Reflecting on U23 Worlds – now illustrated

…And representing the US in the women’s single: Maddie Lips.

I’m back to Vermont and settled into the Craftsbury rhythm again! After a week of reflection since I’ve returned from racing at U23 Worlds, I’ve been able to process the incredible experience I had and to identify some important lessons I learned. One of the biggest things I learned is that racing at the international level is both an overwhelming and exhilarating experience! In the days leading up to racing, my emotions were all over the place in a way I’ve never experienced before. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was visualizing my race plan over and over again (and probably still adjusting to the time change too). Practices were a crazy mass of boats charging up and down the lanes, coxswains yelling commands to their crews in foreign languages, and safety launches sending constant giant wakes over the course.

Meanwhile, I was trying to get my legs back under me after traveling across the world, and getting comfortable in a new boat and new oars. I was also trying to fix all my technical problems at once because I could see that the level of competition at Worlds would demand the highest quality rowing to win. Two days before racing, all these stresses reached a boiling point and I told my coach Lisa that I was afraid I wasn’t going to race perfectly and that I was running out of time to fix everything. She wisely informed me that nobody rows a perfect stroke, and that this meltdown was well-timed to get me on track mentally for racing. She was right of course. I calmed down and began looking forward to doing what I love: racing.

When I locked in at the start for the heat, I was more keyed up for a race than I’ve ever been. Everything in me was tense, which led to a very bad start from which I veered to port and slammed into three buoys. I essentially stopped and restarted within the first 100 meters, and realized as I saw no one around me that I was going to have to do something crazy to get back in this race. The thought was more exciting than frightening–I began rowing like a crazy person and slowly started closing the gap to my opponents. I walked through two people by the end, but couldn’t catch the frontrunners. My third place finish sent me to the repechage, but I was so excited after my crazy race that I wasn’t too upset! I realized that with a clean start I could actually be a contender against these rowers!

Pre-race visualization.

The next day brought a stiff cross-headwind and I buckled down for a long race in the repechage. Unfortunately, when I got off the start in the rep, my greatest weakness became very apparent:  I’d only been rowing in a single for about six weeks this summer, and hadn’t touched a single for two years before that. So far, I’d been able to win races on power and fitness, but these tough conditions made good technical rowing a necessity. I struggled in the first 500 meters and fell far off the leading pace. But around the 1000m mark, the water flattened out a bit and I was able to surge into third place. Again, I finished one place short of moving on to the A/B semifinal. This time when I crossed the line though, I was devastated. My goal was to at least make it into the B final this year at Worlds, and to fall one place short of doing so was a huge disappointment. I went back to the hotel to recover, forced myself to regain some perspective and understand why I failed to make the A/B semis, and to rally for the C/D semifinal later that day. With similar conditions, I was able to cross the finish line first in the C/D semi to move on to the C final.

Off to the final!

Saturday brought an even stronger headwind than the day before, and I struggled even more off the start in the C final. Again, I fought back to a third place finish after being last off the start, to an overall 15th place finish in the event. Again, I was disappointed not to make the most of the C final and have the experience of crossing the finish line first in my last race at the 2012 U23 Worlds. But by this point, it was very clear to me that my lack of experience in a single was causing me to finish lower than I’d hoped, but that my determination and refusal to give up was stronger than ever. This, I decided, was something to be proud of and something to build off of. You can teach technique, but you can’t teach that inner drive to fight to the end. I’m proud that even in the face of the toughest competition in the world in my age group, I never backed down.

The next step for me is obvious:  learn to row more effectively so that I can put all my power, fitness, and determination in the water. I watched as many A and B finals as I could to try to soak up the high quality rowing and to see how rowing effectively allows smaller people to pass the bigger, sloppier rowers. The entire plane ride home, I visualized the good rowing I’d seen, and tried to see myself rowing like that. I know I’ll be back at Worlds some way or another, and when I am, I plan to be much more prepared than I was this time around.

This trip was hugely important for my rowing progress. Never again will I be experiencing it all for the first time and struggling to take it all in – now I know what to expect and how to prepare. I know where I need to go with my rowing to be on that level, and I’m intensely focused on getting there. Next time I go to Worlds, I want to be first off the line instead of last! I am so incredibly grateful to Craftsbury for making this trip possible for me. Even though my results were not where I wanted them to be, I see this as just the beginning of what I hope will be a long rowing career!

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2 Responses to Reflecting on U23 Worlds – now illustrated

  1. Marshall McKinney says:

    Hate to sound like a stuck record (probably an obsolete phrase for your generation), but I have to say it again. Maddie, you rock! The Colorado contingent of family & friends remain very proud of you. Your determination & drive are a continuing inspiration to all of us. No need to wish you luck in your future efforts. You make your own!

  2. Mary K. Lips says:

    I am so proud of you, dear Maddie! Thanks for sharing the whole process with all of us. The way you worked through the whole thing is an inspiration and encouragement to all who read it. How easy it would be to just be negative or give up. But not you! Congratulations on a job well done. Can’t wait until next time!! Go get ’em, girl!!!!

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