, shadowing, and volunteering. It'll be a busy summer, but well worth it. You want to be in a varsity boat next year, you're determined to be in one. You then think back onto when you first started rowing, a month behind everyone else. It was a great decision you made, and you don't regret it, even on the bad days. You remember how your first practice was spent in a boat, trying to learn on the fly how to even get the blade of your oar to the water, how to move the boat, how to move with the boat. You think about how you didn't know what inside or outside hand was, what the gunnel was, what it meant to feather the blade, what it meant to layback or angle forward. You didn't know the difference between a starboard oar and a port oar, and sometimes even forgot that green meant starboard and red meant port. You didn't know the meaning of rate or ratio, what it meant to flip catch and roll up, what it meant to be bisweptual. You didn't know what it meant to really, literally, spill blood, sweat, and tears with other people. Now, you know a lot about rowing and wish that you could talk about it back home, but no one understands what you're trying to say. It's too hard to explain things without being able to show people, so you just talk about it with your best friend who is still learning the terminology. You're confident though that of all people, she'd be the one to never see a regatta, but be able to tell people exactly how one works.

"It's time to launch girls. Get hands on the Duke."

You break from your thoughts again, knowing that it's race time. You strip all the layers off yourself, standing in only the Uni that you slept in for good luck. The other girls in your boat do the same thing and together as a team you make your way towards the trailer that holds the Duke of Hazard and each of you take your position along the boat. Liv calls for the boat to be slid out from between the metals bars, and then for up and overheads. She says split to shoulders and you let the Duke rest heavily on your right shoulder, feeling it grind into the muscle that took months to build. You let the noise around fade to the background as you concentrate only the tone, strength, and volume of Liv's voice. Even then, you don't hear words, just the deep coxswain voice she's gained through the season, the one that comes from her belly. Your subconscious is what hears the words, you body just seems to react to the way Liv's voice is at the time. This is the time where you let yourself go, where you become only the body you possess. There is no mind to what you're about to do. That's what Liv is for. You've been created to move the boat and nothing more. It's race day after all.