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Friday, February 25, 2011


I was doing a tech row the other day and I was practicing strokes by watching my blade enter the water and was trying to work a good release and catch. Then I started to get bored and jokingly thought to myself "Now that's a perfect catch!". Oddly, my little amusing joke to myself sparked a train of thought that was worthy of the blog. What the heck is a perfect stroke? I started thinking how I have now been rowing for fifteen years and I can't tell you what exactly a "perfect" stroke is. Then I thought, if I can't pinpoint the perfect stroke, then perhaps there is no such thing. Then, what the heck does perfect mean anyway? I looked up the definition. Perfect is "being complete of its kind and without defect or blemish". What??!!! I think that might be the most abstract and useless definition I have ever read. Like my competitors post, perfect to me seems to be something of relativity. We all know that different styles of rowing, different strokes and different training programs win gold medals, so why are we always seeking perfection? What I mean is, if perfect doesn't actually exist in a tangible, non-relative form, then why do we pursue it?

Now in that question, I have found the answer. Perfect is perfect because it does not actually exist within the rowing stroke and so it is the pursuit of something unreachable that keeps us trying over and over and over to achieve it. Winning a rowing race doesn't mean you raced the perfect race, it doesn't mean you took 250 perfect strokes, it means that something added up and came out in your favor but I guarantee it wasn't the execution of perfection. I have taken almost all my strokes not perfectly, but every one has been with intent. I think the following Nike ad sums this up "perfectly".

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Finally Have a Case of HMS (heavyweight man syndrome)

I posted yesterday but I had to share this momentous occasion. For years I have been around heavyweight men during extremely hard weeks of training and there has always been one complaint that has not only been constant but really stands out as bizarre (or so I thought until today). You see, the calorie output for the "training programme" can be upwards of 3000 for me, so you can imagine that for a heavyweight male weighing in around 195lbs-240lbs, it's going to be somewhere in the ballpark of 5000 and that doesn't include daily activity. So, to get to the point, the one complaint that I have heard coming from the men for years is "I find eating a chore and I just don't want to eat anymore; I can't eat enough in one sitting." Boo hoo, right? I always thought, "Man, life is sure rough if you just can't eat enough." I absolutely, 100%, definitely did not sympathize or understand how one could possibly feel that way. As a lightweight women, I have been trained to watch my intake. I tend to eat whatever the heck I want during the winter months, but it doesn't always come without a tiny bit of guilt. Now here's where the tables turn. I was driving to rowing today for the third and final workout of the day. It was a hard day and I spent my time between the second and third row worrying about whether I had eaten properly and would not face "a bonk" during the last practice. As I was heading there I found myself thinking "I can't wait 'till this practice is over so I don't have to eat anything." Then I almost crashed the car because I was thrilled that I had done it! I finally found myself understanding what the heck it meant to just be plain old tired of eating. It was a great day :) I feel fully part of the club.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

When Someone has Helped You, You Have to Have Their Back

The world works in mysterious ways. There's been some goings on at the Victoria Training Center that I don't fully understand and I don't really feel like getting involved in, but I do know that Mike has missed two days of practice as head coach which is more than I have ever known him to miss in two and half years of rowing with him. His absence has been due to meetings with the head honcho of RCA and it's just not the same around the boathouse without him. Then yesterday I came home and was cleaning up around the computer area and found a scrap of paper with a poem on it that I wrote back in 2009 when I was training with the men in Italy before the world cup in Spain. If you know Spracklen, you know that he is quite an impressive author of poems, so I wrote it in a gesture of appreciation for having supported the lightweight women during their transition period of getting a new coach. It was what I thought to be my last training camp with the men before I moved to Ontario for the summer to complete the unknown. Anyway, the point of this blog is that I have not had much of a chance to discuss my training with Mike Spracklen and what it means to me. I want to share this poem not as some political statement but more just as something fun to express what Mike has done for me and how I have always wanted to train on his program. I hope to give back some support to him that he has so generously showed me over the years.

Our Time with Mike

Our time off was over,
our season was anew,
my chance to row for Spracklen
was finally coming true.

We started off light,
we weren't pushing yet.
I thought it was already brutal,
would more leave me dead?

Pyramid after pyramid,
we slowly added more,
"Your bodies can handle more," he said
but five runs was quite a chore.

