What started in Oklahoma City (training), took me to Princeton, New Jersey (National team/Worlds Trials), has now brought me to Bled, Slovenia.
When I first learned that I had qualified for the World Championships at the Trials in New Jersey, I was asked to sign an “intent to compete” form which basically was my indication to US Rowing that I would compete on behalf of the United States at the World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia. My first thought of course, was YES, I would love to compete, and my second thought was, where the heck is Slovenia? My only hope was that at least the airline pilot would know because I had no clue.
Turns out that Slovenia is an eastern European country bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. The population of the country is approximately 2 million. Our competition is held at Lake Bled, which is in the town of the same name, and the US Adaptive team is staying about an hour away in the quaint ski town of Kranjska Gora at the Kompas Hotel.
But before I go into that, I have to talk about getting here. My adventure began at 4 a.m. on Tuesday, August 23rd. I had done most of my packing on Monday night, but I had some details to wrap up before my 10 am flight, so I got up before the sun because I had an important task that needed to be taken care of before I left.
Though I have navigated the Olympic sports world for a while, rowing is giving me some new adventures and experiences that I didn’t have through my participation in triathlon. For one, rowing is a Paralympic sport, which means I must adhere to the rules of the United States Anti-Doping Agency and become part of the National Testing Pool. I never had to do this with triathlon because it was not yet a Paralympic sport (it will debut in 2016), so drug testing was little, if any at all (I, personally, was never tested). So, before I left home I was required to log in and do a tutorial about the process, which covered what kinds of substances are illegal, how testing occurs and how to pee with an audience. Of course, I left this task to the very last minute and when I logged on, I realized that there was an hour worth of videos and quizzes that I had to go through and it was imperative I get it done before I went. I wasn’t sure what my internet situation would be here and it was due on the 26th. I rushed through what was mandatory and was able to do the rest with the assistance of my roommate, Jacqui, here in Bled. Basically, the way drug testing works, you have to supply your daily whereabouts each quarter because the drug testers can come at any random time to request a sample and you better be where you said you were going to be. They might find you at your home, when you’re on the road for work or competition, wherever. So you must be where you said you’d be or you’ll get a failed test. Two failed tests and you receive a suspension. Needless to say, it’s a big deal.
So…I got that completed packing, did a few work things and headed to DIA to catch my 10am flight to Newark. Again, the drama was little compared to triathlon, but I was a little nervous going into the trip because I was going the whole way to Slovenia by myself. My teammates had gone the day before.
From Newark, I flew nine hours to Munich and then was going to have my last 45 minutes on my third leg to an airport that I couldn’t for the life of me pronounce the name. Wanna try? It’s Ljubljana (Lou-blee-on-a). I learned this because the guy sitting next to me on the way to Munich inquired about the US Rowing shirt I was wearing and shared with me the fact that he was a masters rower and even though he was not on his way to Slovenia, he had been here before and knew about the rowing at Lake Bled. He enlightened me, though I immediately forgot and had to hear it a few more times before I actually got it.
Anyway…I was picked up at the airport with other racers by a driver from the local race organization, and taken to a hotel in Bled. When we got there, the other racers got off the bus, but I was told that I needed yet another shuttle to get to my hotel. So I jumped in the other van and headed off for an hour to the Hotel Kompas. Arriving at the hotel I was struck by the gorgeous scenery. The mountains are fully green and completely surround us. The view is amazing as we are literally across the street from the ski hill. The village here has shops, restaurants and is a nice location, all things considered.
On to the rowing. Fortunately we got here several days early—especially lucky for me because we’ve had a lot to do to get my boat ready. Since I haven’t had as much time in Oklahoma City with my coach and figuring out the best rigging for my boat, it’s continually a work in progress. My first day out on the water, was horrible. I thought it was me. And part of it probably was. I have been dryland training but not on the water for the past two and a half weeks, but this was really bad. I was so frustrated when I came in, but I had not been feeling well from the flight and was fatigued, so I let it slide. Thursday wasn’t much better and I was starting to get REALLY frustrated, to the point that I couldn’t keep my mind focused on what I was doing. The problem is that when you come to a competition so far away, you are in a completely new boat with a different rigger, different oars, everything. There are formulas and measurements that you can use to set the boat up and you (or in this case, my coach), tries to make it as close to your setup as possible, but it takes a fair amount of adjusting and figuring things out. Finally, yesterday (Saturday) we started to make some breakthroughs. We lengthened my oars, and made a few changes to the rig. Still, at the end of practice, Muff said I wasn’t rowing like I had been in Oklahoma City and I agreed. I’m just not in my groove. The problem is, I don’t know enough about how to problem solve my setup. Fortunately, I can explain what feels different or any observations I make on the water and Muff is good at making the translation to what needs to happen. He’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve, so we’ll try them on the water today. I hope they work because tomorrow is race day!