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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

There's Some Songs that Mean so Much

I also had to include this.  I am currently training for the Goodlife Half Marathon in Victoria next week.   I have had some runs that make me ok with not rowing again, and I have had some that make me realize rowing might be the only thing I will ever be good at.  Anyway, I was having a particularly bad run one day and this song came on my ishuffle.  I had no idea I even had it on there, and after many hours of running, it had never come up before.  I stopped during the run and started crying when I realized how I never found a song that better described any part of my life as well as this one defined me in rowing and trying to row for the man I believe in.  I then replayed it and blasted repeatedly until I ran 8km in record time.

Seven minutes

I have been asked numerous times since August 4th, 2012 to write a blog post about the Olympics, seeing as this whole blog thing was about the Olympics, but quite frankly, I found it too painful. Clearly the result we went to achieve was not what we achieved and that always leaves an athlete feeling depressed, upset, confused, ashamed, the list goes on.  When you then come home to read things in the media from your federation describing the Canadian Rowing team's performance as a failure, you tend to feel even better.  Sarcasm.  Let's keep in mind those using the words like "failure" and "disappointing performances" to describe the lack of medals at this year's Olympic games in rowing are those that never managed to compete at an Olympic games themselves, so I'm not sure what word there is to describe that.

I now find the courage to write about the Olympics and their aftermath on the day after Rowing Canada coach Mike Spracklen has been let go from the organisation. The reason being is that Mike Spracklen has played a huge role in my rowing career.  Although I never managed to go to the line with his name listed as my official coach, Mike has been very much part of every medal I ever earned for Canada.  Three under-23 medals, two of which gold, three world university championships, two canadian championship golds, seven world cup medals and two world championship medals.  The one that eludes...Olympic.  It has yet to happen that someone with decision making power in RCA has come to me and asked why we were such a "failure" at the Olympics this year.  No one has yet asked the real questions and I can swear on my life that the reasons we placed an apparent disappointing seventh have little to do with Mike Spracklen, nor Kenny Wu.  If it weren't for Mike Spracklen, we risked placing worse than that.

It's hard to describe how at the Olympics you have this seven minute window in the semi final to perform in a way that keeps you in contention for a gold medal in the A-final. Patricia and I placed fourth where we needed to be third and were suddenly at the regatta no longer racing for a medal.  Just like that, dreams dashed, happiness squashed and shame setting in.  What most don't realize is that seven minutes doesn't define how much you have trained, how fast you were the week before, how fast you could be the next day.  All it defines is that you were an athlete that didn't get it right when you needed to.  Now don't get me wrong, I'm all about getting it right when it counts and hear me when I say we didn't do that and that's our fault and it's why we didn't belong in that A-final on that day.  And that my friends is exactly why Olympic champions are so rare because I guarantee that many that go to the Olympics, on another day, could have won, but that is why it's every four years and that is why it's the pinnacle of sport.  However, it also means that if anyone took the time to understand what we had to overcome to make it to that point or how the speed that we showed on that given day didn't reflect the training and coaching we received, they would know how little of a failure that seventh place performance was.  We had a former team mate slander us in the media only three weeks prior, we had a treatment session go terribly wrong that caused Obee to need a cortisone shot and miss numerous rows during the training camp, we had a coach who's hands were tied by the administration and we had a message sent to us all year by the management that we were a second rate group of athletes that didn't deserve the best of anything.  Quite frankly, all things considered, I'm pretty damned proud of that seventh place.  I have won the world championships and numerous other world staged races and the hardest race I have ever raced was that B-final.  It would be so easy to sit back and say it's all over, to be absolutely devastated and see four years of training go down a seven minute tube, but we didn't.  To then get yourself up to have the race of your life in a B-final is indescribably hard.  I'm not saying it's better than medaling.  The performance of our men's and women's eights are notable and to be recognized and cherished as the amazing accomplishments that they are.  What I am saying is that there are athletes out there that are just as good, who must rise to the most challenging of situations and find a way to still do their best.  We did that because we had the support of Mike and Kenny.