Then we went to Cali
for our training camp.
The lighties almost didn't go
but Mike had left his stamp.

Some didn't make it,
some dropped like flies.
I heard him say "You're wanking it!"
but the lighties never died.

Kilometer after kilometer
we pushed within the pack.
Men's singles vs. lightweight doubles
to the bridge and back.

Then came trips to Shawnigan
rowing our lightweight quad.
We always had a man to help,
Fraser completed our squad.

We learned to row with power,
we learned to row with time,
we learned to row with left hand infront,
then the rates would climb.

Ladder after ladder
on Friday after weights.
Six hundred hard stokes was a challenge
made bearable by team mates,

Who rowed along beside us
through the rain and the pain,
building trust in each other
was the name of the game.

He said to trust your fitness,
he said to trust the plan
"You can know you're working harder
than any other man."

Now here we are in Erba
getting ready to race.
I believe in what we have done thus far
and know we can hold the pace.

We are a team that's strong
and it's because of you,
a man who knows how to lead us
towards a dream that's true.

Your words will be with us
through first, middle and last,
we'll drive it home to the line
and not forget the past.

I will not say good-bye
but more like a so long.
I know I will be back some day
because in this environment
I belong.

Thank you, Mike.

Also, if someone needs a poem written for their girlfriend or something, just let me know. Hahaha

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What Does it Mean Without Competitors?

I was thinking today about winning (as I do often because in sport winning can often consume you) and then that got me thinking about our past win at worlds specifically. I have, until now, defined that win as being sweet because of the hurdles overcome to get there. There's quotes all over the place of how things mean more when one has struggled to accomplish them, or how nothing is worth pursuing if it's easy and all that sort of stuff. However, for some reason today it struck me that that win was also sweet because of who we raced. If we had rowed down that course in a time of eight minutes plus (which is a terrible time for a lightweight double) on our own, what would that have meant? But we rowed down that course over eight minutes and beat five other doubles that went eight minutes plus more and it was exhilarating. What I'm trying to express here is that accomplishment is often measured off of what others do. We need to give more credit to the performance of our competitors because without them there we can not have the amazing moments that we experience in sport. The Greek double was last year's world champions, the Germans had an Olympic silver medalist in the boat. I'm not reflecting on these facts to brag, I'm trying to say that their amazing accomplishments of time's past are what allow me to feel proud and excited about what we have done and in that there is a cyclical passing on of success and achievement. The delivery of our absolute best (regardless of winning or losing) is what allows others to shine and feel accomplished. Our competitors' presence is not only necessary to have an event take place, but it is required in order to measure our own achievement. So know that no matter what your own outcome or placement, if you have pushed to the point of what you're capable of, you are as much a part of the earning of the gold medal as those that actually won it. Good thing we can all always train harder!

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Conversations with Myself"

I started this blog to be real, and I want to talk about real things. So far, I have mentioned nothing that is actually affecting me mentally and emotionally in rowing. I'm going to change that right now. For many who know my rowing career, they know that there have been many ups and downs I have dealt with politically within the sport. Disclaimer! I know this to be a struggle and hurdle for all athletes in all sport and I am not trying to make myself out to be someone who has to deal with more. However, here's the deal.

I came home from the world championships knowing that I would be training in Victoria instead of London because I believe in doing at least 200km per week (to try to sum up how I feel). I was in the airport and decided to purchase "Conversations with Myself" by Nelson Mandela. I figured who better to learn about conflict resolution from than this amazing man? I am by no means comparing my situation to the struggle to end apartheid or racial discrimination but why not try to better my way of thinking and dealing with struggle than reading what Mandela has to say about it? There was one quote that I really related to that I felt was worded in a way that I could never express but is exactly how I would define my feelings toward conflict:

"But even when the clash between you and me has taken the most extreme form, I should like us to fight over our principles and ideas and without personal hatred, so that at the end of the battle, whatever the result might be, I can proudly shake hands with you, because I feel I have fought an upright and worthy opponent who has observed the whole code of honour and decency. But when your subordinates continue to use foul methods then a sense of real bitterness and contempt becomes irresistible."

