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Inside the Shellhouse with Ruth Whyman
Release: 05/02/2013
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May 2, 2013

Washington Varsity Women Beat California In Duel For First Time In 10 Years

By Ruth Whyman
UW Women's Crew

"To duel": a prearranged fight to settle a feud. And my, what a long feud it's been. In one corner, the California Bears; in the other, the Washington Huskies waiting to defend their home water. Last Saturday morning we came together for our annual showdown and this year, we really were ready to rumble.

It's a rivalry that began on the men's team 102 years ago and crossed over to the women's team a lengthy 65 years later. Still, trailing behind in number of years doesn't make it any less powerful and definitely not any less competitive. For us, thinking about California makes our blood boil.

Amy Fowler sat in the four-seat of the varsity eight. This was the first year she had raced the University of California on our home course.

"There was this desire within me to defend what we've built for ourselves here. I wanted to show them what Washington's made of," she said, on seeing them on Husky territory. "There's something about the tradition of this race; you want to race for your sisters."

It had been 10 years since Washington's women had beaten the Bears. Coach Bob's last words to us before we parted ways after Friday morning's practice were, "Nothing's going to just come down and make your boat go fast, Huskies. It's up to you."

Oddly, the night before was fairly relaxed. The varsity athletes had dinner together and didn't discuss rowing once - a rare feat. We had found some confidence after a couple of good practice pieces against the men's fours and there was an air of positivity we hadn't had a few weeks earlier.

Saturday morning brought with it a familiar cross-breeze that had been picking up consistently throughout the morning, but we weren't fazed. We reminded each other that rowing in rough conditions is what we do best; it was Husky water. Sitting on the start line, I could feel how hungry my teammates were to prove we were good enough to everyone watching, but also to ourselves.

The first 1500m are blurry. Only after reading reports on the race did I even know we were up on Cal off the start, then a few seats down midway through. The noise from spectators brought me back into the moment with 500m to go.

We started picking up speed.

I heard a cry from behind me, indicating that the bow of Cal's boat was no longer even with ours, but beginning to lag behind. So, we started playing the "bow-ball game." Coxswain Maddy Johnston started to call on individual girls to push a little harder and pass the opposition's bow-ball on, so that it was no longer even with them. Then, it's the next girl's turn.

"Once we had four seats going under the bridge I knew we had them and I had this huge smile on my face. I just wanted to cross the line so the rowers could feel the elation I was feeling," Maddy said.

The game was working, not just because one girl was playing well by herself, but because she had her teammates urging her on, playing with her.

Crossing the finish line was overwhelming; exhausting; exhilarating. Ten years' worth of Washington women won that race with us and you could feel it in your aching body, hear it in the crowd and see it radiating off our beautiful stretch of water.

Two seconds separated the crews. Two seconds showed the world how hard we've been working all year. They're also seconds that will motivate the California Bears to up their game. Fortunately, this is no concern of ours. We accomplished the goal for that weekend and now it's time get back to work. We're excited for the next step.

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