In review: 2019

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January 1, 2020 by 8junebugs

1. What did you do in 2019 that you’d never done before?
Dumped a small boat? Developed a bikini wax tolerance? Hernia discovery and repair?

I raced San Diego Crew Classic. That’s the best answer here.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?


My phrase for last year was: Fit, Fast, Fierce. “On and off the water,” I said.

I got fitter. I got faster. I wrote a post about getting my boat feel back and then, less than a week later, my father-in-law was diagnosed with brain cancer and the year’s axis shifted a bit.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

This phase is winding down for a while.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Yes. Losing Rodney and Ken pretty much defined the whole year. Losing a teammate at the tail end, after losing her years ago to dementia, was harder than I expected. I also lost my eldest uncle; we were never close, but it feels like a harbinger I’m not ready to accept.

5. What places did you visit?

San Diego and Gardnerville.

6. What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?

A more manageable budget and a 2K in the 1:50s. <– Still valid! Considerably more possible than last year.

In 2020, we both want to train and race as hard as we’d planned for 2019…or harder. I want San Diego — not the “You deserve to be here so I made a boat” lineup, but a solid, competitive C/D boat. I want medals at Nationals on Lake Merritt. I’m really excited to kick off our family membership at Berkeley Paddling and Rowing Club, too — more sculling in 2020, please, plus paddling with the kids.

We also plan to show the boys that it’s possible to travel for fun and explore new places that are not in the shadow of the Sierras.

7. What dates from 2019 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Beginning with the ones we’ll celebrate:
We got married on October 12.
We got engaged on October 5.

Rodney died on March 24.
Ken died on October 29.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I brought my rowing self back to work after a not-brief-enough hiatus and flipped the script for a project on which I’d been drowning. Instead of backing away from the highest-profile project of the year for our team, I doubled down, got the resources I needed, and handed off my other projects to focus on the stuff that, for now, only I can do.

For the first time ever, I think, I get to stick with strategy and governance instead of burning myself out on that and the tactics of a project scaling at a pace that just doesn’t allow it.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I threw financial caution to the wind in the avalanche of family emergencies and will be cleaning up that mess for a while.

I’m also not proud of my early performance on the project mentioned above.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

We got hit with a few nasty bugs and I had surgery at the end of the year again, but otherwise, no big issues…which is saying something, considering the starts and stops/ups and downs in my training.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Serial memberships to Run, Rattle & Roll in Minden got us through a lot of Nevada trips.

I also bought a wedding dress, wedding rings, and a marriage license. 🙂

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Our village has kept us afloat this year more than ever. While we navigated the rollercoaster of Rodney’s illness, then Ken’s, trying to keep the kids on some kind of even keel, our nearest and dearest pitched in to watch the boys, watch the house, drop off food, pick me up after surgery…the list is endless. We have never needed as much help as we did this year, and I am still humbled by the love and care we received.

We also, in the midst of everything, decided to get married…six days after we made that decision, in my in-laws’ backyard…in Nevada. At our age, we know who will light us on fire for not at least giving them the chance to celebrate such a milestone with us; when so many of our closest friends not only came to our wedding but made our beautiful wedding happen, it was hard to balance the feelings of “I can’t believe they did this” and “Of course they did this.” Because our people are good people and most of them have known us for near enough to forever.

I have to mention my employer here, as well. It was fortuitous that we switched to discretionary time off (instead of PTO) in 2019 because I desperately needed that extra flexibility, but managers are not equal in their comfort level with that benefit. I’ve been extremely fortunate in my teams and my leadership — I’ve had the support I’ve needed to manage a cascade of emergencies and still “bring my authentic self to work,” if you will.

And last but not least, my dad turned up twice on one-way tickets and stayed as long as we needed his help. He managed a week alone with the boys twice, cleaned the hell out of my car (my kids think the car can only be washed when Grandpa is here), handled trick-or-treating, and generally did everything I could possibly need him to do to help us out.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I’m going to keep this one close, but I will say that the terrible illness and death of a loved one will always make you think long and hard about what’s important to you and how you intend to live those values.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Dealing with medical problems, one way or another. Just as we lost our diabetic dog after a whole bunch of attempts to save him (while vets seemed to avoid the obvious), Ken’s diagnosis meant we immediately inherited his dog, Maggie, just as she was diagnosed with diabetes…then developed glaucoma and went blind (very common in diabetic dogs, but it never happened to Rodney), then suffered from necrotizing scleritis and lost her eyes entirely. And then there were all the expenses of going back and forth to Gardnerville every few weeks to manage Ken’s care. 

Also, Gray needed his adenoids out. I needed hernia repair. 

Oh, and our preschool made a serious year-long billing error that we had to figure out at the end of the academic year, affecting how much we could spend on camps.

2019 was a very, very expensive year.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Racing at San Diego! Next time: Race well at San Diego.

