The adaptive events were the first events of the day and a bus was laid on to take everyone from the Hotel to Boston University’s Agganis Arena and the bus driver Dave did an great job through driving snow just t get us the 12 or so miles to the arena.With a little over 3 months specific Erg training I travelled to Boston to compete in the first of what I hope will be many Indoor Rowing World Championships.
I’d hadn’t had much sleep the night before which was a combination of nerves and jet lag and was the first to get on the bus and over the next 15 or so minutes adaptive athletes from every adaptive category started to pile in.
I was joined by a tall athletic looking guy and his helper dog (Jamaica) and I knew instantly that his name was Eric McDaniel, the current world champion and world record holder. We became friends in an instant and discovered during the trip that we had both suffered strokes on the right side of our bodies (me in 1996, him in 2005) we had both been in the Armed services (Navy and Army respectively) and had both taken a long time to recover. He still had issues with his speech and balance; I had no use of my right arm.
I couldn’t help thinking – Why didn’t I get a helper dog!
The arena was an intimidating place, split by a huge black curtain, on one side was the warm up area which had around 100 Ergs laid out neatly in rows of 20 on the other side was the competition floor with over 200 Ergs and an enormous screen where everyone was about to see the progress of each person, represented by a little boat and your surname.
I went through my warm up routine which comprised of stretching and mobility exercises and 20 minutes on the Erg before having one last toilet break and then on to the competition floor.
I was on Erg number 8 which was on the front row next to the crowd, Eric was on Erg 9 and a Ross Newton was on Erg 7.
We were each given an official helper whose job it was to record our times and a seat for a Cox if you had one to “coach” you during the race. Eric and Ross each had a Cox, I didn’t.
We had about 5 more minutes to get strapped in and adjust the drag factor. I usually row at a drag factor of 120 which equates to damper setting 5, however because it was a brand new machine it meant the damper setting 3 equaled drag factor 120.
The race monitors were different the monitors you and I are probably used to and showed the drag factor on the screen. The bottom have would also show the current leader of your race, your position and the position of the person either side of you with a plus (+) or minus (-) to indicated how far in front or behind you are them.
Just before the start an official asked us all the handle of our Erg and sit ready, the monitor also read “Sit Ready”, “Attention” and finally “Row” and we were away.
My plan was to have 7 hard stokes to get me under my target split of 1:56 per 500m and then easy back to my target split. Within 3 strokes my monitor read 1:44, 6 more strokes at 1:44 and then a slowly eased off the pace until the monitor read 1:56.
Eric was leading; I was fluctuating between 3rd and 5th with Eamon Turnbull and last year’s junior champion Kyle Smith changing places with me.
I managed to keep this pace until around 350 to go, my plan called for me to pull harder, my lungs were on fire, but I was well prepared due to the numerous AMRAP WODs I had done during the build up and for the next 100m and how and I briefly pulled 1:54/1:53 before dropping off the pace and finishing the last few strokes with a split around 2:00 per 500m.
Ross on my left still had almost 500m to go and I was urging him on in true crossfit fashion all the way to the 8:02 finishing time, a 3 minute PB.
Eric won for the 4th time, Ross finished last with me, I came 5th in a time of 3.49.7. A time that had I competed last year would have been good enough for a bronze medal.
As well as getting a gold medal Eric, and all the other world champions crowned throughout the day also got a hammer. You heard right a hammer, described in the race program as a “Blunt, Decisive and Unsparing the hammer is the sole of the World Championships” and has been presented to each winner since the very first World Champs.
Am I disappointed to come 5th, far from it: To get from a 3:57.1 on the 1st November to a 3:49.7 (nearly 8 seconds) in just 3 months is a fine achievement in my eyes. But the whole experience was not about times anyway. It’s about the commitment to train hard and consistently through the heat of summer with the support and encouragement of all around me. It’s about the new friends I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve been given to fulfill a dream and pit myself against the best in the world.