They may not have needed it, but last year’s women’s championship race at the Royal St. John’s Regatta was a lesson in humility for the members of Roebothan McKay and Marshall.
Underdogs at the start of the season, RMM became favoured to win after posting the fastest time at time trials and winning both the Placentia and Harbour Grace regattas. But on race day at Quidi Vidi Lake, the crew dropped the female amateur race by 46-one-hundredths of a second and then lost the championship by just over two seconds, both to m5.
“I’ve rowed for the last 13 years and that was probably the most heart-breaking loss,” says Krista Carew, No. 2 oar. “Everyone thought I was crying because I was happy that we were second in the championship, but they were sad tears.
“Not saying m5 wasn’t deserving, but when you work so hard for five minutes and train since November, it was really emotional.”
After a disappointing end to the season, there was talk of disbanding the team, something veteran coxswain Gord Delaney has seen happen before.
“It’s often hard to take a loss like that, and you often see crews disassemble after something like that,” he acknowledged.
But come November, Delaney says the ladies were back on the ergometers and haven’t looked back since. When they did return, they knew there were areas for improvement, largely in their mental game on race day.
No. 5 oar Alison Jones suggests all the pressure they put on themselves as the underdogs was to their greatest detriment at the Regatta, and it’s big part of the reason the crew returned this summer.
“Even if the result was the same, had we put forth a better effort, I think we all would have come to terms with it,” she said. “But because we knew we didn’t race our best, we felt we had to come back this year and put out the best race we can.”
With less than a week to go before the Regatta, Jones says she and her teammates are in peak physical condition, but more importantly, are in top shape mentally as well.
“I wouldn’t say we’re a jittery crew, but the nerves can get to anyone on race day,” she said. “So it comes back to only focusing on things you can control, and that’s us in the boat. We can’t control weather, wind or who’s alongside us.”
One crew which hasn’t been lining up with them this season and won’t be come Wednesday, should the weather co-operate and the 194th running of the Regatta go ahead as planned, is m5. The back-to-back women’s champs opted to take a year off from the competitive scene.
“We would have loved to row against m5,” says Delaney. “Whenever there are two teams that close, it always makes you go faster.”
Jones, however, takes a more diplomatic approach when asked if she would like another crack at beating m5 for the championship.
“It’s not that we’d like to have them back this year so we could beat them. I think we’d like to have last year’s (championship) race back.”
For her part, Carew says while another shot at m5 would be great, it’s not as if there isn’t a challenge on the pond this year.
That comes in the form of the OZ-FM Masters team, which includes five rowers from the great OZ teams in the 1990s — Siobhan Duff, Tracey Hogan, Jackie Handrigan, Patti Pittman and Cherie Whelan, spare on this year’s crew.
OZ-FM didn’t row in the Discovery Day races, but was on hand for time trials, crossing the finish a little less than seven seconds slower than RMM. In Placentia this past weekend, RMM widened that lead to 12 seconds in the qualifying race and 20 seconds in the championship.
Still, Delaney and company are not counting out OZ come Wednesday.
“They have an incredible amount of experience in the boat,” says Delaney. “I wouldn’t be able to count the championships.
“Any time you have past champions and athletes like that in a boat, they’re never far enough away from you.”
In addition to Carew and Jones, this year’s RMM crew also includes stroke Jennifer Carroll, Beth Davis, Kerri Ann Evely and Heather Tizzard, a replacement for Meghan Dalton, working in Long Harbour and unable to commit to the team this season.
“She’s been rowing for years and she’s one of these gals who probably should have won ten championships by now,” Delaney says of Tizzard.
“It’s hard to find somebody to come in on a crew of five and almost be the outsider. But she’s far from that now.”
What hasn’t changed within the RMM team is their level of commitment. In addition to rowing nine times a week, they’ve been doing three ergometer pieces per week and two team runs.
“The time these girls have put into this is amazing,” says Delaney, who has been joined by veteran coaches Mike Power and Doug Trainor guiding the team this season.
And all season long, no matter what the trio of coaches has thrown at them, the ladies have not wavered.
“We’re not a crew to whine. We know what it takes to get to the next level, and we started the season with a very clear goal. And we also know the works its takes to achieve it.”