After about a week of relaxing, visiting friends and family, and readjusting to life back home, it’s time to reflect on U23 Worlds! What an incredible ten days in Austria. I think I spent an entire week with my heart rate at 140 or higher—my adrenaline was pumping nonstop! I definitely crashed once I got home, but the entire time in Austria I was just zinging with the energy of the event and the thrill of racing. This feeling was especially strong right before racing began with the heats on Thursday. There is so much buildup to racing internationally, because you have to go early and adjust to the time change and new course for several days before racing begins. The result is a whole lot of nervous energy heading into the first race! Sitting at the line for the heat, I knew that I could achieve my biggest goal of the event in that first race—above all, I wanted to get out of the C Final and make it to Sunday. If I made the top 2 in my heat, I could skip the repechages and go straight to the A/B Semifinal, putting me automatically in the top 12. The race began, and I was in the thick of it! Unlike last year, I had a start that put me in the pack from the beginning. All the way down the course, I battled the Greek sculler next to me for that second spot. In the last 500 meters, I knew I had put out a lot at the beginning of the race and wouldn’t have much for a big sprint, but I kept pushing ahead of the Greek sculler, hoping she would expect me to have a sprint and give up to save her energy for the rep the next day. My gamble paid off, and she slowed down into the last 250 meters, and I took that second spot! I had made it to Sunday’s finals!
On Friday, I was able to relax and practice while many of my opponents had to race in the repechages for the remaining four spots in the A/B semifinals on Saturday. My practices were incredibly beneficial—all summer I’d been working to find that sweet spot of acceleration in the single that makes it pick up and fly. I still hadn’t found it heading to Austria, and that made me extra nervous. But in the warm up before the heat on Thursday, I suddenly started feeling that acceleration again. I hadn’t been able to put it together completely for the heat race, but practicing on Friday solidified the feeling, and I knew I had more speed to show on Saturday. I couldn’t wait to race again!
Saturday came, and I lined up against what I knew would be the tougher semifinal. Both the German and the Canadian sculler were almost certainly going to take 1st and 2nd in the final, and both were in my semi. But top 3 would make the A final, so that 3rd spot would be anyone’s for the taking. The bottom four of us were fighting it out all the way down the course, trading back and forth for spots. Going into the last 500 meters of the race, we were all within less than a second of each other—it was going to come down to the sprint, which was bad news for me. I had figured out a start, and the base had always been my strength in races, but I hadn’t had time to figure out how to take a single up from base speed to sprint speed. I raised my stroke rate and started pulling like crazy, but of course it’s boat speed that matters and mine was slowly dropping. I fell behind the pack in the last 200 meters or so, and finished 6th in the semifinal. I was frustrated that I had come so close only to fall behind in the last minute of the race, but I knew that I had put out a much stronger race than the heat. To be in the race for so long was such an amazing thrill that I couldn’t be too upset, and I started looking forward to the B final the next day.
On Sunday when I arrived at the race course, I had a strong memory of how it felt last year to be done with racing on Saturday and to have to watch the A and B finals from the grandstands. It was a great feeling to be racing on that final day, even though I hadn’t made it to the top final. Going into this race I knew no one would be holding anything back, so even though I had struggled in the final 500 in my previous races, I couldn’t save up too much in the first 1000 meters or I would be dropped from the field. With that in mind, I had a great first 500 meters and actually led to the 500 meter mark! That was an incredible feeling—I remember thinking I felt like I was flying at one point. I then took the base down to a steady march instead of throwing in lots of moves or bursts like I had been doing before. This approach actually let me maintain a higher boat speed without draining energy shifting up and down. At 500 meters to go, we were all fighting it out, and I knew it would come down to the sprint once again. This time, I focused on increasing my boat speed rather than just going wild, and I did hold on a little longer. But unfortunately, in the last 100 meters, the last ten strokes, I again felt myself dropping back on the field. I finished 5th in the B final, so 11th overall.
Again, I was frustrated that I had done so much work in the middle of the race only to be outmaneuvered in the last 100 meters, but most of all I was amazed to have been so close to the front of the pack. I was proud of what I had done, and knew that the race I’d just performed was something I could not have done just a week before. I had found a new gear of speed at Worlds that I’d been lacking all summer, and I improved on my best performance every race. And of course I know exactly what I need to work on—that last 500, or really those last few strokes, are the most important strokes of the race. I had made huge progress in getting myself in the position to win in those last few strokes, but now I need to master those final strokes. That’s a matter of both fitness and technique: I need to be fitter and more powerful so I have the horsepower to bring up the boat speed at the sprint, and I need to be more comfortable and skilled in a single to effectively apply that power.
It’s pretty tantalizing to have come so close to placing much higher than 11th, but also incredibly exciting for me to know exactly what I need to do to really compete at this level! I think that’s something that can only be learned by going through the experience of racing. I feel so lucky and grateful that I found the Craftsbury community—I never would have gotten to have these experiences if I hadn’t! The development at the U23 level is invaluable. I can’t imagine going to a Senior World Championships without having had the chance to race at the U23 Worlds first. I’ve learned so much about dealing with the pressure of racing and the stress of traveling, and above all, I have learned that racing internationally is the best feeling in the whole world! Once I was out on the water and in race mode, I wasn’t even nervous anymore, I was just having the time of my life. That feeling, I now know, is worth all the work that goes into getting there. That’s a lesson that will shape how I approach the next few (maybe several) years of my life!