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The Canadian female rowers ready to take on the World Cup in III in Lucerne, Switzerland. Colleen is first on the left in the back row.
According to our coach, three of my teammates and I hadn’t made the cut in the women’s eight. We thoughts were on our way home to train independently and watch the Canadian national rowing team go off to Lucerne, Switzerland to compete in World Cup III, leaving us behind.

But wait, what was that? In our last time trial to qualify boats to the event, as a four person crew, we had hit the international standard required to send our four to Lucerne. This was the first time a Canadian women’s four would appear on the international stage since the Olympic Committee made it a new event to appear at Tokyo 2020. And we had made it happen!

As the rest of the women’s team (in addition to our crew, Canada sent a women’s eight, pair, two light women’s doubles, a heavy women’s double, and a single) went off to a staging camp in Italy, our four stayed behind in London, Ontario to support one of our crewmates who was finishing off work leading up the event. Our schedule was adjusted so we would arrive in Lucerne about four days before racing. However, one coach stayed behind to help get us ready to race and this was a great opportunity to be a learning sponge. Canada’s selection process is rigorous; we had just emerged from a week of selection racing, a tremendously stressful time where everyone’s performance is evaluated individually – it’s everyone for themselves. In addition, Canada’s selection process occurs very close to the event. Now, we had to shift our individual mindset and learn to row together so we could compete against crews that may have been rowing together for years. We really had to check our desire to get in the boat and suddenly be super fast with the reality that there would be growing pains as we consistently trained together for the first time. Every person in the boat made changes that helped the crew and that ultimately made us better rowers.

Travelling to Europe for competition is challenging – it’s a long flight with a large time difference. Getting the right sleep, keeping your muscles loose, staying hydrated, and eating right was really critical for our crew because we were arriving so close to the event. This meant dressing up in our funny looking compression tights, bringing snacks and water, and bringing eye shades and earplugs. Unfortunately, when we touched down, I had likely got about four hours of sleep in the last 24 hours. Not great for recovery and race prep. But things like that go wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about them. I just had to imagine it was the start of a new day and be there for my crew.

Despite my fatigue, discovering Lucerne was so exciting. The town was beautiful, as was the race course. Rowing Canada had set up a tent at the course with stationary bikes to warm up on, snacks, and a slushie machine for cool drinks for recovery. At our hotel, Canada was sharing a hotel buffet with three other countries competing at the regatta, and the food was awesome! This is so key because if you don’t feel like you can eat the food provided, refueling and relaxing is so much harder. Everything was set up for us to be able to perform our best. It all seemed like so much support, but other countries had similar or more elaborate set ups. It started to dawn on me the level of competition and professionalism at the event. We were representing our country and that really meant something.

I can’t say that I was able to control the nerves that came with the event completely. I was able to sleep the day before our heat, and did all the regular warm-ups but something felt strained in the boat during the race. It was like we were pulling too hard to be effective, which is one of the hardest lessons about rowing as a sport; more effort doesn’t always equal more speed. Our performance put us last in our heat. Personally, I didn’t feel able to put all my power into it, and it was really disappointing, as we had come all this way to be the best we could be.

At this regatta, you earn a place in the finals by getting top two in your heat or repachage, which is like the second chance heat. We were headed to the repachage the next day, where the first two boats in our heat the next day would make the A final, the rest would be in the B final. We were racing the silver medalists from the World Championships last year, a crew from Poland who had been racing together for a couple seasons. It was going to be tough.

The day of the rep I actually felt a lot better. The heat race was kind of a ‘shake out’, the kind of race you experience after coming to international events for the first time and you get out of your system. That day, hearing the start announcer call “Canada” and the “Poland” and so on in the lanes next to us didn’t make my heart leap. Just kind of jump a little. On the go we took off and it was immediately a different boat from the day before. We were in the thick of it, but we were staying long and catching all together. My body started to burn early, but as we powered into the last 250 meters, we were neck and neck with two other crews. We crossed the line, totally and utterly spent. I felt like my eyes were burning in my head from the effort. Top two were into the A final- did we make it?! No, nope, we missed out by 0.2 seconds. Missed out by the nose of a boat at the end of a 6 and a half minute race. But we were actually really proud. It sucked. Yea, it sucked but we held the best in the world all the way to the end. So we were going into the B Final resigned, but intent on crushing it.

And we did. We had a good race and moved away from the other crews, which is always the best feeling. Every race we got to learn how to row more together, and though we didn’t vie for a medal, we got so many comments about our passion and effort as the Canadian women’s four. Overall, Canada’s women rowers did excellently – we took home three silvers and a bronze, with many A finalists.

I still want my own medal though, so I’m looking forward to the selection process for the World Championships that occur in September. I’ve got to earn my seat, and then, I want a spot on the podium.

Go Canada Go!

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