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The Club's Results

Fairbairn Cup 2013

1st women's VIII (Senior VIIIs)

Coxed by: Yining Nie

2nd college crew, 4th overall
Time: 17:09.8
At the moment, I don't really want to think about this race, the result, or could-have-beens. However, I'm sure that time and whatever happens during the many races next term will colour how I think of it in later years, so I'll try to write an accurate account for now, while it's fresh.

Yining didn't call what we wound to off the start, but I suspect it was high as we settled to 36 and had to have a second rhythm call. For a crew that had struggled to rate high, this was a huge morale boost. However, after a blistering start, we were forced to take a brief pause in front of Downing boathouse due to technical difficulties. We re-started, wound, and settled back onto our race pace.

The next couple of hundred metres felt slightly shakey. There were concerning noises coming from behind me and our steely resolve to attack the race was waivering. I made a brief 'believe in ourselves!' call which I immediately regretted in terms of overestimating my race-shouting stamina, but which did give a heartening lift in power and rhythm. We were back in the race.

Our 8-man strong bank party was gamely providing a persistent soundtrack to the race, but Chris had warned us that between Chesterton and the P&E there would be a few moments of silence. We used these to gather ourselves, focus on technical points, and recommit on the 'mini reach'.

At the P&E we were once again riding on the waves of encouragement and ferocity coming from the bank. We hit the reach with an impressive level of commitment behind us, and a good rhythm to carry us through to the second half of the race. We laid down the power steadily, grinding our way up the reach. We cornered well on Ditton and psyched ourselves up for Plough Reach.

There was another lift in power here as we recognized that our epic journey to the finish was almost complete. We went into the corners at speed, cutting efficiently through Grassy and First Post on excellent lines by Yining. Coming around First Post I thought about calling for a wind, but I had neither the breath nor the mental capacity at this point to do anything but keep going.

The rate crept higher down this straight as we emptied the tank and cursed Jesus for placing the finish beyond the motorway bridge. We sailed over the line and all I could think of was 'It's done. It's over.'

This was my last Fairbairns, at least as a college rower. I am sad that I couldn't finish with a victory, but that's how life is. I wish it could have been a fairytale ending, soaring to a convincing victory, but there are no heroics in rowing. It's not a sport of amazing plays or backhanded goals or astonishing gymnastics on a pitch. It's about 9 people thinking with one mind and acting with one body and doing the same thing over and over and over again, cutting and slashing at the water to propel a huge cumbersome boat over a body of water. It's time consuming and painful and requires you to destroy yourself mentally and physically, repeatedly. However, today, we may have destroyed ourselves, but the race, the emotional roller coaster that it was, didn't destroy us.

The crab could have been the end of the race for us. An ignominious end to a term with many ups and downs. Instead, we took that stroke, threw it away and refused to be broken. If the live timings are to be believed, we came second to Downing by 8 seconds. I am still, somewhere in the back of my mind, holding out for a miracle of FaT error and the always entertaining Jesus timings, so until they actually post results I'll hold off on writing in a result here.

A recovery like that was something not every crew could do, and it gives me hope for next term. I told Jon Glass that I realized years ago that if I rowed only to win the race, I would be constantly heartbroken. I row because I love it. But today, I rowed to win the race, we all did, and we're hurting, but somewhere between love and competitive drive, I think we can find some inches for next term. (Julia A.)
Sorry in advance for the novel. And the crab. And the very un-British public display of emotion. And the crab. Have I mentioned I'm sorry about the crab?

"A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself to an exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more." - Steve Prefontaine

Ultimately, if we rowed yesterday to see who was fastest, we would have given up after the (my) horrific, boat-stopping crab, and we would have sat at a comfortable rate 30, probably in our puddles, putting in the minimum to get us over the line. Somewhere between Uni IVs and yesterday, we found some guts, decided we liked pushing hard, and stopped compromising. Sadly, this crew won't be remembered on the walls of the boathouse, but I am going to remember the hell out of this crew, this race, and this term.

Julia has given a pretty accurate description of the race, but I'll add what I can remember:

We wound incredibly high off the start, settling to 36(!) and then again to something more efficient. Just after the second settle call, I found myself losing a fight with my blade. I've replayed that moment so many times in the past 18 hours, trying to figure out what went wrong - I think I couldn't square and took a feathered catch. I'm so sorry - I plan on taking an imperial fuckton of strokes before Lents in whatever sweep boat I can find with whoever I can find until "tap down, feather, square" is so engrained in my brain that I could be having a seizure and still have perfect bladework.

