The Head of the Charles has always been on my Bucket List and this year I was lucky enough to be asked to be part of an Australia LTA4+ crew to tackle the 5km course in Boston. I was asked if I was interested back in January 2013 and by March we had the crew organised but from different parts of Australia.
Para-Rowing hasn’t been huge in Australia, although I have been part of the National Team going back to 2008. Our LTA4+ back then attempted to qualify for Beijing but unfortunately we were unsuccessful. We did however take part in the World Rowing Championships in Poland in 2009, placing 6th that year, so were very hopeful that we would be ready to take on the World in 2012 in London. Unfortunately for us there were factions within Australia who weren’t interested in our crew progressing through to London. So to now have people who wanted to put a crew together for Head of The Charles was a dream come true.
Australia being so big the problem of training for this race was the first issue to tackle. With 2 rowers and Coxswain in Sydney – Kate Murdock, Steve Knott and Nell Duly, one rower in Townsville, Queensland – Pete Siri and myself in Melbourne, Victoria we decided that we would meet once a month in Sydney to train together. With our first session in March we ended up having a total of 5 weekends that we were all able to get together, with other people filling in for us on other weekends that we all couldn’t make it.
We all believed in ourselves and I truly believe that this is the first step in something great! We headed to Boston and our managers had organised a boat through Community Rowing Inc. and we had 4 days of training there from the boat shed. We were really looking forward to the race! We had done some of our training in Sydney Harbour so had really bad, rough water training, so The Charles was lovely!
Getting to the race
Well what an amazing day Sunday the 20th of October was! We were up early because we were the first race of the day. I was also hoping that the day would be as nice as Saturday was with no wind and lovely sunshine. But we woke to a temperature of 4 degrees and while at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Boat Shed as the sun was coming up so was the wind!
It was amazing to see the number of volunteers who were there to assist with boats. Usually rowing clubs in Melbourne that I have been associated with have a hard time just getting rowers down to load and unload boats off the trailer. But here at MIT we didn’t touch our boat until we were getting in it!
We were on the water at 7:30 am, boat number 4, so last in our category to start. The USA National team rowing as “Old Glory” were allocated #1 and were definitely the favourites to win this event. The other two boats between us and them were other USA crews, #2 made up of rowers from all over the country who hadn’t ever rowed with each other and #3 was all made up of fairly new rowers. So we weren’t too worried about those crews other than trying to get past them safely and try to catch “Old Glory”.
Within the first kilometre we were past #2 and #3 boats. Our coxswain Nell had a fabulous line throughout the race and got us through every bridge and around every corner in the shortest distance possible. At one point she advised us that she could see “Old Glory” but wasn’t sure how far ahead they were. From all accounts from friends who had watched the race on line the commentators were only talking about them…they were expected to win this race, after all they had come 4th at the World Championships just 2 months earlier!
As we came to the final bridge the call came from Nell to ‘push off the bridge’, to ‘give it everything we had’ as the finish line was only 500-600 metres ahead. I don’t think that I have ever hurt so much! But we all had that last burst of digging deep and you could actually feel the boat surge, we had come too far and worked too hard not to take this to the limit and past! Finally the call came to “row easy” and nothing has ever felt so good but then the adrenaline stopped and I could feel the burning pain through my entire body! But it was over and we had the chance to just row lightly for a couple of kilometres to work out the lactate acid and get the boat back to the CRI sheds.
After arriving at the sheds and still not knowing if we had won we were greeted by more volunteers who then took care of the boat and even looked on line for us to see the final results. WE HAD WON!!!! Not only had we won but we had smashed “Old Glory” beating them by 53.26 seconds! I am told that the commentators went very quiet at the end and were stunned by our victory. We even ran into one of the rowers from “Old Glory” at the airport and her only words were “We were not expecting that!”
After the awards ceremony we headed back to our hotel where we all got together for a glass (or two!) of champagne and then headed down to dinner to celebrate with our coach Lindsay, our managers Anne and Barbara as well as supporters and family who had come to watch. We had a wonderful night which really was too short!
We had come to Boston as the underdogs but we had come away as the winners! I had already made the decision that this was going to be my last international row and what a way to go out! I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.
It is hopeful that with the success with this crew that Rowing Australia will look into a future for the LTA4+ in Australia!
With an amendment to acknowledge the Coach and Managers aded 15/11