I really don't want to come across as a martyr of B-finals here because that is not my goal.  What I am trying to say that is that there are athletes out there who have learned great lessons from disappointment and that will have amazing things to offer the team within the next four years, but the fact that these athletes and Mike are not being heard, are not being acknowledged as assets to the organisation is a real shame.  Olympic medalists are people that have worked harder than most people will ever dare try to work, they are people who have shown a dedication to one thing in their life like most will never show to anything; they are people that know what is required to win and be the best in the world.  Sometimes the ones that didn't quite get there the first time around are still those people.

My hope for the future rowers of Canada is that one day they find themselves in the presence of greatness as I was lucky enough to experience.  Greatness, not only in a coach that leads them, but the greatness of team mates that surround them.  What I have learned from this journey and from Mike Spracklen is that winning is important.  Winning is important because without the intention of winning, you will never push yourself, you will never believe, you will never fight for the best and most importantly, without the intention winning, you will never expect the best from those around you.  It takes not only a team to win medals, it takes a team of people who are willing to put themselves out there at their absolute best to win medals.  There is nothing wrong with expecting the best of everyone: Mike Spracklen got fired for expecting that, but he has also guided Canadian men to three separate Olympic medals, two of which are gold and taught us all life lessons that will help us be champions in other parts of our lives.

So this is the challenge I leave you all with.  For seven minutes of your day, every day, be the best you can be at something.  It doesn't matter what, just strive for seven minutes of perfection in something.  Honor those that tried and didn't get to have a medal around their neck to prove that they did all they could.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

O' bee, O' Canada

Tonight is the eve of my departure to the Olympics.  First we have a training camp in Erba, Italy for two weeks, but following that camp, the team will arrive in London ready and primed to hopefully have the best races of our lives.

I sit here tonight feeling nostalgic, excited and even scared.  It is sad to know that the life I have been living for over six years will change drastically after this trip and it is also exciting to think of what lays before us.  There is an amazing opportunity awaiting us and it is mine and Patricia's job to seize that opportunity.  Now this brings me to what I truly wanted to write about.  I feel extremely confident in what Patricia and I can do in London and that is based on pure hard work over the last 18 months.  We both have been working hard for longer than that, but 18 months is how long we have been working together towards this goal (with some off time). That being said I sense some major skepticism in what Obee and I can do as a double.  First, it's our first Olympics (not just together but period). Of course, I was a spare in Beijing and didn't race and at that time, Patricia probably didn't even know what rowing was and hadn't even entered her last year of highschool.  I know so many believe that experience is the final answer to succeeding at this level and I have to say it hurts me and I struggle with hearing that the chances of Obee and I doing well are small due to our lack of combined experience.  Second, the way we got in the boat together this year was under unique circumstances and I feel that so many believe that we are just some second choice double that is heading to the Olympics to participate.  Well frankly, I'm sick of it and I'm done listening to those opinions.

More importantly what I really wanted to write about today was Patricia.  I feel that Patricia has been given no credit whatsoever over the last year for what her and I accomplished in 2011.  It took two people to earn that silver medal and I have no idea why everyone seems to get so caught up in her age and "lack of experience"!  Where did this strange mentality come from that we are only capable of greatness once we have achieved greatness repeatedly?  You're capable of greatness before you achieve greatness...that's what capable means!  People think that because she is 20 years old she's not capable of focus, of going hard enough, of knowing how to race, of handling pressure, of keeping her head screwed on.  Well, they're wrong. I think the person who has rowed thousands, yes thousands of kilometers in wind, rain, slow, ice, cold, fatigue, sickness, heartache and tension with her should be the judge as to whether this girl can handle racing on the greatest world's stage.  Me!  Patricia Obee is the strongest, fastest sprinting, most powerful lightweight woman in Canada, and I'm racing with her to hopefully prove that she's all that in the world too.

