July 27, 2016 by 8junebugs
There are two definitions of “pair partner.”
Every time you get in a boat that isn’t a single, you have a pair partner. Bow pair, 3 and 4, and so on, up the boat. Your partner is whoever Coach matched you up with that day.
In our club, that could be almost anyone; that’s just masters rowing, where lineups depend on who shows up that day. We’ve all got families, jobs, responsibilities of all kinds. (One of us is pregnant…) Life gets in the way, and that’s just how it goes.
But if you’re very, very fortunate, even at the masters level, you can still experience the kind of pair partner connection Olympian Megan Kalmoe writes about in Dear Kerry. It’s not about technique level and erg scores, or about matching up heights.
It’s a deeper connection that starts before you know it’s there.
“The elemental and existential parts of rowing: desire, trust, surrender, loyalty, and a genuine love for what we do – these are things we brought to our rowing every day that I never took for granted, and that made rowing with you great.” –MK
Not every masters coach has the luxury of looking for this. Some days, weeks…even whole seasons, the best you can hope for is to put together a speedy boat or two and get them a couple of practices together in the race lineup before their event. Maybe you have a few pairings that you know work well and you can build a lineup around them, but that might be as far as you get, especially in a club that’s short on small boat practice, anyway.
That’s how we got here. We got put up as that year’s hotshot newbies who would stroke the novice boats until we lost our novice status. We’re a bisweptual pair — we can switch seats on the fly, trade off on stroke, sync up, and rely on each other no matter where we end up. Our ergs are solid. We can count on each other to be at practice…and our coaches can count on that, too.
This year, unexpectedly, our wildest hope (and/or fear) came true. We got the honor of racing in the pair. It was an honor and a choice, actually. First, Coach said he wanted to have us race it…at Regionals, no less. Then, we found out it would mean letting go of our novice 4+, which has been our main boat for over a year. The events were too close together, and Coach gave us the choice — 2- or 4+.
That alone was an honor, and it informed our choice. When your coach has enough faith to leave that call up to you, that can convince you to go for it. Even so, we were wary at first. Nervous. We had so little time to learn the boat. We’ve relied so heavily on our coxes to call the race plans. WE’RE STILL FUCKING NOVICES.
“There were no guarantees that we would succeed. But that, in and of itself, was worth it, and says everything about what it meant to me to row with you. We always knew getting what we wanted and achieving our goals was going to require that we be willing to commit ourselves fully to the process, and to that risk. We were never going to be able to go half-way in or settle for playing it safe…” –MK
Ultimately, we chose to let go of the 4+ we loved to close the season on a different kind of challenge. We agreed on all the reasons to do it, and we worked our asses off with the (oh, so limited) time we had. We chose to honor the instinct that led our coach to send us out alone.
Ultimately, our Regionals race plan went to hell. We did everything beautifully but the race. Launching, warming up, stakeboating, docking…masterful. The race itself? Our second practice went more smoothly. We were tense and the boat knew it (and Coach could see it from shore). We came off the course knowing we could do better, knowing we had what it took to medal, and knowing we blew it.
(No, for real. We know we can hold that 2:05, and that’s a medal-worthy split for this race.)
I came off the course worried that my condition/conditioning had doomed us. Four months pregnant and racing in a pair when someone else might’ve done better — what the fuck was I thinking? Had I talked you out of a more likely medal in the 4+? (I mean, we went right on to medal with our nov8+ — our nov squad has put in some serious work this spring.) Had I completely let you down?
Instead, our first race on our own drove us to recommit to each other and to the boat, in spite of my looming largeness, and that started with you.
We won’t race together again for a year, most likely, but when I pointed that out, you basically told me to shove it. We didn’t do it for a medal — we did it because it was the hard thing to do. We’re a pair, and this is still our challenge to work out. We’ve got time (eventually), and working together, in a small boat when we can, will force us to get better at everything we love about this sport.
If I talked you into the race, you talked me back into the boat, and meeting in the middle is always where we’re strongest.
This is magic at the masters level. We’re not Olympians, even if Regionals feels like our Rio. We’re not the only two teammates to have this connection, but it’s not the norm, either — not in our club, even though the team love is strong. It’s a gift to have a coach give us the space to take on this challenge and to have his support even now. (Our old coach was proud of us, too — I ran into him by the port-a-potties.)
It’s a gift to pair with you, and one I take for granted less and less as the weeks tick on and my last day on the water gets closer and closer.
“This is my way of saying that I would rather have tried and failed with you than done it any other way. I was always willing to risk failing because the potential reward, no matter how small the probability of achieving it, was worth it.” –MK
Win or lose, that was one hell of a run. Thanks, CJ.