"Our coach said we wouldn't win today", Hayley said from the back seat of the car.
It was 4:30 AM and dark. I was driving her to the team bus for her first crew racing, a southern California regatta being held in Long Beach this weekend. She and her other Novice buddies had been learning to row for the last six weeks with ZLAC, a San Diego women's rowing club started by four ladies in 1892, Zulette, Lena, Agnes, and Caroline.
"Why would he say something like that", I asked. I wondered about this coach, but I didn't say anything.
"I don't know". Neither of us was awake enough at that hour to think this through.
There was room on the bus but, no thanks, I'll pass on a bus load of teenagers.
Her mother called from out of town at 9:00 AM after we arrived in our separate vehicles and before her first race to ask how Hayley was holding up. "I think she was a little nervous in the car, but she seems fine now", I reported. Indeed, jitters weren't apparent watching these youngsters hanging out together, getting their boats ready and in the water. They were all business in the water and typical 13 year olds on shore.
The other racing clubs were clearly bigger in numbers -- ZLAC pretty much had to race everyone to fill a boat -- but if ZLAC racers felt intimidated it didn't show.
Hayley had two races, an eight man shell to row and a four to "cox", then a third race to cox was added. Most boats had a coxswain (pronounced cox-en) to motivate and keep the team together.
The eight "man" shell for the first race looked long enough to launch a jet.
As they rowed up"river" to get into position, I got my own position on the opposite bank to take pictures for her Mom, that was my assignment for the day. I could see rowers coming down river and focused my camera on the lane that best fit Hayley's description of where they would be rowing. Snap, snap, snap... some good shots and I turned to leave.
Wait, there's another team coming from farther back. Are they in the same race? Could it be?
I waited. Yes, it was Hayley rowing in her boat of eight. Not quite as crisp and speedy as the others, but they were making their way to the finish line.
By the third race, I knew where to look for these plucky girls. Hayley was the "cox" on this boat, filling in at the last minute. I was positioned again, waiting to take that perfect photo, following the progress of the last boat toward my direction. Just a minute... they seemed to get off course, they were almost stopped, were they dropping out? I learned from Hayley later, you can't just "drop out" unless your equipment totally fails. I watched as they got themselves together and started up again, of course by this time very far back in the race. When they passed by, though, they looked beautiful and, in my book, pretty courageous.
I asked Hayley later what happened. "Tanicia caught a crab, we were heading for the rocks", she responded.
Not knowing the lingo at this point, I thought this was a strange thing to be doing in a competitive race. She explained catching a crab is putting the oar into the water other than vertical and it throws the whole boat off, sometimes violently.
I asked how she handled this, being the cox and all. She answered with some technical lingo, then said, "I just kept calm. If I hadn't, they would have all lost it". I think to myself, another generation with a "shield on her arm"!
The day was almost over, but not until unloading their boats back in San Diego, one hundred jump squats for leaving trash on the bus, and a Hannah Montana movie ("Ouma, you need some teen pop culture").
The next morning was more of the same, only in San Diego on Mission Bay. The girls had a "duel" with Xavier Rowing Club from Arizona. I was beginning to learn this sport starts pretty early in the morning, like before dawn, getting their boats ready.
Hayley had two races, a four man cox and an eight man row. (I'm starting to learn the talk.) I watched a quiet moment before the four man event...
and the launch for the eight man race.
Hayley was becoming a seasoned racer. She and her team would row almost a mile out into the bay to their starting positions, then bring the boat back across the bay, all by themselves from so far away you couldn't see them in the distance. No mind they would be in last place. It takes a lot of guts for a thirteen year old who knows all the words to Hannah Montana's "Nobody's Perfect" song.