I commend those crews out there with loads of experience because perhaps they are the ones that will come out on top at the end of all this.  All I want to say is that MY EXPERIENCE teaches me that you can't let others tell you what you're capable of, only you can decide that.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Let Me Be Water

At first thought, one might think that it is the rock that is the strongest and most prevailing of all elements.  Then you must think of water, for it is the water that morphs and changes and bends and washes over the spaces and the forms that it needs to become to prevail.  Water will wear down the rock, water will put out the fire and water will never break apart and weaken itself by acting alone.  Water will always win because it cannot be broken; water is relentless.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Seal and a Dragonfly on the Rotsee

     Every year in rowing there is a world cup held in one of the most magical cities in the world:  Lucerne, Switzerland.  Most nations in rowing attend this wonderful regatta because it is usually the last world cup prior to the world champsionships.  In the Olympic year; however, the Lucerne world cup is held second of three and Tracy and I have returned here to race for our third time together at the Rotsee as a lightweight double.  On this course, Tracy has won in the double with Mara Jones, Tracy and I have placed second, we have placed first and I have won the single here the year that she placed second with Mel Kok in the double.  So one might say that the Rotsee has been a favorable course for us.  There is something about the calm conditions, the tucked-away placement and the weight of the water that makes rowing on the Rotsee one of the most exhilarating and pleasant things a rower can do: or at least for Tracy and I.

      When Tracy and I were out this morning, I started thinking of our record here and how perhaps there was something about this water that complimented the way we row.  Then this led me to think of our spirit animals.  Background on the spirit animal: national team member and my boyfriend, Gabe Bergen is well known on the Canadian team for distributing spirit animals to people.  However, you don't just ask for a spirit animal from Gabe, one must earn it.  There are moments or acts or things one says that will trigger Gabe to determine what animal in the world best represents you.  Years ago, when Gabe and I started dating, I earned myself the spirit animal of a seal.  I have large brown eyes, I can be
playful, yet scarily aggressive and I am notorious for not being very sure of foot
on land.  Tracy, on the otherhand, flits around chatting and socializing with everyone she comes across and therefore, has earned herself the dragonfly.  Dragonflies are quick, poised and in every flower's business.

     Now, being from the west coast, I know animals, especially sea animals, to be a very symbolic and precious part of the West Coast Native culture, so I did a little research for this post and found some interesting things as I assumed there had to be more to the seal and dragonfly than being chubby and flitty respectively.  What I found is that seals are the power animal symbol of the inner voice.  Native culture believes that because seals exist both on land and in the sea that they show us there are two necessary things to fulfill our dreams and aspirations.  In other words, we must not only use our abilities to achieve but we must use our inner belief to envision our dreams coming true.  Are not the most successful athletes in the world imagining themselves as champions before they are able to achieve?

     A dragonfly's ability to scurry across water represents an act of going beyond what's on the surface and looking into the deeper implications and aspects of life.  Do you see the connection to water in both animals?  Also, Tracy has always had a beautiful poise to her rowing and sees herself as powerful enough to get in front and then relax into a melodic rhythm of speed which is reflected in the dragonfly's ability to move in all six directions all while flapping it's wings a mere 30 times per minute as compared to a housefly at 1000 beats per minute.

     So you see?  Perhaps there is something about the water on the Rotsee that appeals greatly to a seal and a dragonfly.  We know not what is to come of the racing this weekend as there are some exceptionally strong crews here in this exciting Olympic year, but it can be said that a seal and a dragonfly have the flow and power of the water supporting them.  Although an unlikely pair, I would believe the seal and the dragonfly represent something of an even more powerful and inspiring duo.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Final Countdown

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to go to the Olympics.  For me, one of the things it means is that it will likely be my last international rowing race.  That scares me.  For some reason I have always been excited to attend the world championships.  The world championships have been an opportunity to show the world what my training has done, how well Canada works as a team and to have the best race possible to feel good about myself.  The Olympics seem so much bigger.  Part of that feeling is all the media attention the Olympics spurs and also the expectations of fellow Canadians who tune in to watch.  I think when I imagine the Olympics being something so much bigger than the world championships, I get seriously overwhelmed.  What if that last race is not the race I want to have?  What if that last race doesn't bring gold?  What if the Greeks and the Brits and the Americans and the Aussies and the Kiwis and the....and the...and the...the list goes on.  But then I think this, I haven't been training for this regatta for one year, I've been training my whole life.

