Henley all began by a walk to the beginning of the course. Lined by people, dogs and cyclists, and peppered by a “perky breeze from the south,” I could feel the mounting excitement!
Back at the William’s tent, the coach was huddling with the team…their arms were draped across each other’s shoulders…their relaxation belying the effort to follow.
Soon they carried their boat to the water’s edge.
Once on the dock the coxswain gave the command and the boat was lifted into the water. Each member twiddled with the oar locks, climbed onto his seat and paused before slipping his feet into his toe pads. I could feel them thinking, “This is Henley…I’m rowing at HENLEY!”
And then I witnessed something I’ve never seen in a team sport: I watched as the coach shook each rower’s hand and looked him in the eye to give confidence and encouragement. I realized the camaraderie and respect that exists in this sport, the long history rowing has, and the traditions it continues to foster.
Before we knew it, they were off.
We rushed to the finish and didn’t wait long before they drew near. Drawing from the individual to create the collective whole; maximizing strength, coordinated breath and movement into the “SWING;” backs straining, muscles bulging, knees and shins vertical then extended to the rhythm of “Stroke ~10 …stroke ~ 9…stroke…to the finish. Sheer will seemed to carry them over the line!
Still, they continued to their dock, retraced their entrance steps and huddled again with the coach!
Then, of all things, they left the tent and came out to those of our group who had gathered. They shook every single ’68 alum’s and wife’s hand saying “THANK YOU FOR COMING ~THANK YOU FOR CHEERING!”
And now, even more so, I have a better understanding of the discipline that must be developed physically and mentally; the strength of the friendships formed from trust; the successes which oarsmen and Williams’s men experience, and their humbleness to say “Thank you!”
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