There is something special about the sport of rowing and the camaraderie that competing in a team boat creates. Every crew is different, and the chemistry of a line-up can have a lot to do with how a boat clicks and performs on race day. For most of the ten years I’ve been rowing I have competed in eight-man boats, and some of my fondest memories come from these line-ups. When you compete in an eight, you instantly have eight other women on your personal “team,” willing to back you up in any scenario, and it can sometimes feel like many other sports do, with a field full of players. Since I graduated college a couple of years ago though, I essentially left the eight boat behind, and while sitting at the line of my 2010 NCAA final, I realized that this could potentially be my last competitive race in an eight.
Joining the USA Women’s National Team was my introduction to small boats. I can count on two hands the number of times I rowed in a boat smaller than a four in college, so training every day for two years almost exclusively in one or two-man boats was a big, big change. I learned quickly that rowing in a double or pair requires the ability to adjust and adapt, and the longer you take to do so, the further you’ll be left behind. Every partnership is different, and each individual has specific preferences, styles, and ways of thinking about rowing. During my two years with the team, I had the opportunity to row with almost every starboard in a pair, and almost every sculler in a double, even if just for one practice. Each of these experiences taught me something different and made me a better rower. I believe that every partnership I’ve had leading up to the Olympics has taught me how to be a better partner now in my current boat with Sarah Zelenka.
The thing about the pair is…well…it’s just you and your partner. The chemistry in a two-man boat is very different than the chemistry of an eight. If you don’t get along perfectly with a teammate in an eight, there may be two, or three, or seven seats physically separating you in the boat which might be enough to create a buffer between the two personalities. A bad relationship with your pair-mate though, can easily be enough to crumble a duo. If you don’t get along with your partner in the pair, they are right there for you to stare at, or breathing down your neck, every stroke of every practice. The Canadian Lightweight Women’s double proved that bad relationships in two-man boats are not so uncommon when they made headlines this year for splitting up, as Olympic shoe-ins, because they sited their relationship as being “toxic.” So…things can be tough in the pair. But they can also be really, really awesome.
Sarah Zelenka and I get teased a lot by our teammates because we are such good friends. Sometimes our friendship can seem a bit like an elementary school friendship, where little girls run to each other with exciting news, or a joke, or just because they want to laugh. We’ve gotten to the point where she knows exactly what I mean from just one word or a look, and I can read her the same way. I feel so lucky to have Zelenka as my boatmate, for many reasons, but a lot is because we complement each other’s personalities so well. Sarah Zelenka is from Itasca, Illinois. In many ways, she is a stereotypical Midwesterner. She is patient, kind, and as easy-going as they come. If you have an idea that sounds fun or exciting, she is on board. But what’s funny is that behind her sweet demeanor is a ruthless, scary competitor who will take you down if you are in her way. I call her the Silent Assassin. Trust me, you want to be her friend.
I am the more type-A, high strung one of the relationship. I like to analyze, and I like to think. I wear all of my emotions right out on my sleeve, so if I am angry or upset, everyone around me knows it. I am also very openly competitive, and I know I have pissed off a few people along the way because I can’t seem to bury my competitive nature in any laid back environment. Yet as different as we are, something about my partnership with Zelenka clicked on day one. Maybe it’s because we both love to laugh, and she’s an easy one to get giggling, which always makes me feel like I’m funnier than I am. Or maybe it’s because our personalities fill each other’s gaps making us like a really awesome married couple (although no, it’s not like that because we both have boyfriends who we love very much 🙂 ). I think Zelenka has helped me to unwind a bit, and I like to think that I’ve toughened her up. Whatever it is, it really works, and it makes rowing together very fun.
During the two year stint that we have trained in the pair, I think together we have experienced only three very frustrating moments. Each of them came when we were overtired and not completely ourselves, because normally we just don’t function that way. When we have off rows, it never seems to faze us. An off row is an off row, and nothing more. We are very good at keeping the other one positive and eager to improve, and I think that’s the attitude that got us to London. In about 50 hours, Zelenka and I will be sitting at the line of our Olympic heat. I will be staring at her back, knowing that she’s got mine. This is probably the last week that we will ever row together, and we can’t wait to make every stroke count.
See you on the line,