Following is RCA's athlete assistance criteria (the criteria that must be met in order to receive $1500 per month from the government to help in living and training expenses). I have tried to point out to them that based on the document they have compiled, they are legally bound by the wording to card me, they refuse. I train six hours a day, six days a week at an RCA center in the effort to win an Olympic gold medal and they will not grant me the finances to do it. Please note what I have highlighted in bold. I think it's no mystery that my international performance likely fits the other criteria. Tongue in cheek. There is no amount of conversation one might be able to have when the opposing side is not willing to listen.

The decision to nominate an athlete or coxswain to Sport Canada for AAP consideration shall be
made by the National Team Program Coaches in conjunction with the VP High Performance and
High Performance Director, and shall be based on the following criteria:
a) RCA requires that athletes in the AAP shall be registered with the association during the
application period and throughout the period of carding support.
b) Athletes shall have commenced full training by the first week of October at an RCA
National Training Centre or a training venue approved by the appropriate National Team
Program Coach for carding support to become effective on January 1.
c) Athletes who qualify for Under 23 or Junior programs for the identified carding year and
wish to train at a venue other than an RCA National Training Centre shall submit a written
request to the National Team Co-ordinator and the appropriate program coach by
the first week of September that outlines all relevant considerations. The request shall
also state the date by which the athlete will be back in full training at an RCA National
Training Centre following the period away. The approval for the athlete to train at an
alternate venue must be received in writing from the RCA High Performance Director or VP
High Performance. Senior National Team athletes are expected to be training at an RCA
National Training Centre.
d) Athletes not having commenced training at an RCA National Training Centre or an approved
venue by the first week of October shall be considered for carding at the discretion of the
RCA National Team Program Coach and the High Performance Director or VP High
Performance. Consideration will be given to those athletes who have exceptional
circumstances (exceptional circumstances must be submitted in writing to the National
Team Co-ordinator and the appropriate program coach for approval).
e) Athletes training outside Canada:
 Athletes will not normally be eligible for carding support during the period they are
outside the country, at an NCAA school, or receiving an athletic scholarship of any kind.
 Funding will be accessible upon return to the RCA High Performance program at an RCA
National Training Centre in Canada.
f) Athletes in training at a venue approved by his or her National Team Program Coach shall
be responsible for regularly communicating the details of their training programs to their
respective Program Coach.
g) Athletes shall have competed in the most recent National Championships (or its
designated equivalent) unless an exemption is approved by the RCA High Performance
Director or VP High Performance.
h) Following the National Championships (or its designated equivalent), athletes shall complete
a 6km national team ergometer test under approved supervision and submit the result with
other required information to the RCA National Team Coordinator.
i) Athletes must provide a signed Athlete Agreement and a written declaration of intent to
compete for a position on the Canadian National Rowing Team to the RCA National Team
Coordinator. Please see section 14 – Important Dates.
Any exceptions to these criteria shall be at the discretion of the RCA High Performance Director
or VP High Performance

Thursday, February 3, 2011

...the follow up

Ok, ok, so it's been a while. I have to admit that it has been partly because there have been no inspiring, interesting thoughts that have popped into my head and it's probably because I'm back on the spracko (you know what that means if you know rowing) and I'm not only physically exhausted, I'm pretty much brain dead too. I fall asleep twice every night: once on the couch at 7pm and again in bed at 930pm when Gabe encourages me to go to an actual bed.

Anyway, I want to explain the reason for the English lesson a few weeks back. Most athletes have dealt with and most of the general public have referred to the "angel and the devil on my shoulder". In many challenging situations in life we have that voice that we hear that either tells us to do something that we know to be wrong, or we hear something encouraging, or we hear a voice that tells us to quit when it gets too hard. I have gone through my athletic career trying to fully understand the meaning of these two little spirits on my shoulder and I think I have decided they are words. For me, one whisper is relentlessness and the other (negative and detrimental) is complacency. I believe one to be what champions are made of, and the other to have never and will never produce an Olympic gold medalist. I think it is an athlete's responsibility to themselves to nurture and promote what is relentless inside of them and to diminish the whispers of complacency. I have learned and know that environment plays a huge role in which word-voice decides to appear in those moments when we are truly tested. Sometimes complacency doesn't even allow the athlete to get to the max point of will and strength. That's the problem! Our team mates' attitudes, or focus on what is important to winning and our goal making is how we stay relentless. Complacency is when we think what we are doing is "good enough", not being worried about missing a few details here and a few details there, and it is definitely contagious. The good news though, so too is's just harder to catch, but that's why champions are rare.