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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Un"bent" Memories

I'm so excited to write this entry that I can barely decide where to start. I have said it before, but the world works in mysterious ways. So here it is.

It has been a while since my last post, but it has been because I was waiting for something worth writing about. I have wanted to write for a while about the various coaches I have had in my rowing career and how they have shaped me but I haven't been quite motivated enough to tackle that challenge. I have written about Mike and have felt somewhat guilty for having not included another great man that I was extremely privileged to have worked with. I guess you can say I have been coached by arguably the best heavyweight men's and also arguably the best lightweight coach in the world. I was unsure if I could do Bent justice through my amateur writing and therefore held off writing about him.

Here's what's interesting: I decided months ago that when I had tallied a running count of 50 bald eagles spotted during rowing at Elk Lake, I would write about Bent. For those that don't know, Bent was from Denmark and was absolutely mesmerized by the graceful bald eagles that swoop and soar over Elk Lake. So much so that you would often note him bobbing around aimlessly in his coach boat staring into the sky while you were out working your ass off. It was easy to laugh the image off and know that the man just couldn't resist a good eagle ogle. Next, during an interview this evening with a sports writer, I was encouraged to continue my blog and made to answer some questions that caught me reminiscing about Bent and my training under him. I thought it no coincidence but rather fate saying it was time to pay some tribute.

What I know to be most notable about Bent was that he was the first coach I had that I could really talk to. I mean really talk to. Strange when you consider the man spoke barely one word of English when he arrived in Canada and understanding him most days was harder than the training session. I could tell him my fears, my arguments, my apprehensions, my positive beliefs...anything! He made you feel part of your own journey. I know that sounds strange and that it should be a given that an athlete is aways in control of her own journey, but that is unfortunately all too often not true. Bent was a leader that let you lead with him. He had all the knowledge and the wisdom it took to help you be a champion and then you joined him and did it together.

My absolute fondest memory of Bent was in Lucerne 2008 when I was racing the lightweight single. He was deep into his chemotherapy treatment and was administering it on the road so that he could be there coaching his Olympic lightweight men's four and double. He told me "Leensey (that's how his accent said my name), you must race with rhythm. All the crews here that will win, will have rhythm". I won Lucerne that year with rhythm. When I got to the dock, I found Bent beaming with pride and happiness in my accomplishment; I learned then what a coach looks like who wants nothing but the best for his athlete. There were two Lindsays on the team that year and I was the smaller. He looked at me and said one thing, "Little Leensey, big heart". Later at that regatta, he strongly encouraged me to pursue the single that year at the non-Olympic world championships. He told me that many people go through their careers winning many gold medals, but it's so rare to win a world championship. He said "Being a world champion will never leave you". I did race the single that year and came far from winning. It was sad, and I felt like I had let Bent down. Cancer took Bent from us in December of 2008 and I have kept a picture of him on my fridge riding a bicycle, beaming from ear to ear (he had polio as a child and could not walk easily, but could ride a bike like Lance Armstrong...almost). When Tracy and I won the world championships I was praying for the first time in my life that people who have left this world can see what we accomplish when they are gone. I hope Bent had the best seat in the house for that final because he's part of the reason why we achieved that standard. Both being a world champion and Bent will "never leave me."

Following are some of my fondest Bent quotes (remember the broken English and impossibly difficult Danish accent when reading these, and the fact they're being yelled from a coach boat-in brackets is the translation)

1. Leensey, more legs, you must use more legs (push harder)
2. Leensey, you must use your back (push harder)
3. Leensey, just go quicker (push harder)

and my absolute favorite in regard to competitors while racing
4. Leensey, f@#k them all away (push hard)

Bent was an inspiration to us all in the Olympic year. He fought his battle with cancer hard enough to be able to guide the Canadian men's four to a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics. I have never been so happy to see someone so happy. Thank you, Bent. I quietly say hello to every bald eagle I see. I swear those eagles show up when I need to push harder!

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