       Some of you might be a facebook friend and for this entire training season, I have listed each training day of the year and paired it with an inspirational quote.  Today, for example is day 151, however I realize that it is actually thousands of days into the training cycle.  Every bump in the road, every failure, every bad coach, every good coach, every team mate, every family member, every practice I ever had (including those of volleyball, track and softball etc), were pieces of the Olympic training puzzle.  I have always been competitive, I have always wanted to win, I have always been dedicated to practice and I have never missed training for unimportant reasons.  I have been training for this one and final race my whole life and that makes me ready.

      I think at the end of all of this winning isn't the measure of what I have accomplished.  We might win, we might not.  We might not even get on the podium, but I do know that the preparation that has gone into giving myself the best possible chance of winning has been done.  This event isn't something different when it comes to racing to show the work we have done as a team.  It's different in that there will be TV's, there will be numerous interviews, there will be other sports and there will be every athlete in the world at the absolute peak of the their game, but it's still a race that presents the best of the thousands of days and millions of hours of hard work that went into having the best race possible.  I can not control what other countries have done, and I most certainly can not control what other countries will do on race day, but this race will show what I have accomplished as an athlete and that is what I have control over.  All I want is to walk away from the course at Eton and say "Damn, that was a great trip.  I did everything I could and I am the happiest I have ever been. I am the best I will ever be."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Four Months in a Nutshell

Ok, so I really fell off the pace of writing blog posts. I'm not exactly sure what happened. I guess partly I felt that people just didn't care to read and also there were just so many political things going on that to write a blog post and not talk about those things would be faking a post and to write a post and talk about it would probably have got me in trouble and it's not really a free-speaking world in the world of elite sport so I'll leave it at that I guess.

Basically the things that have happened since I last wrote:

1. The national championships in Welland, ON placed Patricia first, myself second and Tracy third so we are now the targeted women for the Olympic lightweight double.
2. Santa came to town.
3. The new year was rung in with excitement of finally getting to say that it's 2012!! The year of the Olympic Games!
4. I finally call Mike Spracklen my coach along with Kenny Wu who makes training always so interesting with his calls and ESL ways of explaining the stroke
5. I achieved a personal best on a 6k erg test by 14seconds!
6. Currently in Sacramento on training camp

The lightweight women were left behind on the last training camp and here are some documented events of our winter training camp in Victoria.

Generally speaking, in Canada, our winter training camps are referred to as "warm weather" training camps, so as you
can see it was a little disappointing when our first camp of the year had the first snow fall of Victoria's winter in store for us. Patricia set up camp at my house and we hosted our own "winter training camp" .

Our cooking and meals were far superior to whatever one could find at a hotel however, so that was a major plus! Here you can see the epic nachos we came up with one Saturday afternoon after a particularly hard 3x4km workout. I have to say that the food right now in California
just can't match what we had going on at our winter camp, but the training (which is really the more important thing) is going really well. We have a reached a point in the camp where we are trying to decide if we'd rather eat a hot pepper or do the 16x90sec at race pace that is prescribed. We have yet to have a day off and I have to say that I'm getting close to wanting to run the streets of Sacramento naked than do another 7km piece. Thankfully, we have to just get through tomorrow and then we can enjoy a full 36 hours of just eating and resting and no rowing.

Sarcasm aside, the camp is great. We are finding speed every practice and the environment in which we go to work every day is positive, inspiring and most importantly, it's an environment that we believe can help us to succeed in every sense of the word. May 2012 bring the best we have ever experienced!