It was my first travel regatta with only my team — a three-day slumber party with my crew at a moment when I really, really needed that time and space for my own self care. It’s no secret that rowing is my Thing and racing is my happy place, but the trip wound up being about much, much more than the race for me.

16. What song will always remind you of 2019?

“Sweet Baby James,” which Gray sang with me for the first time this year and Alex sings with me every night at bedtime.

Also “Two-Step and Cowboy Boogie Song” and “Old Town Road,” which Alex will sing at random or request on a loop.

I live in a cartoon musical.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder? Sadder, on the whole. Grief comes in waves.

b) thinner or fatter? A little fatter — six weeks of post-op recovery and illness are a bad match for my holiday cheer(s) habits.

c) richer or poorer? Poorer.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Racing. Writing. Having outdoor adventures.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?


20. How did you spend Christmas in 2019?

We stayed home, as is our tradition, but this year, we didn’t have any grandparents with us. We did have dear friends with us for dinner, though, which was really, really nice. And I used my mother-in-law’s Christmas china, which is not a thing I ever thought I would voluntarily do.

21. Did you fall in love in 2019?

I reignited a long-smoldering affair with sculling.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

The Americans held our attention pretty well. This last season of Survivor was a doozy. Doctor Who remains a favorite — LOVING the new doctor!

23. What did you do for your birthday in 2019?

I intended to get out on the lagoon in a 1x but circumstances knocked that sideways (this will absolutely happen in 2020). Instead, I took a stand-up pedal board out on the Estuary.

24. What was the best book you read?

Daisy Jones and the Six or City of Girls, but it’s a short list. I have a loaded Kindle and need to do better about managing that list.

25. What did you want and get?

A seat in a boat at SDCC, plus a few PRs and a lot more muscle tone.

26. What did you want and not get? 

A trip to New England and more racing.

27. What was your favorite film of this year?

“Noelle,” honestly. 

28. Did you make some new friends this year?

Yes! I’m proud of EBRC’s growth, both in size and in reputation, and I love meeting new teammates. I confess, though, that I get a little sad about not knowing everyone in the club anymore. And although less chatter in the boat is fantastic, it also means there’s less chitchat overall, which makes getting to know everyone harder than it once was.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Less disruption.

This isn’t a complaint so much as a reflection of where we are in our lives. When my mom died, I needed to manage only my own affairs, and then hers. When I had ear surgery, there were no kids to shuttle around. When we caught viruses in the past, we could just sleep until they went away. Now, there are rides to set up and care coverage to arrange and truancy letters from the school even with excused or planned absences, because visiting a dying grandparent is not considered an approved absence.

Managing a year like 2019 is exponentially harder than, say, managing 2008, which was my previous Year of Hell Champion.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2019?

Gym rat, mostly. My body is still shifting and I haven’t really figured out my current “style,” aside from tank tops and jeans.

31. What kept you sane? 

Perennial answer: Crew.

Also Dolly Parton’s America (podcast).

32. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Megan Rapinoe and the entire USWNT. Chris Evans, plus Chrissy Teigen and her lovely husband.

33. What political issue stirred you the most?

Difficult to choose, isn’t it? To capture everything, let’s go with the 2020 election.

34. Whom did you miss?

My mom and Doreen, but it’s complicated. Getting married without them with us was hard, but I wouldn’t have made Doreen go through 2019 for anything.

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2019.

It’s all temporary.

I’ve never liked the “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff” perspective; I think, instead, that it’s all huge stuff and we just need to be better about accepting and moving through it…and then accepting it again.

Put another way, the boat has a one-stroke memory. Every single stroke is important, especially in the race, but each next stroke is a chance to do better, to get something right that you missed the last time. And when the race is over, each stroke counts as much — or as little — as any other. If you put everything you can into each stroke, each moment, and let each moment be what it was when it’s over, life–and the boat–start to feel a lot lighter.

You don’t have to lose. You can win, or you can learn. Every time.

It doesn’t stop the pain — your hands and your heart can still get ripped open with a good attitude. But I think it helps to manage the pain, and maybe lessen the fear of pain.


What’s this year’s word?


We circle up before every race. We go over the race plan. Coach reminds us of all the things we’ve worked on, that we have the fitness we need, etc., etc. Occasionally, we say something, but not usually.

In San Diego, I was 7 in the B boat and there were some less experienced racers in the lineup. A few days before the regatta, our stroke seat quit. She quit the boat, she quit the team, and she quit the club (without so much as a whisper to me, her pair partner). We’d had to replace 6 seat due to a family emergency and I nearly didn’t make it because of my own family emergencies. We could have scratched. We didn’t.

In the circle, our cox called out each of us for what we brought to this unlikely race. She called me Fearless Jen, which is…hey, for all that I write my life on the internet (when I have time), I’m very uncomfortable alone in the spotlight, so it was weird.

But she caught my attention. I listened to her. And though I know her to be everyone’s loudest supporter, I trust her not to blow smoke up my ass.

I decided she was right about me. This year, I embrace fearlessness intentionally.










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