Traveling to the Henley, UK: Lville Racing Against International Crews

My heart was pounding in my chest. Each beat shattered the silence of the water around us.

My heart was pounding in my chest. Each beat shattered the silence of the water around us. Staring down the barrel of a whirring camera a million thoughts raced through my head, but one was louder than all the others. Win. Just four weeks ago, the Lawrenceville Boys Varsity Crew Team was training on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, New Jersey, to prepare for the Henley Royal Regatta in England. Each heartbeat counted down the seconds left to the biggest competition of my life. The command came, “Ready… Attention, ROW.” The adrenaline that had been building up for the last 30 minutes finally released. My feet hit the footboards and I ripped the oar through the water—a natural extension of my body pushing me forward. The spray of water clouded my vision but it didn’t matter—I just had to push. Two minutes in and my legs were on fire; a searing pain rushed through them with each stroke. I had trained for this, so I kept pushing.

Four weeks prior, we had finished our final preparations on Mercer Lake and drove to the airport to take a red-eye flight to Manchester. Groggy and spent, the team piled into a coach bus headed for the Royal Shrewsbury School. We spent the next week training twice a day for upwards of two hours, eating and rowing with one of England’s best high school crews. This gave us the chance to develop our skills and even compete in a few scrimmages with the other boats. After a week of tough training, we departed for Henley-on-Thames, where we stayed for the next two weeks.

The opportunity to compete against a British crew gave the Lawrenceville Eight a taste of British rowing. British high school crews at Henley tend to spring out of the start in an attempt to break the other crew. Boats will race until one inevitably falls back. We were not used to this, as our plan was to stay at a strong pace and finish with a fast sprint. Learning this early on helped us, as we knew what to expect and what to do at the beginning of the race.

After a night in Henley, the team headed to Dorney Lake, the rowing center used during the 2012 Olympics, to compete at the Marlow Regatta. After a day of racing, both the Lawrenceville Eight and Four found the competition tough as we were not only racing against other schools but universities as well. Our losses at Marlow motivated us to train even harder and achieve a new level of rowing.

After a week of training on the Thames, it was time for the Four to race in a time trial to earn a bid in its event: the Prince Albert Challenge Cup; the Eight was already prequalified for its event. The Four needed to place in the top four out of 34 crews, many of which came from universities, in its time trial to qualify. While the boys rowed well, it wasn’t quite enough to get them in the race. Although they were disappointed to not qualify, we were all proud that they had taken on the challenge and competed at a higher level. Meanwhile, the boys in the Eight were preparing for our race in the Prince Elizabeth Challenge Cup. We had no other responsibilities other than to rest and train until that exhilarating moment when the Umpire shouted “ROW.”

The race felt like a single never-ending moment of both pain and bliss. As we neared the finish the other crew fell further and further behind, and the roar of the crowd grew louder and louder. After eight grueling minutes, we crossed the finish line in front of the other crew. My heart was still racing but I no longer felt tired. Even as my legs collapsed and the oar slipped into my lap, a smile spread across my face. Hearing the cheering and clapping from the audience and knowing that friends and family were watching from home made the moment unforgettable. The next day, we were facing Radley College, a favorite to win the event. Lining up once again, the next day, I felt more relaxed and ready, even though the race against Radley would be the hardest yet. In the end, we fought hard but were unable to produce a strong enough performance to beat Radley, knocking us out of the event. After a few dejected looks from our teammates and a few group hugs, we realized that we hadn’t done too bad. Ultimately, we made Lawrenceville history and held our own against some serious competition.

Being able to race against international crews opened my eyes to a new level of high school rowing. The exposure to the unique rowing culture in England gave us all new insights on how to improve. Despite the challenges, losses, and bad practices we faced along the way, not to mention a few bouts of stomach flu, we came out knowing a lot more about rowing and about ourselves. I know that we will take our experience from the trip and use it as motivation for success in the upcoming season.

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