Posted by mrhorrible on:
I’m going to tell you a ‘Proud Parents’ story about a rowing crew from Canada; Nine students from Shawnigan Lake School in BC, Canada, eight young men and one young woman: The Shawnigan Lake School crew consisted of George Halse of Ponoka, Alta., brothers Lachlan Macintosh and Alexander Macintosh of Shawnigan Lake, Rory Rees of West Vancouver, Alexander Thorlakson and Mark Elliot of Kelowna, Jason Cartwright of Lantzville, Alex Housser of Shawnigan Lake and coxswain Isabella Bourbon of Santa Barbara, California; and their coach, Tim Coy, who helped them go all the way to the ultimate rowing victory at Henley in England.
They had a simple philosophy: “Take the lead. Keep the lead.”
Shawnigan Lake School is a high school on the shores of Shawnigan Lake in British Columbia. They specialize in academics, and two sports; rugby and rowing. The rowing team was already quite strong, as only a rowing team from a school on the shores of a lake would be, and one day they scouted people to be the coxswain, which is the person that sits in the rear of the boat and steers, calls the cadence of rowing, and leads the strategy decisions during a race. A young woman from Santa Barbara in Southern California, Isabella Bourbon, tried out for the position.
Now Isa, as her friends call her, is friendly, intelligent, beautiful, and a wonderful actress, singer and dancer. Her greatest interest is acting, and she has acted seriously since 6th grade in Santa Barbara Middle school. When she was approached for the job of being a coxswain, she didn’t really know what it entailed, and she didn’t have any experience in rowing.
After trying out, she found that she liked the water, the sensation of speed, and especially the sensation of telling a group of people what to do, and having them do it.
She spent a successful season coxing women’s rowing. The only thing that she didn’t like was losing, which happened only once.
In Isa’s senior year, the coach of the varsity men’s rowing team expressly asked for her, and put her with his best team, which proceeded to win race after race. They had something special together; she was their sister by choice and these eight young men are the best of the best in their hearts. They all respected and loved each other. Several small inter-school races were won, Shawnigan always taking the lead and keeping it to the finish.
The first big Regatta was the Brentwood Regatta, where Isa coxed the men’s fours (four rowers to a boat) and the men’s eights, both to victory. That victory won Shawnigan a place in the Windermere Regatta in Seattle, the biggest Regatta on the West coast and a chance to row against very strong competitors including rowing clubs, and before a huge audience. This is a race famous for a ‘choke point’ halfway down the course. A boat that is not well placed before this point is doomed to lose.
Shawnigan used their usual strategy and led from the start. In a very hotly contested race, they took first prize.
After that race, they were invited to compete in the Canadian national championships in St. Catherines, which is an event in which all the best Canadian schools compete. There, Shawnigan led the pack to a victory in which the crew took first place, thereby entering the sports hall of fame.
Shawnigan was now ready for the most demanding race in the world, at Henley in England. This famous race, which was started in 1839, is the holy grail of rowing. Unlike the Olympics, where rowing is one out of hundreds of sports, Henley is only about rowing, in many categories, from one-person boats to eights, the largest and fastest. In a nation known for its rowing, Henley is the most important Regatta of the year. It’s also a race where boats compete only two at a time, and where the race is like a duel, and tactics and strategy are as important as athletic ability.
The Shawnigan team left for Henley on June 24, and upon arriving proceeded to train and get over their jet lag. They had to try out three boats before finding the one that they worked with best. Their first training was with a university crew, against whom they performed brilliantly, winning six out of six ‘pieces’, thirty-stroke try-outs. I asked Isa what the coach said or recommended once they arrived and were preparing for this race and she said that he just said, “Do what you have been doing”.
Their first race was against St George’s College. The Shawnigan crew led from the start as usual, and won by 33 seconds or 7 lengths.
The next day, the race was against Winchester College; Shawnigan won by a large margin, which they label ‘easily’. This was the last of the ‘easy victories’.
On the fourth of July, Shawnigan raced against Abingdon College, one of the best crews in England. The race was hard fought, and Shawnigan came out two lengths ahead.
The fourth race was a very hard race, against Shrewsbury, which was the school that won Henley in 2007, beating Shawnigan’s neighbors, Brentwood, by two feet. The weather was foul, with rain squalls and twenty mph headwinds. Training in bad weather in Canada paid off, as did the fact that the Brentwood coach knew about some of Shrewsbury’s tactics, including the famous secret maneuver, which was a mid-race sprint to take the lead, and shared this information with Tim Coy, the coach of Shawnigan. Armed with this information, the Shawnigan crew matched Shrewsbury with some tricks of their own, and won with a half-length lead.
The final race was against Eton, the very well known British school, and famous for rowing. Eton had won this particular race, the Princess Elizabeth cup, nine times.
The weather that Sunday was not ideal, with lightning storms delaying the race for two hours. Finally, the start was announced, and as usual Shawnigan took the lead from the beginning. There was a strong headwind pretty early on that demanded another immediate decision by the cox to steer to the middle so as not to bash the oars into the side of the booms and getting them disqualified. Listening to English radio you only heard that the cox made a mistake steering to the middle that may have cost them time and therefore the race, only to learn later that it was one of several crucial decisions. The remarks were almost comical; the big weight (in stone) of the rowers, the shoddy blade work, the cox being Mr. Bourbon instead of Miss Bourbon and even mispronouncing the name of the school, calling it Schwanigan Lake School instead of Shawnigan.
Halfway down the course Shawnigan had three quarters of a length on Eton, but Eton was clawing back and made it one quarter of a length.
Isa and the crew, in a split-second decision, decided to start their sprint fifty meters earlier than usual. They were totally confident in their training and their fitness, and it paid off; exhaustion must have been hitting them, but they found the strength deep down and upped the tempo to an incredible 40 strokes. The Shawnigan boat pulled ahead at amazing speed, and Eton tried but could not respond to the challenge.
Shawnigan won by three quarters of a boat length for their first victory at Henley. Fist pumping, joy and sheer relief took over; then came the realization of what had happened and finally the tears from them and everyone that was rooting for them at the race and at home.
The victorious crew promptly threw their cox into the river to take a well-deserved swim of victory, their tenth of the year. This World Championship was won because of love, trust, talent and brawn by a group of young people and their world-class coach.
P.S. I know, I know; this happened last july. I posted this because it was not mentioned in the Santa Barbara newspapers, and I am inordinately proud of my daughter and 'her' team.