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Inside the Shellhouse with Ruth Whyman
Release: 04/16/2013
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April 16, 2013

Inside the Shellhouse With Ruth Whyman will appear throughout the 2013 season.

Women’s Crew start season in San Diego

By Ruth Whyman

Huskies aren’t accustomed to the heat. We’re programmed to battle rain, wind, hail, snow and fog. So, a trip to California is always a double-edged sword. Yes, everyone’s dying to see some sun and use those $200 sunglasses they bought on a whim in the fall. But, as always when we touch down in San Diego for the San Diego Crew Classic last weekend, within moments there is a search for shade while we stand and wait for our minivans to arrive. Then, without fail there’s always a desperate cry for air conditioning from the back seats within 60 seconds of setting off for the hotel.

But before long, it’s business as usual and we’re dressed for unloading the trailer and a quick paddle to “shake the travel off.”

The San Diego Crew Classic boating area is home to children’s play areas, roller-skaters, cyclists and multitudes of dog-walkers.

“There’s a lot of distractions. … Every time it still feels new and exciting,” said Victoria Nenchev, a senior on the team and an experienced Crew Classic rower.

It makes maneuvering boats and equipment feel like conquering an assault course.

“It’s an interesting enigma,” head coach Bob Ernst said, who has been a regular since the very first event in 1973. “It’s a real spectacle.”

It’s also a unique stretch of water, since it is located in an ocean bay. This means wading thigh deep into the sea to launch, then taking a mini leap of faith to get your body on the seat. We also simultaneously encounter a small army of jellyfish. Let me assure you, if Huskies never see sun, we sure as hell don’t ever see jellyfish. It gets the girls into the boats a little faster to say the least.

Jellyfish challenge: complete. The real challenge: waiting at the start line the next morning.

We knew the weekend’s racing was going to be tough. Some of the best women’s crews in the country had gathered to show off their early season prowess.

After the heats, with only two seconds separating the top five crews’ times in the Varsity event, it really could have been anyone’s final. We were up against California, USC, UCLA and Virginia.

We’d gone through the race plan multiple times; we’d talked about how we wanted it to feel, what we wanted to achieve.

So, that morning we ran through the usual morning routine. For many, this meant scouting out a local Starbucks before heading down to the racecourse to check over the boat and power through a land warm-up. But, unlike practice days, many of the girls also have their own way of dealing with race day. Some sit quietly, some play music, some crack jokes.

Team dynamics are complex. When you row, eat, go to school and often live together, it’s fair to say you know each other inside out. When you see your best friends going through their race day routines, you know which ones need space, which ones need a comforting word and which ones need you to laugh at their jokes. God forbid you approach the ones that want to be left alone.

This was Freshman Rose Filer’s first regatta. “I knew I’d put in everything I could up until that point, so all I could do was try and keep calm and relaxed,” she said; wise words for such a young racer.

Those magic words – “Attention, go” – never fail to crush any nerves. There’s no point wasting energy on them anymore.

So, this time it wasn’t our race. This time we came away disappointed, but the racing season is always a steep learning curve and this year will be no exception. We learned something and we’re ready to come back fighting.

After all, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog, right? And here’s where we have the advantage – we’re not just dogs, we’re Dawgs.

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