Right. Now that I've gotten that off my chest....

We quickly recovered and immediately went looking for some boat speed or guts or rage or whatever else we could find. Our 8 man strong bank-party certainly helped with that - it's incredibly easy to push when there's just a general roar of encouragement coming from the bank. I wish I could say that I could hear more from the bank, but it's all just a blur of noise and Julia's back and Yining's voice in my memory. After our restart, the stretch between Victoria Road Bridge and Chesterton flew by. Taking Jon's advice about killing it at Chesterton to heart, we started turning up the heat. The reemergence of our massive bank party at the P&E probably gave us another surge of power. We hit the reach and continued to gun it. The second half of the reach felt a little scrappy (where by a little scrappy I mean that I had completely forgotten how to row).

After Ditton Corner, we hit the plough, and Yining asked us for 2% more. I honestly don't know how it happened, or where we found the inches, but our Plough Reach burn gave me my favourite moment of the race - boat speed surged again, and I heard someone from the bank yell "You're out of your puddles!", lifting my spirits. Being out of our puddles meant that we were still rowing well, even if every muscle in my body was screaming with pain. After that, we were through the corners and on our way home. The last 200 meters or so was an interesting effort - but it didn't matter, we had blown up because we pushed like hell for the previous 4.1 km.

While yesterday's result isn't the one we wanted - and we're heartbroken, make no mistake - it doesn't erase the progress we've made this term, the fitness we've gained, the boat speed we've found, or the family we've formed. Aside from a slightly disappointing outcome, this Fairbairns and this term has given me some new favourite rowing memories:

(in no particular order)

- Finally beating Downing in Uni IVs. Glorious. Then, watching LMBC cross the finish line before us in the final, and internally swearing up and down that it would never happen again.
- Going from hating IVs outings and thinking they were useless to hating IVs outings because it turns out that we can actually sit a IV and get some good pieces in - it's just hard and it takes a lot of work.
- Our long over-the-lock outings where we discovered that the River Cam has really nice stretches where it looks like an actual river.
- That awful circuits session where we listened to the Great Cambridge Bake-Off on Cam FM while struggling through Daisy's killer core set.
- Waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the results of Winter Head at the Fort St George,and then hearing we'd won and going on an adventure with Daisy and Julia to pick up our hip flasks from Winter Head
- Neil walking into the BA Rooms covered in mud, blood, and tree.
- Chris's "Don't be the first to pull a weak stroke" speech. It doesn't get any simpler than that.
- Kate Bruce-Lockheart's confession that she chose Trinity because she'd heard we had a strong women's rowing squad.
- Jon Glass vs. Daisy Gomersall in a lyrical showdown for the ages
- Our 8 man bank party for Fairbairns - Nina was right when she suggested that we should each just have our own a boy for the race.
- Embarrassing Simon Wright (and Julia?) every time we saw Catz M1 during an outing.
- Having a crew pasta where more and more coaches and bankparties and supporters kept turning up, and having the meal turn into a First and Third family reunion.
- Thomas's endless supply of neon yellow cycling kit and cheerfulness.
- Nina's Miles Davis erg soundtrack
- Coming back from a Gents outing, and knowing that our boat was rowing better than the Gents, and having Fordy agree.
- "Yining, I can't hear you!" - Danielle, every outing. We'll get you a hearing aid.
- Our new friend, the speed coach, telling us when we weren't pushing and a very belligerent Michael Thornton ("no, really, PUSH, you're not PUSHING YET, you were doing 2:15 two days ago in the FOUR") demanding more
and, my favourite:
- Our first VIII outing after two consecutive weeks of IVs, when we realized that we could make Valkyrie fly. It was nothing less than magic.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us to come this far - Fordy, Thomas, Thornton, Neil, Jon, Emma Mi, Charlie, Jonathan, Chris, Roisin, Sophia, Rachel, Emma Smith, and anyone else I've forgotten. With this crew, and the support of the club behind us, I believe we have even better moments and memories ahead of us this Lents. (Alexa)

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