An Athletes’ Perspective on the San Diego Crew Classic
The Mens American Health Specialty Cal Cup Champions
Athlete: Justin Wegner ’13
Major: Natural Resource Management
Hometown: East Grand Rapids High
This weekend was an incredible experience for both the men and women’s boats that traveled to California to represent Grand Valley at the San Diego Crew Classic. After a long plane ride to California on Thursday, the team went directly to the course where we met Tyler who had spent much of the previous week driving our boats along with a number of other crew’s boats to the west coast.
After unloading the trailer and rigging our boats each crew went out for a “pre-race fartlek”, a short row to get a feel for the course and go over the next days race plan. After the row we strapped down our boats for the day and headed to our hotel to keep off of our feet until our heats the next day.
The Men’s 1V, entered in Heat A of the Cal Cup, was the very first race of the day. After an early bedtime the night before, staying on “Michigan time” made this the ideal race time for us since it still felt like late morning in Michigan. We were the first crew to arrive at the racecourse that morning and after a final check of our boat and a group warm up and stretch we were ready to race. We launched and headed to the starting line.
Our heat was the fastest heat of the day for our event and after battling it out with Orange Coast and Oklahoma City for the first 1000 meters of the race, our coxie Chris called our move for Robbie, who is currently active duty in Afghanistan, or would otherwise be rowing with us this weekend. This really fired us up and we began to open up on the field for the remainder of the race ultimately finishing with open water and a time of 6:03.23.
This was just the performance we needed going into the final. With the fastest time of the day for our event posted we were cautiously confident and excited for the grand final the next day. We strapped down our boat and spent a little time to take in the atmosphere of the regatta, bought a dvd of our race, and then headed back to the hotel to wash up before going out for a boat lunch made possible by the parents of one of our oarsmen. Later that afternoon we decided to go out for a short, easy row to tweak a few aspects of our race plan and get a few strokes in together before the Grand Final.
The next morning as we rowed up to the starting line for the Grand Final we were greeted with conditions that were not nearly as pristine as the day before. A crosshead wind was blowing down the course adding an extra aspect of intensity to the race. Before long we were into the blocks and the race was off. We had a great start and settled right into our race plan.
The water was rough for the first 500 meters of the course demanding control of our blade work and an added level of focus throughout the crew. As we moved into the second 500 we were trailing Drexel in lane four but we remained calm and stuck with our race plan. As the race progressed we continued to trade bow balls with Notre Dame in lane two and Drexel in lane four. The whole time in the back of our minds we knew Robbie was watching the live stream from his base in Afghanistan and cheering us on and the rest of the team was doing the same back home in Allendale. And with Robbie’s name on the bow of our boat we knew it needed to be the one to cross the line first.
We hung with the pack and were ahead going into the final 500, when Notre Dame took their move. They brought up their rate and really made a charge for our bow ball. We held them off and made our move with 250 meters left in the race. Bow ball to bow ball with Notre Dame and Purdue we brought up our rate and left it all on the water. We took five seats on the field winning the race with a time of 6:32.09.
We left California yesterday on top of the world. All of the hard training we have put in over the winter has paid off with a win on the west coast and a great start to the season ahead. This one was for Robbie though, we can’t thank you enough for the service you are doing for our country and us, and we all miss you and can’t wait until your back here training and racing with us again. Until then, we are all fired up and ready to get right back at it with our sights set on the races ahead; determined to continue to represent Grand Valley as we travel across the country racing the top crews from dozens of other colleges.
Carey Mankins ’13
Major: Health Professions
Hometown: Bloomfield Hills, MI
As a day of racing, traveling and eating comes to a close, we head for Michigan knowing that doors have been opened. The knowledge that the varsity women have gained in the past three days will show to be valuable in the coming spring races. We learned how we will race smarter, stronger and more effectively, regardless of what kind of competition is thrown at us.
We began the day at 5 a.m., making sure that we all got a nutritional meal three hours before our race. We made our way to the course and talked about our new race plan. With the San Diego Crew Classic being our first official spring race, our race plan for our heats was not effective enough. We had reevaluated with Coach Bancheri about what we needed to do in each 500 of the race and decided that we were going to race a more competitive race for our petite final. We launched with the sun just starting to come over the California mountains and began our pre-race warm-up.
We approached the starting area, toughing out the high waves on our way up. As Jordan lined us up into the starting blocks, we stretch out our muscles one last time. Once the race official moved the flag, there was no stopping us. We executed our start and capped at a 38 strokes per minute, and soon shifted it down to our race pace. We flew through the 500, approaching the 1000 meter mark quickly. As Jordan called our move, we knew that this is where we would race differently than our heats. We would be more aggressive, faster, stronger and most importantly in these tough conditions, clean through the water. Having the wind was definitely a disadvantage, but after spending a week at Benderson Park in Sarasota, FL, we were able to make the adjustments needed to compensate. We moved to 750 meters to go and took the rate up. At this point, there was no giving up.
We could see all the other boats fall behind us and with each stroke we were crushing their bow balls. We had 500 meters left and were feeling pain that we had never felt before. We kept pushing away from the other crews, holding them off. As we approached 300 meters left, we began our sprint, bring the rate up as much as we could. As Jordan yelled to us, we yelled back with our throbbing muscles telling us to stop. We rowed through the finish stronger than ever with no one ahead of us, satisfied with a first place finish but also having raced a smart race.
After a cool-down lap, we de-rigged our boat, returned to the hotel and began our trek to Venice Beach. After seeing some eventful sights on our way there, we arrived at Venice Beach to enjoy the California sun, unique variety of people and shops, and ended the long day with a warm Italian dinner provided by Marco Benedetti’s family. We watched video of the races as a team and congratulated each other on how well we all did. Before leaving for the airport to head back to Michigan, we all took a much needed nap on the Benedetti’s couch and floor, proving that the days’ activity really took a toll on our bodies.
As I write this blog while we wait for our 12:20am (3:20am GR time) flight, I look around at my teammates and see the exhaustion on each and everyone of their faces. We all fought battles this weekend, with both men and women’s teams walking away with proud smiles on our faces. Although the women’s team did not walk away with a medal in our hands or t-shirts off the other teams backs, we are thankful to have had this valuable learning experience and anxious to begin training again so we can begin our fight this season.